All Vlogs Revealed: Connections, Long and Short

all vlogs revealed

or, What Keeps Isaac Haxton Up at Night

Maybe an appropriately shorter longer piece today, matching the tenor of our subjects and considering what lengths I have already written about one of them in particular. Yet all three of these productions are important to poker without anyone really seeming to know it. Perhaps you can thank the usual hacks at the poker sites for this state of affairs, but that’s for another day. Hey, you over there, a tournament just ended in Kalamazoo! Can we get a photo of the cards he didn’t win with?

I’ve expanded beyond the original “vlog” scope of this series, but really, I am just matching the expanding scene and forms of content itself.

Wolfgang Poker

Many were effectively taken aback to learn Alexander Seibt had accumulated more subscribers and done it at a faster rate than anyone in poker media ever has. More lately, Isaac Haxton himself expressed some perplexity over the success of a seemingly anodyne short which has exceeded 100 million views. That many only know Alexander’s face from his Youtube Award photo should be a compelling factoid for an industry which is normally keener to follow the dollar.

Vlogs and media, after, all, are famously duplicative. The effort Brad made to build on Andrew, and then everyone else made to follow Brad, led to a quick and inevitable rush to capitalize upon what modest creativity was spread around a rapidly ballooning genre of hand histories, parking lots confessions, and fried food reviews. The most ingenious vloggers, such as Andrew (for gentlemanly style), Jaman (for production), Ryan DePaulo (for bringing back gambling), or Slow Poker (for meme humor), are hailed for their originality and fun, but tellingly, they are not actually very influential in the artisanal sense at all. Few successfully copy or even try to copy their styles (Corey E. is a notable exception, perhaps), whereas the Brad Owen business template, hand history template, and dry script template belong in the YouTube Museum of Influencers and the Influenced. There is no Slower Poker but there are 100 Bradlets.

Vlogs, as you can see from this shortest of histories, are primarily a from-the-ground-up phenomena, but the ressentiment Isaac touches existed then, too. Many forget that having been deprived of attention for two seconds, Kid Poker immediately picked up the camera as part of his personal Bryan Johnson routine, Polk poo-pooed the movement then joined it with his usual strong level of success, and in the most interesting development, Berkey and his hired guns Pigtails created a series of surprisingly artful short films, overshooting the mark and the market by about ten years. What is valuable and what is popular are not always overlapping; people who talk about the wisdom of crowds deserve to be on a highway stopped by protestors.

More to the point, somewhere along the way we forgot that the original viral videos were always short. The realism that upset the crowd watching L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat or clips of the slow-motion horses which awed millions were suited to the genre immaculately. Lifetimes later, Martin Scorsese’s short film with the razor blade is worth as much of his whole career of obese epics and Joe Pesci anger management highlights, if considered on communicative power per square inch. Only as we learned to turn the eye of the camera toward the theatre and make the image fit in with the rest of the arts did we lose the natural need for very short forms. We gorged and binged on the cable generation’s access to screen time. An antidote always existed, however.

So, as we completely fail to exhaust our endless craving for The Entertainment DFW feared and worshipped, TikTok and Instagram and YouTube and all their grittier predecessors have helped return the short form to a hypnotic version of its natural glory. Wolfgang Poker is our small field’s contribution to the genre.

Do your shorts have such clean thumbnails?

One theme Alexander captures so well is greed, specifically the natural greed of those inclined not just to play but to win. Wolfgang may be unknown, but his strategy pedigree is immaculate. Aided by the able (if notorious) Alvin Lau, who himself is an acolyte of the most esteemed Uri Peleg, Wolfgang really is a wolf among sheep in his games at this point. Unlike Rampage, Alexander does not give much loose action, a fact which he is frank about. What the short form does for him is focus on his strategy’s results emphatically, solely, destructively. The “satisfaction” movement of the sexless generation is satiated not just by weird medical procedures and landscaping conquests.

