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Jeff Gross Talks About The Six-Figure Loss That Led To An Online Poker Sponsorship Deal

Popular Poker Personality Explains The Value Of Streaming During Latest Online Poker Boom

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 20, 2020


Online poker is booming again, and other than the site operators themselves and the sharks at the top of the food chain, perhaps few are better positioned for this second wave of poker enthusiasm than Jeff Gross. The Ann Abor, Michigan native has spent the last few years transitioning his focus from the live arena to online, where he streams a lot of his action on Twitch with the Poker Flow Show.

The following he built for himself, which includes more than 135,000 viewers and listeners across his Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch platforms, led to interest from a number of online poker sites. Gross spent two years as a brand ambassador for PokerStars before making the switch to partypoker. The 33-year-old now serves as the Co-Managing Director of Team Online for partypoker, when he’s not also hosting his own podcast, filming his vlogs, or providing commentary for some of the biggest buy-in tournaments in the world.

In fact, Gross was in the commentary booth for the $1 million buy-in Triton London super high roller, which awarded the biggest prize in poker history of $20.6 million to Bryn Kenney. (He was also there when his buddy Antonio Esfandiari won what was then the biggest prize of $18.3 million in the 2012 Big One For One Drop.)

Gross Competes At WSOPGross had his own fair share of high roller success as well, final tabling a few six-figure buy-in tournaments and cashing in several $25,000 events. In 2012, he narrowly missed out on a World Poker Tour title, and over the years, he’s had several close calls at the World Series of Poker, including a runner-up finish in the 2011 $5,000 shootout. The former University of South Carolina soccer player has a combined $3.3 million in live tournament earnings.

Now married and a father to a baby boy, Gross is no longer jet setting around the world from one high roller to the next, but he hasn’t completely given up the high-stakes lifestyle that once saw him collect $550,000 from Bill Perkins for getting a simple tattoo on his back. (He still has it!)

Card Player caught up with Gross in between his homes in Las Vegas, Miami, and Brazil while he was in the Caribbean to stream some of his play in partypoker’s Powerfest series.

Card Player: There’s no live poker to play, but I’m guessing that self-isolating hasn’t affected your usual routine too much.

Jeff Gross: No. It’s been pretty normal. The whole thing is obviously a terrible situation, but it’s not impacting my day-to-day very much just because of what I’ve been up to the last few years.

CP: You’ve definitely been busy. It seems like you have half a dozen poker-related jobs these days.

JG: It really is crazy. It’s been busy lately. I did take off a lot of time. Last year there was a couple of months where… I didn’t go to the World Series of Poker, really, only twice for a few days, because we had the baby. I’ve been adapting to that. So if I’m not busy with poker, then I’m busy with the family.

CP: I’m guessing you can’t take a baby to Burning Man, either?

JG: You can, actually. Last year we couldn’t, of course, because he was only a few months old. We were going to go this year. I think that was our plan. Obviously, the world is turned on its head right now. So we’re not even thinking about this year, but you know, potentially the following year. I think we’ll go. I met my wife there.
Antonio [Esfandiari] got me to go back in 2014. We walked by each other and I met her in the middle of the desert at seven in the morning when she was waking up for the day and I was finishing my day. And that, that was it. So now we have a Burning Man baby.

CP: Things are a lot different than your first years as a poker pro, when you were roommates with Michael Phelps and traveling the globe every week with the likes of Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Brian Rast, and Bill Perkins, competing in high roller events.

JG: I was fortunate to play the high rollers for a year or two. I played some $100,000 buy-ins, you know, obviously getting deals or selling action. It was cool, it was fun, and I had some success in them, but I realized that it wasn’t for me. I was playing with the world’s best players, people who don’t make very many mistakes, and there just had to be an easier way. Unless you’re one of those top one percent guys that are just super gifted, but even then, do you even want to go that route? Even guys like Stevie [Chidwick], you know, guys that are considered the best in the world, have to be stressed out. You’re playing high stakes, you’re traveling all the time, and bad runs can go on for a year or two years.

