Interview: Nat Arem
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Best Known For: Co-creating thepokerdb
You've never seen Nat Arem on TV or heard his name mentioned alongside a huge tournament payday, but his impact in the poker world has touched many. After creating thepokerdb, a popular online tournament database website, Nat has turned his attention to other poker related projects. He is currently working on thepokerfilm, a project dedicated to showing the world a glimpse into the lives of high-stakes online poker players. Nat was kind enough to talk with us this week about his involvement in the poker world.
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Pokertips.org: Nat, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How long have you been involved with poker, and what got you interested in the game?
Arem: I first started goofing around with poker in the 2001 to 2002 timeframe. A college roommate introduced me to the game. I didn't actually start playing until 2003.
Pokertips.org: You're much more well-known in the poker world for your business involvements, by starting thepokerdb and with your new project thepokerfilm, than you are as a player. Was it ever a goal of yours to be a top player, or were you always more drawn to the business side?
Arem: I never really wanted to be a top player -- at least not badly enough to bother pursuing it. I never even "wanted" to be a poker businessman. I just ended up in the poker world because I was intrigued by the idea of professional gambling and as I paid more and more attention to poker, I got more and more sucked in. Then, I co-created a poker forum because I was bored at my job and I wanted something to do. That led to the creation of thepokerdb and everything else has stemmed from that in some way or another.
Pokertips.org: You own a small share in Bluff Media (producers of Bluff Magazine) after selling thepokerdb to them. What are some things that make Bluff stand out from its competitors?
Arem: Honestly, I don't know much about poker magazines. While I read BLUFF on occasion, I don't really read the other ones. A few things I've noticed about BLUFF is that their products tend to have a high production value. Things like layout, photo shoots, print material quality and other things are very good. In addition, they get some great columnists, such as Phil Galfond, a well-known high stakes player. But for the most part, I can't say what one magazine does better than another because I don't follow those things closely enough. I'm mainly just involved in the "thepokerdb" section of the website at BLUFF.
Pokertips.org: Tell us more about thepokerfilm and any another poker-related projects you're working on.
Arem: Well, thepokerfilm is my attempt to show the world a glimpse into the crazy world of online poker players. I am somewhat immune to the huge money in poker these days, but whenever I talk to my non-poker friends about online poker, they are always amazed by the amounts of money being tossed around liberally, among other things. Whenever anyone brings up poker with me, they always seem to love hearing poker stories and they ask tons of questions, so I guess that made me believe there would be a market for this type of film. I'm not sure yet if I'm right, but the response so far has been very positive and I'm hoping for a lot of views.
The first "TPF" is about four poker players living together in Athens, GA. It's the "crazy college kids" version of TPF, but we plan on making a number of these types of films. Hopefully, we can make at least five, telling a different type of story each time. There are tons of poker stories to be told and I hope to be involved in getting those stories out into the world.
Years ago, no one really knew who was playing and winning at online poker. At one time, people like JohnnyBax actually kept their names secret. I've tried my best to open up the world of online poker to the casual viewer. Some might even think of me as a photographer because of the pictures I've taken over the years at live events. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I think I've taken the first poker-related pictures of many people. Even at events like the 2007 WSOP, I still focused on covering online players. For instance, I'm pretty sure BLUFF is the only media organization who owns a picture of Steve "MrSmokey1" Billirakis from Day 1 of the WSOP event that he won (Event 1, as the youngest ever).
In other words, other media organizations wait until a player has live success and THEN focus on them as opposed to focusing on people with only online success until that point. I took that picture and skipped taking a picture of someone like Amir Vahedi. Why? Online poker is the present and future of poker as a whole. There are tons of pictures of Amir Vahedi out there and very few pictures of Steve Billirakis (at least, at that point). I want online players to be recognized in the same manner as live players, and I guess thepokerfilm is just my next effort in that ongoing endeavor.
I'm also working on at least three other ideas for poker-related websites, none of which have been done before in any capacity and all of which I feel have a lot of potential. One of them is very close to being ready for a beta release and at the moment. I'm discussing taking on a business partner in that site (he would buy a minority stake of the equity) while also finalizing some of the code so it can be tested efficiently. Once those two tasks are complete, I'll announce that project publicly. The other two are mainly ideas at this point, although I have sketched out the beginning of the code for them.
