Somerville & Veldhuis come to Stones

By Arnold Warner

Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights held their annual Spring Classic series April 13 to 22, culminating in the Main Event over the last four days. With a buy-in of $450, they crushed their $150,000 guarantee when 464 players entered the tournament.

The final day was a marathon, as it took more than eight hours to get down to a final table of nine players, and another eight before they were down to two players who agreed on a chop. First place, and $37,015 went to chip leader Francis, with Melly taking the agreed upon second place prize of $31,853.

The most exciting hand of the night occurred with six players left and Melly (on a short stack) raised with A-A and Sean (medium stack) re-raised with K-K. Jack (chip leader) then went all-in with As-Ks. Melly gave a little Hollywood before she called and Sean quickly followed suit. No surprises on the board meant that Melly tripled up to the chip lead, Sean won a side pot to stay about the same, and Jack dropped down to a short stack which led to his placing fifth.

Other members of the final table and their order of finish were: Andrew ($18,003), Sean ($12,435), Jack ($8,909), Fred ($6,125), Johny ($4,640), Alan ($3,341), and Anton ($2,598).

The whole final table was streamed on Stones Live (YouTube and Twitch TV) with star commentators Jason Somerville and Lex Veldhuis. Both are internationally well-known poker players (both online and live) but have become even more famous over the past several years for their streaming work on the internet.

Before they stepped into the booth to begin their evening’s work, we went over for some dinner at Sammy’s Restaurant with Somerville and Veldhuis to discuss how they got to where they are and what they’re up to these days.

The Cardroom: Starting with you Jason, can you briefly tell us where you are originally from and how you got into poker?

Somerville: I’m from New York originally, Long Island. I started playing poker when I was 16 years old with my friends, just playing in high school, hanging out, watching it on TV like everybody else. I saw it with my dad and immediately was hooked. I had always played games so the idea of playing a game for money was immediately appealing and I started playing local friendly games.

I eventually started playing online and I won $5 in a free promotional giveaway, and took that $5 like it was the only $5 I was ever going to have and treated it incredibly carefully and grinded up that $5 to $100 in a month, then $1,000 in three months, $10,000 in about nine months and then, about 18 months later, I had $100,000 and I was 18 or 19 years old.

How about you Lex?

Veldhuis: The Netherlands. I grew up in a pretty small town on the coast, like 40,000 people. It’s kind of the same path. Me and my friends really started playing some poker and we liked the game because it was in the movies and it felt like a tough thing to do

S: The cool kids.

V: Yeah made us feel like the cool kids, the first time I played poker, I was 15 but we played for quarters and we played so poorly, there was no strategy involved. Through video games I got to know some friends who started playing for money and I’ve always been looking for a job to support my studies. I found a game that you can make money with and it just seemed like the perfect solution to me.

So very much like Jason—actually a friend sent me $10—and I started playing for pennies, so one/two cents and two years later I had quit university and I was supporting myself. I started traveling to tournaments and from there, I never looked back.

You’ve had a lot of success in live tournaments Jason.

S: I had basically started playing live more or less from the very beginning, traveled around, I was under 21 when I started so I could only play in Canada, Europe, and Turning Stone—an 18-and-up casino in New York. I didn’t have a lot of success very early on in my live career, but I had become friends with Daniel Negreanu and met some very successful live players.

Then later on in my career I won a World Series bracelet and had a lot of other success generally. I honestly give a lot of credit to being friends with people who are very, very successful and happened to take the time to teach me things that I was doing wrong.

I think the traits that got me to be a good live player is that I really wasn’t afraid of working hard, and I was pretty good at learning. I don’t think I am naturally a particularly great live player or even poker player, I just was very good at making friends that were very good and learning a lot from them.

How about you Lex? Did you play much live?

V: I definitely first started playing online a lot. I would play millions of times online, but I really liked the social aspect of poker, the interaction, and I watched WPT a lot and WSOP and the EPTs came up, so then I really wanted to try and qualify for those and meet a lot of people.

I don’t think that I’ve ever truly respected the face of live poker, so I always just saw it as a fun break from online poker and I would go there and play super aggressive and do all that kind of thing. I definitely had some deep runs at tournaments, even though I don’t really have the tournament results, but I’ve played a lot of cash games and I’ve been very successful in live cash games. I used to always just be more of a cash game player, of that mentality.

S: I think it’s important to point out that when Lex casually says he played millions of hands, how sick that is. Lex has played more hands than me by like triple, which is crazy given that I’ve played millions of hands too.

V: I think that for both of us it’s very important. Poker is not only your future, the thing you like to do, but your job and something that you share with friends. It’s also very engaging from a strategic point of view. It’s very fulfilling. I think that it offers a lot of personal growth as well. You learn a lot of really cool characteristics that are very good for the rest of your life and that makes it such a multifaceted game.

S: I think we both agree that poker really helped shape our perspective on decision making, on how we approach general situations. I think there’s part of us that was already like that, we were probably both already very logical, perspective-minded people.

Poker really enforces that, in terms of thinking of expected value and weighing consequences of decisions, of looking forward, not just what the decision is right now, but what will happen on subsequent streets, if you will.

V: It’s so easy to learn to put things in perspective and it sounds very silly but you can look at every micro example in your life, if you’re moving and something happens during the move that’s bad, you know that that’s a possibility that can happen.

So I think if you played a lot of poker in your life, especially professionally, you’re just really good at handling those situations. We knew that this could happen, so now we move to plan B.

S: That spilled milk concept right? The milk has spilled, are we going to be upset about it? What’s the answer to the problem? Don’t be [upset] that it’s already happened. You gotta move on.

