Monday, June 17, 2024

The ‘Eminem of Poker’ Ryan Depaulo on Embracing Change on the Eve of WSOP

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There is more to being a sponsored professional poker player than ever before. From promoting your brand to bringing content to the poker fans who follow your success, being a ‘named’ pro is tougher than ever. Or is it? For some, feeding the insatiable desire of poker fans is part of the fun.

One player who embraces the madness of the modern poker world more than most is Ryan Depaulo. The PokerStake player and former Americas Cardroom Pro is heading into this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas with a new sponsor. We’d heard plenty of tales about the ‘Eminem of poker’, from winning a WSOP bracelet in the carpark of Walmart to his latest big career move. There was only one way to get the truth, so we spoke to him for answers.

Guess Who’s Back?

“I don’t ever want to leave the poker world.”

Since his previous WSOP, Ryan Depaulo has changed sponsor, branched out, received a YouTube award for reaching 100,000 subscribers and tonnes more. A lot has changed, not least his acrimonious departure from Americas Cardroom, which as has been detailed virtually everywhere since, centered around a misunderstanding regarding working with other sponsors. Since ACR let Ryan’s contract come to an end, he’s joined the ranks of Stake, an online betting and slots site.

“I’ve been doing a bit of slots stuff for Stake and it’s been fun,” he tells us. “Planning for WSOP makes me know that I don’t ever want to leave the poker world.”

The poker world needs him, even if ACR chose not to renew their relationship with Ryan. He’s not bitter about it, but clearly he enjoyed making content under their umbrella.

Leaning into his new role, he openly admits that he’s keen to ‘make my ex jealous’ at the WSOP but still gets on with friends he left behind.

“I’m still super-friendly with all the guys [at ACR] but I’m excited to wear Stake stuff,” he says. “I’m grateful that I can continue to work with another sponsor. It’s like a post-divorce fallout but it’s all good.”

I bring up Eminem. Not the 50+ performer but the clownish Without Me period of Eminem in 2002 where it seemed no matter what the world threw at Marshall Mathers, he had a spiky but hilarious answer. To us, that’s 2024 Ryan Depaulo… only more so.

“The easier default place to be is at the back of the class doing spitballs and cracking jokes. I like the analogy; Eminem was silly, but he was in your face too.”

Ryan took third place in the WSOP Colossus event for a life-changing score that saw him turn poker pro.

Staking His Claim

“The levelling war between us is insane. We spent so many summers living together.”

Ryan started posting live ranking results in poker back in INSERT. Today’s iteration of the player we’ll see cracking jokes in Las Vegas is a very different animal, however. Ryan is keen to focus on performance, not payouts.

“It’s so easy if you let results get in your head, from believing you’re ‘part of it’ to thinking ‘I’m the worst, I don’t belong here’. But I do feel part of the poker world and it’s been really cool. Playing a $500 Hendon Mob ranked tournament, I used to be the person with the least results… now I’m the most. Instead of the underdog, I’m the guy they think ‘he doesn’t need it, I need it!’ It’s fun to see that dynamic change.

It’s absolutely right, says Ryan, when we suggest he simply wouldn’t bother playing if it wasn’t fun. To him, that’s as much a part of the industry as the exchanging of chips and glory.

“I never want to be a mis-reg,” he says, “Though I do I fall into it sometimes. Playing guys likeBetOnDrew, the levelling war between us is insane. We spent so many summers living together and talking, so that’s really cool.”

Ryan freely admits that rote memorization of a GTO Framework doesn’t appeal so much as optimizing live tells at the table and not only for reasons of excitement.

“I started out playing online. I have this live ‘charisma’ or whatever, but I was a better online player for a while,” he says. “Learning to adjust, it’s more important to size the guy up and think and about what he thinks rather than thinking ‘In this spot, I’m supposed to do this’. The guy’s from Arkansas, he doesn’t care about any of that!”