Lastly, I am the majority shareholder in PSDollars, which is an online W$/T$ marketplace. We buy and sell PokerStars tournament currency. I've been doing that since January 2006 and it's both an interesting and great business.
Pokertips.org: You studied at Emory law school for a semester and then stopped. What prompted you to dropout?
Arem: I dropped out because the deal I made with BLUFF to sell thepokerdb required me to help a lot with integrating the site into their existing website. So I wasn't going to have time to do both and the deal was something that I wasn't willing to pass up. So I stopped going despite doing pretty well the first semester (I took all of the finals and received credit for the fall 2006 semester).
At this point, I've realized that it probably doesn't make sense to go back. I never really planned on being a lawyer, but when I applied to law school (winter 2005-2006), I could never have imagined things getting as big as they've gotten for me. I think it makes sense for me to ride the poker wave for awhile, then go get an MBA [Masters of Business Administration] and see where I can go from there.
Pokertips.org: What are your thoughts on Las Vegas and where do you enjoy staying?
Arem: It's okay. I was out there for three months this year for various reasons. I can't say that I liked living there, although it does have some benefits (no allergies!). The casino atmosphere just isn't for me, and I don't think the city has much in the way of character. Lastly, I didn't really like the people there all that much (except for the ones I was friends with anyway and happened to be in town for events). For the most part, I live in Atlanta and I love it here. I still live in the same apartment that I leased for law school purposes and I plan on being here through at least August 2008. At that point, I'll make a decision on where to live next.
Pokertips.org: What are some of your hobbies away from the world of poker?
Arem: I love technology and computers. I'm the ultimate early-adopter and I can be found at Best Buy multiple times a week. I also read engadget and gizmodo daily. Things like TiVo are a daily part of my life. I watch a lot of sports and various TV shows.
I like to hang out with the friends I made at law school. I also enjoy nice food, movies and exercising either in the gym or by playing sports. Other than that, poker, reading forums, and programming take up the rest of my time.
Pokertips.org: You recently made a weight-loss bet with some friends. What were the specifics and how did it turn out for you?
Arem: Well, I'd prefer not to say the dollar specifics of the bet except that it was for five figures. But the general idea was to lose 40 lbs in about five months starting in January 2007. I lost about 32 lbs in the first 45 days and I accepted a buyout for a very high % of the total value of the bet. It was great to lose all of that weight, mainly because I'd been slowly putting it on over the course of the last few years and I was feeling worse and worse. I graduated college in May 2004 at around 205, which is a healthy weight for my 6' frame. I inched my way up over the following 2.5 years all the way to 255 or so and felt terrible. Now I'm around 200, and I'm feeling great. I will probably drop to 175 in the relatively near future, although I've plateaued lately due to a muscle building program that I'm on.
I should also note that I lost a similar but smaller bet in 2006. That year I lost a four figure bet that was to go from 240 to 210 in around 5 months. Pathetically, I wasn't able to do it, mainly because I just didn't care enough. Once I finally started caring was when the pounds started coming off.
Pokertips.org: In your opinion, what does the future hold for poker from a global popularity standpoint? Is the boom over?
Arem: I do not think the boom is over worldwide. There are a lot of unexplored markets waiting to be exposed to poker. I think poker will continue to grow and be healthy. On the other hand, poker may have peaked in the United States. At this point, a lot of people in the US have been exposed to poker in some way either via TV or online and I think a lot of the population has either taken an interest or has set it aside. That's just my feeling though and I get the feeling we may continue to see drops in TV ratings for poker until something new helps to spark an interest in the game.
Pokertips.org: If you were to speculate, what would you say your involvement in the poker world will be in ten years?
Arem: Wow, that's tough to say. I really hope there is a booming poker world in ten years and if there is, I'd love to be a part of it. I still see thepokerdb being around then and hopefully things like thepokerfilm-style projects will have taken hold (maybe even a poker TV channel?). It would also be really cool if there was regulated online poker in the US and, if there was, I'd love to be involved in the management of one of those rooms.