It’s clever, even accidentally clever, perhaps, that Alexander eventually gives up the voice of doom, the AI narration. Combined with the unkind graphics to show pure poker domination, over and over, and more to the point, more and more quickly, AI voices might be too much in the end; they helped him stay known and relevant. He goes through a patch of trying different AI voices but their inhumanity emphasizes the greed too much; the male AI voices have a tinge of cruelty. Further, AI tends to contain an artifactual viewpoint that is unkind to humans, the singularity is too much of a mirror. Thus do many shorts makers overstep easily and disappear just as quickly. Instead, Alexander lately has employed (more and more effectively) his own voice, or a voice similar to his, I suppose – how do I really know? Either way, it’s the human side of what is a fine exemplar of the online short.

Again and again, we see Wolfgang mauling his enemies, running hot, reveling in the most selfish, unexamined side of poker: Wolfgang Poker is appetite, and appetite is desire, that which runs the world. Thus, Wolfgang Poker is a channel that taps into a rich but primal vein, which is pretty cool to think about, given all the gen z emotes and emojis and other cringe he drowns himself and us in. He makes wide use of the cloying signs and signifiers of his generation and still wins: Wolfgang is the alpha dork of visual poker hand histories.

I can’t say I’ve watched all of them, but most of his shorts start in the action without exposition. He uses the image alone to orient you – that’s just good, no, great editing (Alexander has a background, like Neeme, in media). We then hear a tiny selection of what could be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, that distinctly American church sound which has so much to do with Vegas and Money and Power and the celebration of the West and did I say Money. If you think things like this don’t matter to that view count, you are the sucker at the table. Art is manipulation and the good artist is a hypnotist. Never ask the audience what they thought was good – ask them if they liked what they saw.

Of late, the pizzicato drop, so popular in this genre, adds suspense. Popularized in opera as its stepping effect mirrors the movement of the plot, it later transferred well over to classic American animation. It signals fun, trouble, and maybe some wascally wabbits. For the modern Marvel mind, so cartoonishly immature, such basic tricks are going to work as well as ever. As you can see, Wolfgang, even with just the consumer end tools YouTube allows its serfs, is cooking with gas while your local template vlogger is still boiling hot dogs on a hot plate. Help me Brad Owen, you’re my only hope.

All this answerw august Isaac’s question: why is this the short that is slightly preferred over all the other, mostly similar ones? (Alexander literally promises one short per day!) It all should be becoming clearer to you: we are seeing the triumph of skill in a particular genre and in its proper moment, and he already had a massive, boosted following through Youtube’s shorts program aimed at competing with TikTok. The word “and” is doing a lot of work here.

That said, what separates a 50 mil ding-donger from a 100 mill standout? Continuing, the staccato of the narration, the two-step bet number popcorn, the important inflexion of Alexander’s voice as the hand culminates, and the rapid, refractory denouement without bloodshed, boggles the bleary brain and is what the short viewer truly wants: immediate satisfaction, immediate well-being, sixty seconds of therapy. Many of the viewers probably don’t even know that they are watching poker.

In other words, this stuff may not be for me or you, but knowing what it means to others is powerful knowledge indeed. Alexander is being pushed by YouTube as part of their $100 million shorts promotion fund, but even among these select luckboxes, he and pitch-perfect vids like this one stand out. Alexander, like Brad, probably does more to popularize poker than Isaac or Daniel, and that is hard for the ensconced talents to understand.

Yes, the restless, impatient viewing extra-poker public doesn’t care about your U.S. Poker Go Central Purple Ankle Blazers, Isaac and friends. On the excellent Pokerstories Podcast, where we get long-form interviews, Alexander speaks very plainly, if hesitantly, saying something to the effect that people want connection above all things, and that while winning a bracelet is an accomplishment, it’s not connection. They show up to for his videos and his meetups, and presumably his lucrative private app game, hoping to connect with the image on the screen, to be a part of the illusion. Alexander is a creature of the internet age, which is to say, the Lonely Age.

Of course, as with all the other vloggers, Wolfgang risks growing stale if he doesn’t change. Only really Jaman has continually developed himself and matured into something; that is the effect of time and work and craftmanship. Andrew and Brad have gone corporate, literally handing over the reins to the team; the Trooper is giving up; Slow Poker can’t break his formula or his Max Headroom smile and is fast becoming the Mr. Pibb of poker vlogs. On the whole, like pop musicians who have run out of three chord combos and words that rhyme with “you,” most vloggers recede into their own duplicative parody.