The Real Ryan Depaulo Stands Up

In 2019, Ryan Depaulo was still working in what he considered a good job on Broadway. In his role at the box office of a major theatre, (‘It was nepotism, my Dad knew people and got me in.’) Ryan was making content on the side, playing poker online and live and still resided in New York off Broadway. Then he won $208,643 at the World Series of Poker for coming third in The Colossus, and life changed.

“For each show, I was hired by the theatre; my last one was a Cher show about her songs. My boss was like, ‘It’s clear that poker means way more to you than this job and you’ll make more money at it.’ Really, he was firing me. I figured I could accumulate enough money between the three things I was doing. I got like $90k for The Colossus third place because of backing and the ACR deal came on the back of that.”

Then COVID hit. Theatre employees were all suddenly ‘off book’ and Ryan’s pivot to full-time poker professional couldn’t have come at a better time. His content has always pushed boundaries, whether that was in terms of confronting subjects that others avoided, or executing simple ideas expanded to their craziest boundaries.

Over the years, Ryan has developed from putting together the videos himself in minute-long editing chunks to a more narrative-led process. He references YouTube pioneers such as Mr. Beast – ‘I’ll click on one and won’t have the chance to think of not watching’ – as inspirations. Working with his editor Ramsey, Ryan will always make sure he’s working on the last two hours of work that each video, no matter how short, takes.

“Sometimes I’ll know a moment I was funny, but either way I’ll always want to [edit] myself too. That last 30% is important. I’m part of the causing of the ADD’ing of everyone. I don’t have much of an attention span. [The videos] have their own style and they’re entertaining. I still love making them.”

Many popular ‘hand history’ videos in recent years have come from cash games rather than tournaments, despite figures largely going in the other direction for live streams. Ryan puts this down to narrative.

“There’ll be times where I’m like, ‘we need the context’, especially in tournament videos. Cash games and shorts do so much better because viewers know where they are. The stakes don’t feel as clear in tournaments.’

He’s not wrong. Watch a cash game video and a $20 raise and $100 shove over the top are easily defined – we all know the value of the hand when it is presented to us. We need updated information to contextualize tournament poker hands in isolation.

“I like the idea, but cash games can feel the same all the time,” admits Ryan. “Tournaments are so exciting!’

Winning the ‘Walmart WSOP Bracelet’ and Shooting for More

No-one knows how exciting tournaments at the World Series of Poker can be more than Ryan Depaulo. With no signal, Depaulo had reached the final table of a WSOP Online event in 2020, so drove to a car park outside Walmart, where he could jump on the WiFi and win the $159,563 top prize, beating British high roller pro Jack Salter heads-up.

“That was Plan A – head to a car park outside Walmart.” Ryan laughs. “It worked! And it was fun.”

The video – which currently has 575,000 views – sent Ryan into the stratosphere in terms of poker content as he got his first WSOP cash – and bracelet – after skateboarding in the car park and winning gold at 6:36 in the morning.

“I’m a legend!” Depaulo screamed at the top of his lungs to almost no-one upon his moment of legendary achievement. “There’s people coming to work in New Jersey in a parking lot. Is this where champions are made? I think so!”

The world knows it four years on.

Heading to Las Vegas

“He was the worst ambassador ever!”

At this year’s live WSOP, Ryan is on the lookout for gold again, even if he calls playing well and winning ‘the same goal’. He does admit that the WSOP content and the chasing of glory, even if it fails, has a positive knock-on effect on his YouTube channel either way.

“The glory of the bracelet helps my YouTube. I look at WSOP events as having ‘vlog equity’. There may be a softer ARIA one-dayer going on but because of the WSOP’s prestige – it may be vanity – but it all helps and its definitely something cool. [Content creation] makes winning infinitely better, and losing to a bad beat you maybe get a 20% boost – in my mind!”

Back in 2019 when his day job quit him, Ryan was concerned that after one WSOP at the Rio, he might never get to fire the Main ever again.  Post-pandemic, he played a $600 six-max WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open event in Florida ‘with masks and the plastic dividers’, winning it for $41,485.

