Friedberg’s poker vision sees past Las Vegas

October 25, 2012, Chris  

I recently had a chance to chat with Jon Friedberg, a World Series of Poker bracelet-winner and CEO of PokerTrip Enterprises Inc, which encompasses AllVegasPoker.Com and PokerAtlas.com. 

How did you get started in poker? I discovered poker in a local Indian casino called Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson, Ariz., my first year of college at University of Arizona. My friends and I discovered it as 18-year-olds. You only had to be 18 to play there because they didn’t serve alcohol. 

Did you start reading books and get coaching to improve? There wasn’t much coaching available then, but I picked up whatever books I could. But I mostly just learned from experience. 

This was before no-limit hold’em was popular? Yes, we experimented with some NLHE but you really couldn’t find a NLHE cash game. The $15-$30 limit game on the weekends was the biggest game they had.

So when you graduated from college you didn’t just become a full-time poker player? I got a real job where I worked for about two years before pursuing an MBA from Pepperdine University. I then worked another few years, before moving to Vegas in 2004 to play poker full time. Throughout my time working and attending graduate school, I made time for poker once or twice a month.
And not long after receiving your MBA, you started your own company? Yes, I started a company called Reactrix and ran
that for a few years. It was an interactive media technology and network that we created. After about three years, I decided to take some time off, and in early 2004, moved to Las Vegas.

When you moved to Vegas, were you playing full time? Yeah, that was pretty much all I did, in addition to some consulting work. I played the $30-$60 limit game at Bellagio and then transitioned to the $10-$20 no-limit game. Then I started focusing more on tournaments. 

How surprised were you when you won a bracelet in a $1K televised event in 2006? It was a total surprise, and I still can’t believe it happened. The first-ever WSOP event I played was in 1995; it was a $3K limit hold’em event. I didn’t cash. I’d played in about 20 WSOP events total in 2004 and 2005, and had 15 events on my schedule in 2006. I didn’t feel I had played very many events and it was beyond surreal when the final river card hit the felt.

Did winning the bracelet change your life? It definitely changed my life. I started traveling around the world on the tournament circuit. Suddenly, the poker world took an interest in who I was and what I had to say. And being that it was a televised event back in the heyday of poker, I started getting recognized in random places, which is pretty awkward sometimes. People would come up to me at a restaurant or the gym and say, “You’re that poker guy!”

Do you think your business success has helped you with poker? Yes, and vice-versa. Poker has helped me in business more than business has helped me in poker, probably because I have a lot more experience in poker than I do in business. I’ve certainly made a lot more tough decisions in poker than I have in business. But it definitely works both ways.

How did you get involved with All Vegas Poker? I was friends with the original creator of the website, Doug, and he asked me if I wanted to help him out on the business in early 2011. At that point, it was just a hobby site. We kept talking and one thing led to another and eventually I said, “Why don’t you let me take this off your hands and run it entirely? So we came to a deal where I took over ownership of the site and turned it into more of a business. With that came that acquisition of another site, Vegas Poker Now, which was a competitor to All Vegas Poker. Then we went on to acquire the Poker Atlas, which was started by Brian and Leigh Easterling. Brian is now vice president of information for us.

Now that you’re running AVP as a business, you’re obviously expanding. Our plans now are to become the most comprehensive resource surrounding the entire poker industry. We have historically only been focused on the brick-and-mortar industry, but with the upcoming launch of online poker in Nevada, and our recent approval for an online gaming marketing affiliate license, we are soon expanding our presence into the online world. Our plan is to provide information and exposure for the online gaming sites, just as we always have done for land-based poker rooms. With our expansion into online poker, we will not lose our focus on the brick-and-mortar space.

As other states go online, you intend to do the same thing for them? Absolutely. We plan to do so in every state that legalizes and regulates online poker, but we will not work with any U.S.-facing gaming sites that are not licensed.

What other plans do you have for AVP? We’re growing very quickly. We’ve recently hired a few new people, and are currently looking to hire several more. We have major expansion plans in place and a lot of exciting projects in the works. Our goal is to offer the best information, the most friendly and helpful community of poker enthusiasts, and the best value to our visitors and community members.

— Rob Solomon is Ante Up’s Las Vegas Ambassador. You can email him at rob@allvegaspoker.com. Follow him on Twitter @Robvegaspoker and read his blog at robvegaspoker.blogspot.com.