CP: Now you are this hybrid of poker player and poker personality, not only representing partypoker as a team online site ambassador, but also doing commentary work for live poker events, hosting your own podcast, and streaming your play on Twitch. That’s a lot of hats to wear, so I’m sure your degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship are coming in handy.

JG: Yeah. I actually have an affiliate background. That’s how I kind of got into poker actually, funny enough, was me promoting partypoker back in the day. I was using their very generous affiliate program back in 2004 when I was in college.

CP: Is that why you made the switch from PokerStars?

JG: People keep saying that PokerStars was dropping all of these guys, but I had a renewal on the table. I was ready to re-sign. But in January of last year I was in the Bahamas, playing a high-stakes cash game on a boat. And I lost the one of the biggest pots of my life. This was a $330,000 pot against Rob Yong. I had aces, he had kings. Rob only runs it one time, and this particular time, he made quad kings.

But the funny part of that story is that, yes, I ended up losing, but I ended up playing with Rob for 10 hours, getting to know each other. And then we had a meeting. And then another meeting. He came to Miami to meet with me, and before you know it, partypoker has a new team, with myself and Jamie Staples.

Some people might say, that was just being at the right place at the right time, but guess what. That didn’t come from me winning a major tournament. The old model has changed. I have had a lot of success in big live tournaments and a bunch of close calls. Those numbers may be sexy, but that doesn’t appeal to the masses. The guys who win the high rollers and consistently compete for million-dollar prizes are clearly at the top, but they are not relatable to the average online poker player. A guy who is playing $22 tournaments and entertaining others on a live stream is way more valuable to an online poker site than a guy who is wearing a patch at a few $100,000 buy-in events per month.

CP: Looks like that might be one of the best pots you ever lost.

JG: Well, it was still a massive pot. (laughing)

CP: Speaking of your live streams, you’ve got quite the production set up. Is it difficult to keep the quality high, while also being engaging with your viewers, and also trying to actually win?

JG: Honestly, my biggest struggle is not playing too many tables at the same time. I really like how some streamers will just play one tournament and then engage more with the chat. The other side of that are the guys who want to make sure they have a deep run or two, so they are playing a lot of tables at once. I think two to four screens would be ideal, but then you get to Sunday and there’s often eight to ten good tournaments running at the same time.

I’ve come to the realization that my whole deal is different. When I’m streaming, I want to win, but whether I win or lose slightly isn’t really that big of deal. Streaming is for building my brand, promoting partypoker, and also networking and getting involved in other cool projects as a result. I’ve given up the dream of… Look, I could just sit here and study the game non-stop for hours and hours every day and I might have a shot at becoming one of the best players in the world, or I could do what I do now, and continue to enjoy the game I fell in love with as a teenager. To me, there’s nothing better than the social aspect of poker.

CP: Why don’t more poker players stream their play?

JG: (laughing) I can’t tell you how many guys that are professional poker players, well-known players, who have come to me and asked how they could start streaming. Some of these guys are good friends of mine, so of course I would give them the blueprint, on everything from equipment to content ideas. I give them the full playbook, and the majority of them never even click live. The ones that do try it, usually stop after a few streams. Because guess what? It’s really hard. Even the top streamers go through mental fatigue and burn out. That’s why I don’t stream as often or as long as some others do. When it’s time for streaming, I’m always excited and passionate about it. It’s not a chore I’m looking to get through.

CP: You are definitely not afraid to show some emotion when you are streaming, either. What’s wrong with a fist pump every once in a while?

JG: I agree, but I’m also from the camp that says we are missing a little bit of that emotion in live poker as well. I had Matt Savage on my podcast talking about how the rules can even discourage people from interacting. Its different in the UK than it is in the U.S., for example, but if you get heads-up in a pot with someone and try some table talk, the dealers immediately shut it down. Whether you are talking about the contents of your hand or not, it makes the game way too intense, even anti-social. I think that’s a mistake and something that should be addressed. I think we’re just losing some of what made poker so appealing during the boom. I don’t want the game to become too serious. We keep the game growing by keeping it fun.