“Since then, poker has been booming. Every WSOP is breaking records… but I liked the Rio better! Maybe it’s because I never went to it very much. The Strip is much more like Times Square. I grew up watching the Rio and all those chip-sets. It’s chaos at the Horseshoe and Paris but I’m glad I got to play a Main Event at the Rio. That’s where I got to watch the WSOP in my formative years.”

Back in the Rio days, Ryan had been watching Matt Affleck training videos on and specifically one about how to manage bathroom breaks. Then he was on break at the WSOP.

“I was behind Matt Affleck in the bathroom at the Rio my first WSOP in 2019 and I’d watched his seminar. I was like ‘Yo, I watched your bathroom break video!’ He was so cool. I’m sure he’d probably rather have won [the Main Event in 2010] but in the coverage he came off really likeable and his reaction afterwards was really human, people connected with that stuff.”

When it comes to WSOP Main Event winners, Ryan identifies the one playr who didn’t fit the profile for further popularising the game.

“I don’t know how the Poker Gods let Joe McKeehen win the Main Event, he was the worst ambassador ever! I appreciated his honesty, he’ll say what he likes and so matter-of-fact, too. A couple times I’ve seen him and asked him if he’d like to say a couple things for my vlog and he’s like ‘No.’ I like the honesty in a way!”

We talk about how it seems incredible that McKeehen – let alone those who crave the spotlight – could ‘emotionally survive’ a seven-day plus tournament.

“I can’t imagine the pressure of the lights and the deep run if you don’t like all that!’ he laughs. “Online poker, you forget being social, the decision-making makes it better for people who don’t like to interact.”

Ryan Insta
Ryan Depaulo is either the cause or the effect of mayhem… deliberately so or otherwise!

The Way He Is

“PokerStake has been awesome; it’s run by poker players for poker players.”

If poker is a crazy game, then Ryan Depaulo is the man in the center of the ring. That could be at turns the Ringmaster with the cultivation his YouTube channel, the clown at the live felt, or the performing creature on a live stream. He’s comfortable with all three aspects of his game, and in recent years has sold pieces of his action online, being inspired to do so by ‘Kid Poker’ himself, Daniel Negreanu.

“I saw DNegs was selling a package at no markup a couple years ago and I was like ‘Oh, they have a place to do that? I don’t need to ask people for 10% and charge a fee?’ I didn’t want to have to charge 20% markup to cover a 10% fee on other sites. PokerStake has been awesome; it’s run by poker players for poker players. Selling to my audience would be insane mental bandwidth to physically sell a $25 piece to 30 people, it wouldn’t be worth my time, but a service that does that and doesn’t charge at all – even if they do one day – it’s such a slam dunk to list on the site!”

With the outgoing content, there’s added free value for anyone putting down some dollars on Ryan this summer.

“You get accountability, and the hand histories of how I busted if you can’t sweat live – you can watch the vlog and find out. That’ll be the future of poker vlogs. Just before someone enters a poker tournament, you click on the screen and it says: ‘Do you want to buy X for $’ and then you get  a proportion of the outcome. A vicarious sweat!”

Not only has Ryan used the site to sell but after cashing out and having $20 left online, he decided to buy a piece too.

“I bought a piece of someone random playing an online event. I have no idea who they were and they 6X’d my money – it was a nice surprise when I logged in next!”

After over a decade in the industry, Ryan Depaulo is going nowhere, which is great news for his stakers and his many poker fans worldwide.

It’s going to be a great summer, especially if you have a piece of Ryan Depaulo heading onto the biggest World Series of Poker he’s ever played.

Poker has, to some extent, become a sit-down game for many. Ryan Depaulo has stood up, and so many content creators are just imitating.

But Ryan, what if you win? Wouldn’t it be weird?

We can’t wait to find out.


Photographs from WSOP courtesy of Tomáš Stacha for PokerNews, the home of live reporting at the forthcoming 2024 WSOP.

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