Negreanu, Kitai, Ensan, Kanit, Blum and More: The Poker Community Talks About Covid-19’s Impact on Their Lives

The poker community, like the rest of the world, has not been spared the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. The gaming industry has been hit hard by casino closings and the stopping of live tournaments, which has meant a sudden halt to their activities and plans for many players. On the other hand, if live poker is at half mast, online poker has seen a strong upsurge in activity due to confinement.

Faced with this troubled period, what is the future for live poker? And how are players coping with the crisis? Gaelle Jaudon had the chance to chat with several renowned players to get their thoughts.

Daniel Negreanu GGPoker
Daniel Negreanu – Photo

Daniel Negreanu: Honestly it hasn’t changed my life, apart from going to hockey games. My wife and I are introverts and love staying home. I don’t get bored at home and have actually played way more poker during quarantine than ever before – about six hours a day.

I think you’ll see that GGPoker and the entire industry will have a growth spurt, as more people stay home and play online poker. It’s a great way for people to pass the time and this has been good for the industry, but obviously everyone wants to see this time pass and get back to normal, sooner rather than later.

Dario Sammartino: As far as I’m concerned, I’m dedicating my time to myself, to reading, to my personal growth, to playing sports, and trying to help people. That’s why I started a new project called Equilibrium, a non-profit organization that helps people, and, as a first project, we took a collection to increase the places in intensive care in a hospital in Naples.

I believe that, unfortunately, you will not be able to play live poker for a long time, not until we find a cure or a vaccine. But I believe that, as far as online poker is concerned, there will be a boom like we have not seen for a long time.

Matas Cimbolas: I’m mostly a live player, so obviously it’s affecting me, not being able to travel like I used too so, I would say it has taken me back to my roots, when I started grinding online. There’s nothing else to do during the lockdown, so I’m playing a lot online. I also enjoy listening to podcasts on psychology from people like Tony Robbins and Lebron James. These kinds of people can motivate you and teach you how to perform better. Like everybody, I also feel online poker is booming, all the guarantees are reached, and there are a lot of big events. It’s massive right now, there is so much action every day.

Matt Waxman: Currently, the boom in online poker is big. The players have to get their fix! But I’m assuming we’re going to conquer this disease. I imagine there will still be some people playing online after this crisis because of the fear of the disease, and hopefully in the future the casinos will do a better job of cleaning, like washing chips more often. Today, a lot of people are suffering some financial burdens, so I guess the numbers in live poker events will get hurt. There will be less money to play poker with, but we’ll see. Nobody knows, and it will be interesting to see how things will play out.

I haven’t played much live poker over the past two years because I’ve been busy building my app,, so I guess it hasn’t changed much! I’ve always been a bit OCD, not really wanting to shake hands and that kind of thing, so I guess it’s not a bad thing!

Maria Lampropulos

Maria Lampropulos: I can’t complain. I am fine and I’m lucky to have no financial worries, but psychologically, it’s a difficult time because it’s a terrible situation for millions of people, and I think we have to be conscious that many are suffering and losing their jobs. It’s a real disaster, so even if I personally don’t have a problem, it’s still a sad situation and mentally tiring; it’s on everybody’s mind. And concerning the poker world, I’m so in love with that game and that community that I really hope it will be back to normal soon. I’m playing online now but I miss the interaction at the table, all the people that I love in that community, and the atmosphere at live events.

Hossein Ensan: As you know, all the well-known casinos are closed now due to the coronavirus, and for me, as a live poker player, it means going back to the game online world, because I have quit playing online since 2011.
I see these days many live players are also playing online, and I think that, after coronavirus, the world will be not same as it was before, in any way.

Mustapha Kanit: In my personal life, I’m home in the UK in London and grinding a lot because anyway there’s not much we can do. And anyway, I’m not going out a lot. In general, I’m focusing on my play and working on my game. It has still impacted my life because, at this time of the year there are usually tournaments in Barcelona and Monaco. I’m with the Winamax guys a lot. So, being at home and not being able to do things I would like to do is certainly not easy, but you have to try to make the best out of the situation and focus on something to learn; for example, make the best of the time you have now.

If there is an economic recession, it will obviously impact poker a lot, but at the same time, poker has also been impacted by all the travel restrictions. In the future, we don’t know what will happen with borders. Many factors can impact poker, actually. It can also be positive, because there is a huge online boom at the moment. So, not everything is bad. I haven’t seen online poker so big for probably ten years. But concerning live poker, I don’t think we’re going to see players live again in 2020. Nobody knows when we’ll be back to a normal situation, but I’m focusing online because it has a big upside at the moment.

Danny tAng
Danny Tang

Danny Tang: It’s hasn’t really affected me because I haven’t been playing that much on the live circuit lately. I’ve been playing a lot more cash games. I’m currently in lockdown in Malaysia and I’ve been playing a lot of short deck online, so my no limit hold ’em play is probably a little bit rusty right now. What affects me the most is not being able to see my family and friends, and not being able to go to the restaurants that I love. I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long without eating Japanese food!

But when it comes to poker, it’s great playing 12 hours a day short deck, some cash games as well, and that’s pretty much it. I’ll be excited to be back on the felt after the crisis and see some of the other players. My last event was Partypoker Sochi, and obviously the cancellation of the WSOP was disappointing because Vegas is always a special place. But I look forward to being back, and I wish everyone to be safe and take care. I’m grateful because my quarantine life is better than a lot of people. We are a bunch of friends locked down in a hotel, and we are still able to see each other sometimes and it’s safe. We have masks and hand sanitizer, it’s always clean. We are in a good situation and not as lonely as some people. We bought a Nintendo and we compete! I can’t imagine quarantine by myself, it would drive me insane for sure!

