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Poker Site CEO Wins From Own Players: Legit Fun or Sick Hustle?

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We here at Professional Rakeback recently attended the December Live Cage in Costa Rica, hosted by the Winning Poker Network. This poker tournament follows an unusual format – made even more noteworthy by December's installment being the first Live Cage in the PLO poker variant rather than NLHE – and the participants seemed to be overall pleased with it. One thing caught our attention though as being out of the ordinary even for an event with a non-standard structure: The CEO of the Winning Poker Network, Phil Nagy, actually sat down with and competed against his own customers.

Phil Nagy Competes in His Own Live Cage Events

Phil's Performance

Money Bag

Early on the first day of the two-day Live Cage event, Phil went on a tear, and he grew his stack to more than 20,000 starting from 5,000. On the second day, he continued his rungood, and at one point, he held more than 25,000 chips. Toward the end of the tournament, Phil did donate some back particularly when he lost an all in pot to eventual second place finisher Jeff Boski. Fortunately for Phil, he still had 11,100 chips remaining and worked back up to 17,020 by the end of play, which was exchanged directly for an equal value in cash.

The reason players (besides the winner) can finish the Live Cage with chips still remaining is that the game ends at a designated time on the second day, and all remaining contestants walk away with what they have left.

Phil Nagy's History in the Live Cage

Two Books

Indeed, this wasn't the first time that Phil entered his own $5,000 + $250 Live Cage. He has been a force to be reckoned with in each of the five Cage Live tourneys that have occurred. Here's a record of his performance in the series:

  • March 17 - 18: 4th of 21 - $10,785 (+$5,535)
  • May 26 - 27: 8th of 28 - $9,490 (+$4,240)
  • July 28 - 29: 5th of 33 - $12,950 (+$7,700)
  • Sept. 29 - 30: 21st of 40 - $0 (-$5,250)
  • Dec. 1 - 2: 6th of 30 - $17,020 (+$6,520)

Remarkably, Nagy cashed in four of the five Live Cages that have occurred. Now, the fact that this is a time-based tournament, where players keep whatever they have remaining in front of them when the event ends, means that a greater percentage of entrants walk away with a prize than in a regular poker tourney. Still, an 80% ITM record is quite enviable.

Phil's success becomes even more noteworthy when we calculate his return on investment (ROI). Adding up his winnings, we see that Phil Nagy profited by $18,745 while paying $31,500 in entry costs, for an ROI of 60%.

Photo of Phil Nagy at Poker TablePhil Nagy Putting Chips in the Pot at the December Live Cage
By All Accounts, Phil Is an Action Player

Advantages of Phil's Participation

Up Arrow: Green

By being willing to sit at the green felt across from his customers, Phil Nagy is making himself more approachable and accessible to the player pool. Undoubtedly, the environment for customer interaction provided by the Live Cage is richer than that offered by the emails and forums that represent the standard methods for the WPN CEO to communicate with the poker community. The type and quality of feedback Phil gets in these events is probably difficult to find elsewhere.

Also, as the leader of one of the most popular USA-facing poker sites, it's Phil's responsibility to stay in the game as a player so that he understands the concerns of his user base. We've seen other offshore poker brands make seemingly bizarre decisions that leave customers feeling disappointed and alienated. PokerStars comes to mind: It used to be the unquestioned king at keeping players happy, but ever since its acquisition by Amaya, it has gone downhill in this department. By engaging with his clients in this way, Phil is helping to prevent his organization from following down this losing path.

Finally, it's just plain fun to win a big package online from a poker site and then get the opportunity to play against the CEO himself. It's probably equally entertaining for Phil because the wide scope of his duties likely leaves him little room to enjoy cards in his personal time. By entering the Live Cage himself, Phil can combine work and pleasure in a way that few top corporate executives can.

Drawbacks of Phil's Participation

Thumbs Down

Notwithstanding the benefits mentioned above, there are serious reasons why Phil might want to reconsider competing at the Live Cage.

By booking four-figure wins against his own customers, Phil is removing money from the pool that they can win. For most, the Cage Live is a once-in-a-lifetime (or at least once-in-a-great-while) treat. It's therefore a duty of the organizers to make it as enjoyable as possible for the participants and leave them singing the praises of the Winning Poker Network. Reducing the total payouts by having Phil take some of the cash off the table surely doesn't help in this area.

Perhaps more serious is that Phil's actions leave him open to accusations that the tournament is unfair or fixed in some way. Now, we here at Professional Rakeback don't believe there's anything like this going on (though it is pretty remarkable that such a big fish as Phil can achieve an ROI of 60%).

Yet, the truth is that even the appearance that something might be amiss can fuel all kinds of speculation. We've seen all manner of strange conspiracy theories made in online poker forums, from games being rigged to the presence of rampant collusion and bot infestations. The Winning Poker Network hasn't by any means been immune to this form of imaginative fearmongering. Therefore, the prudent course of action is to proactively avoid any activities that could even suggest the possibility of shady goings-on.

Bottom Line

After examining the situation carefully, we feel that it's OK for Phil Nagy to play in the Live Cage. While some of the tinfoil hat crowd may be dismayed by our stance, we believe that overall, the fun and excitement involved in mixing it up with the CEO of the poker site outweigh any ill-founded concerns that could be raised.

The Live Cage by Winning Poker Network

Try to Win Your Live Cage Seat Today

If you'd like the opportunity to go to Costa Rica and attempt to win Phil Nagy's money in the Live Cage, then we urge you to register for Americas Cardroom today and enter the relevant satellite qualifiers. ACR is the flagship site of the Winning Poker Network, and it grants new depositors a 100% up to $1,000 bonus, a free $50 credit, and entry into up to four new depositors freerolls. You can also get a $10 no deposit bonus to check out the games on the house's dime with our PRB10FREE Americas Cardroom bonus code. Read through our Americas Cardroom review for all the relevant information.

If you'd rather sign up for another site on the Winning Poker Network, then you ought to consider BlackChip Poker, True Poker, and Ya Poker (non-US). Be aware, though, that these secondary skins don't confer as many benefits as Americas Cardroom does. Notably, the $10 no deposit deal and complimentary $50 upon deposit are not present at these alternate rooms.


Who cares, he's a farking fish! Let him buy in 10 times at every major tournament!

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