Let’s switch gears and talk about the transition to Twitch. What made you pursue that as a business model?

S: I started out on Twitch maybe four or five years ago. Prior to being on Twitch I had created content in a bunch of different realms. I started out on a poker forum called Poker in the Rear, and that was where I met so many great players. It’s obviously a silly name, but that was the community we started out on, learning and taking, and after a couple of years I had felt like I wanted to give back to the next generation and so I started making content.

I actually made my own content website that was only for members of that forum, and from there I started finding I enjoyed it. I had taught karate for 10 years before then so I already had kind of understood that teaching perspective and so it was very easy to go from that website to making poker training videos.

Then I went from that to YouTube where I tried to combine more entertaining elements instead of just that dry, boring, poker video that was so prevalent back then. So I tried to make it fun and educational.

I was like, I can make it fun on YouTube, and so we had a series of shows that I called, Run It Up, and so eventually we started taking that to Twitch, and found Twitch was a fantastic platform, the interactivity was amazing, and from there I just started doing more and more work on Twitch.

The audience loved it, the interaction was amazing, so I eventually moved to Twitch full time and spent tons and tons of hours, thousands and thousands of hours broadcasting on Twitch and it’s amazing to see what it’s grown into today where there are so many amazing broadcasters.

For someone who’s never seen one of your videos, or content, can you describe what they might see?

S: It’s pretty simple. If you’re watching on Twitch, you’re watching a broadcaster who’s kind of playing tour guide to their obsession. So you’re watching their cards, you’re listening to their logic. You’re getting attuned to their feelings and emotions as they are playing through a session.

It’s like the next generation of learning tools in some ways, also as entertainment. There’s nothing like it. Watching a WSOP event, you’re like watching into a fish bowl, but watching a Twitch stream, you’re watching through the eyes of a fish.

It’s an entirely different perspective on the same sort of game. I would say Lex agrees with all that.

What you see in a video you can always go watch cause even if we’re not live you can always go back and see our videos on Twitch, there’s a whole archive for free that you can watch on Twitch. You just go to either of our channels, or actually also will take you there and you can find all the videos there for free.

Lex, was your interest in creating content tied in with Jason?

V: It’s definitely tied in with Jason but it’s not from a concept creating point of view. I always liked doing stuff like social media and fan interaction which was really big for me, or people who really liked following the poker career and having a look into that world.

I played a lot but then also I watched a lot of Twitch. I used to just watch video games on Twitch, games that I used to like to play, and then Jason comes around and starts streaming poker.

So I see Jason’s stream and I think, wow, this is really cool, this is like two things that I’ve always loved and always liked doing and now he’s doing it on Twitch and it took me a few years but it’s like this ball that went rolling and then I just decided, I’m gonna do this too because this looks awesome, and I just made the jump, and shout out to Jason for laying all the groundwork because there was no poker. So I’m like a second generation poker streamer, very much inspired by what Jason did.

S: When I started I was the only poker streamer and now there’s a category full of people from all across the planet earth in all different languages, broadcasting 24/7. There’s always someone on their broadcasting and it’s still in it’s infancy in many ways.

Like I said, I really think that, I feel what I did was good and now everybody else is taking it to another level. All these new fancy innovations that have come about, people have tried and done things that I’ve never done and whether it’s from a performance point of view or content point of view, we’re just really getting started.

What other projects are ongoing?

S: Well the biggest project that I’m working on right now is basically building a Twitch production studio that supports all of Twitch poker and all these Twitch poker streamers.

We have built this platform in Las Vegas that has basically taken all of the resources and lessons that I have gathered and learned as a streamer and applied them to others. So that’s what I’ve been doing now. I’m supporting streamers like Lex and a bunch of others and basically trying to help them build their streams.

I’m trying to bring different content to Twitch and we’re partnering with Stones and other properties. We’ve broadcast the Aussie Millions on my channel for the last three years now. I do a bunch of stuff with Poker Stars obviously, so I’ve kind of taken a different step instead of being the soldier at the front lines to kind of stepping back a little bit and saying, how can we improve this landscape generally.

How did things come about to bring you to Stones?

S: I first met the Stones crew coming here with Poker Stars’ pro tour back in 2014 or 2015. They were doing a tour to promote regulated online poker here in California and we came to Stones as a part of that. It was a great event, everyone was extremely nice, the place was packed also, so from there that was how we first met Stones and had talked over the years about working on a live stream.

Very few places have embraced live streaming as much as Stones has and so they were eager to try to learn some things from me and my team and they had asked me several times about coming out here and working together on an event and it just finally worked out.

The times aligned and we were able to do it for this event here. Everyone here is absolutely incredible. We’ve reflected on it almost every single day. Not only is the staff positive and professional, the patrons are very positive and there’s not a lot of saltiness or anything like that. We saw one of the pit dealers high five a player the other day. In Vegas you would get fired for that. It’s crazy to see the difference here versus at other places.

V: It’s really cool. I think this is actually one of the first times where I deal eye-to-eye with the people that are running the event, or where they’re like, okay so what do we do here or how’s this going, or what do you guys think about this, shall we try that?

I think all of that stuff makes for a perfect collaboration and you notice it in the viewer experience. People know that they’re voice is being heard.

So there’s no disconnect, there’s no rift in the communication to your platform and what we talked about earlier, it’s so important to have that connection to your fan base and for better watching and when both the broadcasters and the production side and the staff of the venue that’s hosting it all see eye-to-eye, people will know that.

S: The quality of the end product is reflected in that alignment. The patrons, the staff, the broadcasters, the production team, all see things eye-to-eye which is amazing and very, very rare. It’s amazing. It’s all been too much fun. They’ve been amazing really.