Lynn Gilmartin and Angel Guillen: We are staying in Los Angeles for the quarantine. It’s been a good occasion for us to catch up with many things we had to do, and also try a new way of living.

Angel: I’ve been playing crazy online, like 12-14 hours a day, which is a lot, especially because I was playing a lot live. But the games are really, really good and it’s been working great so far. What I see is that everybody is trying to jump into the action now; recreational players, beginners and pros. Many pros who had stopped playing online for many years are back to it now, we all need a purpose. There are also a lot of private online games now, so you have to be careful to trust the people and really know the people who invite you. And I also made sure my parents were accommodated and had everything they need in Mexico City before moving here with Lynn. But to get through this weird time, my advice is to create a little routine to keep a schedule, finding a structure is really important, meditating and exercising, because otherwise the stress can eat at you.

Also, we’re realizing that a lot of people are depending on our lifestyle and the fact we play live poker and many are becoming unemployed now. A lot of people in the industry are struggling now, so, one of the things I can say to poker players is that there are people around you who can help you through this crisis. It’s a good time to start thinking how to start helping in your circle, like service jobs for example. It’s bigger than us.

Lynn: We’re enjoying this slow time. Usually, we both travel a lot and we don’t see each other very often, so we enjoy that. He lives in Mexico and I live in LA. Also, what we are going through can be a very depressing and lonely time for many people, and I think when we are helping others it just lifts us outside of our own issues and makes us feel that we have a purpose and we are needed. Helping others doesn’t always have to be financial, even a phone call and reaching out to people is helpful.

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Davidi Kitai – Photo WPT

Davidi Kitai: Normally, this time of the year is very busy with live tournaments. I was supposed to travel to many places with my family, but instead of that, we are confined in an apartment.

My daughter is only 20 months, so she doesn’t really realize the changes, even that she traveled a lot. I see it is as an opportunity to enjoy some quality time with my family and quietly plan the near future.

Regarding the future of poker, online has gone crazy during this time, and we hope that it will be a new poker boom. It is always nice to see more amateurs playing the game, it is good for the ecosystem of the poker world.

I consider myself more a live player than online, so I hope this will be reflected in the live circuit as well.

As you know, the poker community is not only defined by the players, many other people work year-round to make this industry run. We thought it would also be interesting to go to the other side of the fence and get their opinion on what the future might hold for the poker world:

Hermance Blum (Vice-President of WPT Europe): It is difficult to determine a timeline for when things will go back to normal. It is most likely that the world will establish a “new normal” with sanitary measures in place, training for casino employees, and guidelines for players to respect. Eventually these will phase out and it is important to keep an optimistic outlook and remain positive that it is only temporary. We understand it’s an unprecedented situation for everybody, the players and the staff, and we chose to stick together, find new ideas, work with our partners and rethink existing models to find fair solutions for all.

We are a small team and we’re doing our best to maintain the work of our team, even in freelance.

Actually, the WPT has already taken a digital turn, because, for several years the entire WPT library and hours of the show have been available online on digital platforms. Club WPT, our subscription-based product, enables its VIP members to watch the show as well as play online, with no purchase necessary, and qualify for live WPT events.

Ironically, the WPT Online Series starting last Sunday, May 3rd, in partnership with partypoker were already planned in our roadmap! But not publicly announced yet! The pandemic just happened to coincide. For years we’ve wanted to do it, but in the right way with the right partner. Partypoker have joined the dots. Players will get to enjoy a wide range of events, and great structures normally found at festivals such as the LAPC. Everyone, even at smaller stakes, will be able to play from the comfort of their home for big guarantees and a prestigious title until the end of the series, May 31st!

This is a first in poker history – to crown a new WPT Champion Club member and bring the bells and whistles of the Live Tour with the first WPT Online Championship. We have many surprises and rewards for the players’ $50,000 in leaderboard, as well as bespoke trophies and souvenir frames for each winner. We always try to think ‘outside of the box’, and we have chosen to take the coronavirus crisis as another opportunity to be creative.

Here’s a recap of the schedule:

Yori Epskamp (Head of Live Reporting, PokerNews): The biggest change we’ll see is that people will be far more aware of hygiene and cleanliness in general, especially the first year, and will also expect the tournament organizers to diligently provide this. Live poker always has been a bit `greasy`, whether it’s from dirty poker chips, sitting uncomfortably close to each other at a crowded table, thousands of people walking through narrow corridors in the Rio, etc. All of that is not really suited for a post-COVID world.

Once live poker reopens, the biggest changes I expect will be the placement of screens between players/dealers, six-max tables at best, and walking lines through the casinos and poker rooms to diffuse the traffic and better handle social distancing. The screens will probably disappear after a while, but I can see the other changes being permanent: thorough overall cleaning (chips/tables) and preventing people from packing together in places will likely be here to stay.

Article by Gaelle Jaudon

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Gaelle Jaudon

Travelling and working in the poker industry for 8 years, Gaelle is working on a regular basis for different poker media in Europe and the US such as for the live reporting, club poker radio where she does live interview of poker personalities, somuchpoker and also as a freelance event manager for the WPT. Originally from Paris, she has a master degree in journalism and marketing.

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