Make Way For the Heroes

Make Way For the Heroes

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Meet RankingHero's Nick Levi & Pedro Canali.

Words: Tom Victor Photos: Jamie Drew

For the best part of a decade, dozens of people from all corners of the poker world have pursued the holy grail of the industry - bringing the fun back into the game.

Almost anything you can think of has been attempted, and there have been far fewer success stories than tales of failure. So what convinced two poker players to step away from the felt and turn their attentions to getting players from the grassroots up to rekindle their love for the game? As Nick Levi explains, it comes down to two simple components: a love for poker, and a clear vision of how to make it fun again.

“Poker is not dying, in fact far from it”, explains the former pro, who just over a year ago walked away from a poker career that brought three EPT final tables and saw him climb to the top 15 of France’s all-time money list.

“People love the game, but it needs a complete change of focus,” he explains. “When I got into poker, the first years where the best. The amateur and low stakes world has all the bragging, trash-talking, and light heartedness that makes this game what it is. The market isn’t going down - it’s just diversifying and going back to its essence”

RankingHero was the creation of versatile French poker stalwart Pierre ‘Pedro’ Canali. First interested in Magic:The Gathering, he became a champion. Moving to the dancing world, he became a top salsa instructor. Then into poker, he became a national sensation before moving into the business side of things to tackle his biggest challenge yet: Pedro and Nick are leading the drive to make poker fun again, through their new company, RankingHero.

RankingHero is a social platform which encompasses a huge global database and allows players across the globe to interact with their friends and make new friends who play the same games. It offers players an outlet to meet and interact with like-minded individuals through a poker identity, turning them into an everyday hero for whom poker acts as a second life.

The Challenge Ahead

“One of the biggest challenges is that plenty of players want a social experience in poker, but at the same time they don’t want to give too much information away to their opponents,” Nick acknowledges.

“The social experience is not with your opponents but rather with your friends. The conversation doesn’t happen at the table, at least online, but away from the table - that’s what we facilitate.”

If you look at those who have been active in poker for the longest amount of time, they are either hugely successful on the money side, or on the social side. Those who have made money and/or friendships through poker remain happily involved in the game. A shared experience is key: those complaining of poker dying are perhaps looking at it through the microscope of those players unable to interact with online opponents and without a close group of poker friends to talk to away from the tables.

“In fact” says Nick Levi “The two are directly related. Joining an online community was the catalyst for my progression. But today traditional forums have become too elitist, and we are keen on provide an inclusive space for all poker fans”.

As for those who question the need for a social network devoted to poker, Pedro explains why it is so crucial, using the same logic that saw him succeed as a poker player and - prior to that - as a Magic: The Gathering pro.

“The biggest problem is when you win you’re the last person in the casino,” Pedro notes. “The only other people there who know you’ve won are the guy who came second, the dealer, and the person at the cage who gives you your money.

“You can go on Facebook and post about winning a tournament, but your friends and family on there might not understand what it means. On the other side of things, if you go into a big poker forum and say you’ve just won a local tournament, itmight be insignificant to people there.

“Poker is like a double life that people lead and that’s where the ‘Hero’ part of RankingHero comes from. We felt there needed to be a place where you can share around results and celebrate poker talk, and we’re providing a community for that purpose.”

From the Bottom Up

When it comes to the top players comparing their results to those of their friends and peers, there is no denying that outlets exist. However there is nothing of the sort for those working their way up from the bottom, who play poker for enjoyment and getting one over on their mates, even if it’s just in a local £20 tournament down the pub.

Ranking Hero 2

RankingHero’s database of results is what sets it apart from similar platforms, with a win in a local £20 tournament getting as much recognition on a recreational player’s profile as a six-figure score would get on that of a seasoned pro. No result is too small to be significant, and positive reinforcement will help those who aspire to greatness as well as those who are only ever going to play poker for fun.

“From what we’ve seen so far, this is really something that people have wanted,” Pedro says.

The skill gap between the top and bottom of the game has been growing, as is natural when those at the top keep studying poker on a full-time basis. That might be unavoidable, but it seems as though the fun gap has been growing too, and that is something RankingHero can certainly do something about.