Will Wolfgang grow past mere fine tunings, or would that risk the cash cow? It’s like Amir said about poker itself, however, that he must risk dying to live. The future approaches already and is in fact more merciless than he or any poker crusher is. The algo works as a series of test groups, it is not arbitrary. The algo does not do the choosing, the audience does, the algo merely makes it all happen fast. AI is our quickening, not our replacement. So, one misstep and the checks can disappear. However, with Wolfgang’s instinct for effective short film nuance, his media industry training and thus actual expertise, I suspect the lightning is his to ride a bit longer.

However, we should let Isaac sleep – unlike those who have driven Wolfgang Poker and a generation of the new hypnotic short formers to fame and funding. This is not really the most edifying genre, but one of insomnia, addiction, screen time, down time and isolation. We spin the YouTube shorts wheel, for minutes or even hours, occupied by nothing, entertained but unamused and unchallenged: blackout. The ability to compel one’s attention carries with it no real responsibility, I suppose, yet something is off in the culture that requires and rewards such distractions so heavily.

So, Wolfgang Poker’s competition isn’t really Isaac’s 20 bb mastery, but it’s not Brad either: what Alexander is taking on is a late-night army of thirty second histories, nature cuts, thirsty booty bits, AI saturation, culture war provocations, sport celebrations and the rest of our amazing global pop culture. Alexander is our man of the hour, and the poker bigwigs don’t even know it. That goes both ways, of course. When Wolfgang answers Isaac, first he cowers behind his version of Isaac’s ressentiment, then immediately assures Isaac how much he respects him (respects his game! lol) when he hears the right signal. Apparently, words mean nothing but if so, content means less: you can’t have it both ways. Desire is not exactly rational. We can only hope that the most gifted purveyors of nightmares for Lonely Agers make the most of their windfalls.

The Absolute Nuts

Part live-streamers, part short-form creators, part game impresarios, David and John of The Absolute Nuts are the happy warriors of the live poker streaming genre. They also make shorts close but not too close to the style to Wolfgang Poker. Armed with a cell phone and a Youtube account (David is a multi-channel success story who, like Wolfgang, knows his business), the pair stream a madcap game of NL with PLO variants including the horrifying Chihuahua, a sort of full-house draw game that lops off stacks in an appropriately Aztecan manner. Come into the pyramid and play, David, High Priest of Flips, beckons from the Resorts World high-stakes room.

The Nuts game demands more than flips but prop bets and new player run-outs and all the fixings from its customers. David himself exudes some of that old time tricky action of the hustler, willing to give you the small ones while he takes the big ones, while at the same time being polite and agreeable in even difficult scenarios. (Like Billy, the only thing that he can’t stand are obtuse or serious players who won’t seem to give action.) John is quieter but that’s in part because he mans the “camera” in between his tricks and traps and bluffs. It’s a lot of action and just plain stuff going on: if you think you’re in a 5/5 game, you’re the sucker here.

absolute nuts
David and costars viewed through the Youtube shorts feed. Cacaw!

David’s natural charisma and exuberance (ask him how much his hoodies and sneakers cost) dominate the social dynamic. A curious fellow in the poker scene, he doesn’t really want to play in shorter stack games of the general pool but isn’t amenable to private games, either – possibly he’s seen things, as I have, not to like. So he brings his fun game and swinging, uh, action, to the public sphere. Well, you have to get in – occasionally or maybe always, they use the Reserved Game option, basically paying extra rake in order to control the list.

It’s a lot of fun to watch and even more to play. In the shorts, the image pattern here is gambling and gaming. Instead of Wolfgang’s artillery and wrist-slapping mockery, we hear the cash register and the silly tones of the old arcades. The music is more a distraction than used to heightening effect; they need Alexander to do the editing if they want a million followers. The subtleties of this media segment are really quite extraordinary.

The Nuts crew is in some ways a more relaxed version of our daily games. With all the goofy variants of poker the Absolute Nuts crew loves, that’s not surprising. We need variety and yet forget we need variety. Where Alexander zeroes in on his daily kill zone of NL, David and John are merely waiting to play Chihuahua and peel off PLO run-outs. If you get a seat, pray to run well. If God doesn’t like you so much, better to stay home and watch their fun clips.

I don’t think David and John have the same ambitions that Wolfgang does. Despite being Youtube savvy, it more appears David loves the game itself and likes the stream as a hobby rather than an income vehicle. After all, he has others doing this for him on other projects, and turning everything into business is a bore. So maybe I’m wrong, but the Nuts has become, very ironically, slightly more natural than most streams and vlogs. It is the endpoint and product of well-off enthusiastic poker amateurs, in some respects showing everyone how to have a good time. That’s a lot to offer the world, and certainly enough to pass the time watching.

The exception to this take is that they did get the game on the Tropicana/Bally’s stream: if someone offers David and John a permanent streaming home, such as if POTS could return or Bally’s tries yet again in Vegas, we could see the Nuts go nuttier. Being willing to make both Wolfgang-like shorts and full form streams means they are in for the long haul. Good luck, and happy flipping.

DGAF’s Live Poker Show

It has to be noted that there are some natural similarities between Billy’s new project at the Lucky Lady, and with the Absolute Nuts live stream. Both are often streaming live, both have a personality component, and both are fairly low-tech enterprises. One more thing, however, and it is a huge one: viewership on their live streams is limited, maybe for now, we can’t know. We’re going to talk and think about this, because some of the future of poker media is at stake in these two (and other) ground-up productions. Billy’s team makes shorts, too, but the long game is a full-length live stream.

I like this show because Billy has brought back something missing from our media-saturated lives: the raw community feel of Public Access Television, which is to say, locality. We spend a lot of time talking about what is good for poker, but most of the answers lay nearby, not in tuning up the prize pools or finding a yet shorter skirt for the latest “ambassador” (heading to the U.N., sweetie?) That’s what this show is, the weirdos down the street who want you to see them doing their thing. Dressing up funny and talking about funny stuff and doing funny stuff. If you missed this phase of television (television!) I feel a tad sorry for you.

Public Access Poker, with DGAF. Public Access was always fabulously underfunded, of course, and it’s not easy being on a budget. Unlike the Nuts, which is a moveable feast with infinite funding, this is a show with set pieces, a staff, and a locale where every dime counts. The web cams DGAF and his business partner bought give us that genuine PA graininess. The poker room is that conference space with the dying plant from Tom Wolfe. Screens for the players to see the live chat hang over heads like you’re back in high school. People wander in, confused, maybe looking for a game or the restroom. We bounce from two shot to two shot by the trigger-finger camera princess. The intern bubbles on nonsensically, happy to be in entertainment.

dgaf's live show
For DGAF, small stakes have never been so big, so let’s do it live.

Every week DGAF’s Live Poker Show improves, which should give the doubters pause. On one recent show, the Sign Guy, a classic L.A. weirdo obsessed with getting Robbie her money back from Garrett (yes people care about even minor celebrities in the most confusing way: connection), stole the show by doing exactly what Billy designed the show to do. Sign Guy pitched his ideas, interacted with the chat, and got everyone’s attention through his straightforwardness before finally misreading his cards and going broke, classic distracted fish style. It was hilarious to watch Billy grow irritated as he realized where the attention was going. That’s the unrehearsed play, that’s real life on Public Access Poker.

A week later, Billy is humanized again. A player makes a wild call and is right with queen high. While the table fetes her, Billy, who has made more calls with queen high than some players have had queens, tries to get some attention and talks about one of his seven high calls, yet the camera amusingly cuts him off. Oy vey. That’s public access poker, unintentionally showing us all at our best and worst. This is something poker could use. This is people.

Of course, the next thing that happens is the stream crashes. And crashes again. So, and let’s be generous, we’re at the start of the process, but to listen to the general public, we’re near the end. “No hole cards! No commentary!” they complain, never minding the more basic problem of having a working stream. (What if they were called hold cards, would your brain break as well?)

However, the wise artist or director does not take notes from the audience; the tail should not wag the dog. The visionary works on his vision and makes it a reality. Why? Because the audience doesn’t actually know what they want. In fact, the hole card thing is no exception. What the audience really means is, they want to follow the action. Now that is a reasonable wish, because the action is a story. The story is plot, otherwise known as structure, or a layer of it in this case. For the moment, DLPS relies on players showing their cards at the end. Sometimes we see only one, or none. In one huge pot, everyone is excited and Billy even stands up, but the camera never finds even the board, never mind the cards. At this point we’re watching a security camera feed of people yelling and laughing.