This begins at the bottom, or, more precisely, by reassuring those starting out in the poker world that there is plenty you can aspire to, even if you have no desire to shoot for the very top.

“We want to fix the ecosystem, and the way we’re doing this is by saying ‘if you want to become good, here’s the aspirational model’,” Nick reveals.

“You have all the biggest results in the world available to you, and you can see the leaderboards and see how exciting it is to be a top pro. But on the other hand at your level we already record the results - you can already have a good social experience and we can help you meet people in your area so you can brag about your own wins.”

Enjoying not enduring

Since ending his professional poker career, Nick has not entirely gone cold turkey. However on those occasions he has returned to the table, something has changed.

“I loved being a competitor, but as soon as I stopped [playing professionally], if I spent two hours at a table I thought I was wasting my time,” he admits.

“When you’ve competed with the best, it’s hard to come back without any clear goals as a player, and that makes it less fun for me right now - I’ve moved on .” he adds. If you’re just coming into the game, however, you need that fun element to make you want to compete in the first place. Nick and Pedro are attempting to bring that level of enjoyment to the poker scene with RankingHero’s promotions, described as ‘missions’, which allow everyone to compete on a level footing.

During last year’s Unibet Open in London, for example, RankingHero launched ‘Mission Aspers Castle’ whereby the creator of the best chip castle or card castle could earn themselves a £400 tournament entry for sharing it on social media.

The promotion went down well, engaging players of all levels, and acted as a welcome tonic to the struggle faced by every beginner whenever they are knocked out of a tournament. As far as newcomers to poker are concerned, the balance between success and enjoyment is what determines whether they will stick around for the long haul.

“Poker players can join in and express themselves with their poker identity, meet others in our online community, and win prices at the same time. There’s a real sense of friendship with our members and nothing could make us prouder”

Poker sharks, sound businessmen?

With plenty of others trying and failing to put the fun back into poker, some of you might ask why we should have faith in RankingHero to crack the code. The answer to this is simple - no one else has shown the same combination of ambition to poker expertise and a clear direction. Ask Nick or Pedro any question about their vision, and it seems like they’ll have the answer ready for you before the words leave your mouth.

What’s more, the retired poker pros are making good use of their poker experience in the business world. If you ever wondered why businessmen like WSOP bracelet winner Eli Elezra and PCA Super High Roller runner-up Roger Sippl have recorded such impressive results, it’s because plenty of the skills that help you get ahead in business can be related back to the felt. And this works both ways, something that has proved useful for RankingHero from operations all the way down to recruitment.

Ranking Hero 3

“When it comes to character, I’m looking at people who don’t put too much emotion into their decisions - you have to learn how to react in cold blood to high pressure situations, and this goes for both poker and business,” Nick explains.

“Two types of leaks are costly in poker like in real life: small ones which happen a lot, like calling too much from the small blind when it looks cheap, and bigger but less frequent mistakes like not being able to fold top two pair to an overbet on the river. Everything in between matters less, and we actually encourage our staff to take medium-sized shots in the right situations.”

“My main take away from poker is to distinguish what’s a good decision without looking at the outcome,” Nick explains.

“In poker the luck factor is so obvious that you have to quickly learn to analyse your decisions not as if you knew what card was coming next, but on the merits of the information you knew at the time. What information do I have now? Do I have enough to make a decision? If not, are there ways to get more information to help me make a better decision?

“As simple and obvious as it is to poker pros, it’s very rare to find someone in business who thinks like that. One way it has really helped us with RankingHero is being able to drop two months’ work because something significant has changed: we will do that in a heartbeat because it’s the right decision. The potential pain and regret from not being able to use the work we had spent so much time on does not come into it.”

Perhaps those who have run into trouble in the past have become too attached to pet projects, in the same way any poker player can suffer from being married to a hand. It is clear from speaking to the RankingHero team that this is not a danger for them.

When looking at Nick and Pedro, some will see two top poker pros who have given it all up for a new project. Others will see two people who are driven to become the best at everything they set out to do. Most importantly, however, people will see two individuals with a clear vision, poised to bring fun back to the game they love.

Tags:, Nicolas Levi, Pedro Canali