This can be solved with more compelling direction – a free camera focusing on the action or relevant one shots would add a lot to the two-shot mania the show prefers at the moment. At one point, a hand-held goes into the floor and is able to follow the action better than the stream table is! A little expertise goes a long way: no hole cards needed, because the vision transcends.

Billy, like all of us who have had to struggle, knows how to turn a negative into a positive. He knows all the problems but refuses to cede to them. He knows how easy it is to alter expectations by setting them. It’s one of the reasons he is popular, so don’t expect him to change.

Still, some of you are probably wondering why Billy is doing this show at all. Well, we can dispense with the obvious: anyone paying attention knows exactly why Billy and the HCL connection ended, and so requires no explanation here. What’s worth commenting on is not hidden or open conflicts, but business intentions, otherwise known as the future. It’s interesting that Nick took the moment to double down on his enterprise and revamp his product as Billy and Nick simulate an amicable departure; he didn’t have to do this, so why did he take Billy’s move so seriously?

Well, while Nick is a personal disaster at PR and generally a barely literate baby, he really does seem to have some business chops – quite the combustible combination. He makes choices that are good for him and his affairs very easily – not something Billy is very good at all. What Billy does have, and what he is good at, and what he is weighed down by, is vision. No one knows the degenerate west coast scene like he does, and he wants to bring that experience of poker and his beliefs about what is good for the game, to life. His is not the only way, but he knows what works for him and many others like him. Still, there is something else.

Remember when HCL was Billy’s new “family”, and his patrons were placed on standby? Because that is what we have arrived at. Billy is attracted to this format: the family gambling table. The hole cards almost anger him: don’t pay attention to that, he says, look at this happy family.

Anyone listening knows he is constantly in search of family – there is that connection Alexander mentioned, but in this case for the creator. The DGAF Live Poker Show is poker as a family – the long-awaited return to the friendly game is one of the primary image patterns offered here. We sit, we talk. Billy doesn’t want the cards to get in the way. Because on Public Access Poker, we have a family. We could probably all eat together.

See, this is a way forward for poker, and it’s not the AI/Solver/Poker as Chess branch of the game, nor the tournament dodge. Poker is not just the most challenging game in the world, a game where fortunes are won and lost, game worth millions in academic research. We’ve forgotten it’s also a home game, a family game, a gamble with dimes and quarters with the relatives after dinner. In the Lonely Age where victim viewers require ever higher and more perfect hypnotisms in order to sleep and forget, Wolfgangesque entertainments, Billy presents us with poker as family. I don’t know if family is going to be ultimately watchable, but you should probably check it out and decide this for yourself. Doubting Billy or any of those with vision has never been a good idea.

Now, there are cross purposes and storylines beneath storylines, of course, just as the action and hole cards provide a storyline in poker, Billy himself is a story. He’s trying to get out of debt and rediscover life. He’s fighting all fronts, working himself into poor health and stress. Poker players should support such a representative gambler, a man for all seasons, instead of whine about hole cards. I know it’s hard not to jerk your knee.

Moreover, the real question is what is Billy doing next? After all, his singular intellectual property, Sessions, is worth millions of dollars to Hollywood and probably at least a hundred grand to himself. Is he making that happen? What is the real vision, the one that matters? Leaving the Hustler probably stings quite a bit when he stares at his staking make-up and his depressing debts, but now he is a valuable free agent – what bigger engine will pick him up? He’s never been in a better position, but it probably doesn’t feel like it. Success is not measured by the path – the DLPS is a means as much as an end. The long and short of it is that the future remains intriguing and that the story never really ends.


All Vlogs Revealed: Dreams

2 thoughts on “All Vlogs Revealed: Connections, Long and Short

  1. As a Sessions (DGAF) listener, I don’t actually know the reason behind his departure from HCL. I can only imagine it could have been related to a clash of personalities and/or business priorities with his partners. Perhaps they encroached on his game running style? As for the new stream, I tried watching the first one but it was too painful. I do hope it improves and like you P, I wouldn’t bet against him. I also like Billy’s style as a narrator even though the way he lives his life couldn’t be further than mine – maybe that’s the interest!

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