Malta Poker Festival: Shewees and Slots with Kat Arnsby

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With the Malta Poker Festival in full swing, Lee Davy sits down with Kat Arnsby, Poker Manager of one of the festival’s sponsors, Redbet, to talk about her role in Malta, carving out a niche in the game, and much more.  

Malta Poker Festival: Shewees and Slots with Kat ArnsbyI like Kat Arnsby because I am Kat Arnsby.

How does the saying go?

Birds of a feather eat shit together?

Yeah, we come from the same part of the chicken, the piece that you love or hate.

There is a trusted truculence about her; a radically honest and transparent persona that’s rare in a poker world where everyone is afraid to tell it as it is because everyone is connected to someone they don’t want to upset.

Not Kat Arnsby, the only poker blogger you will ever find mixing fratricidal murder with raising from the button. And what I love about her, is she is proof personified that removing your filter isn’t suicidal.

I am waiting in the Hilton lobby for our high jinks at noon. An hour before she competes in Day 2 of the Malta Poker Festival Grand Event.

My phone buzzes.

Hey Lee, gonna be ten minutes late. Had a crisis with my outfit. 

A ‘crisis’ with her outfit?

This, from the same woman I saw plodding around the breakfast area in her slippers and pyjamas.

When she does turn up, she’s looking classy. Tasty. I want to throw her in the air and catch her in my mouth like an olive. It turns out that the crisis with her outfit was the stench of her boots. They didn’t pass the sniff test, and so she sits before me wearing her slippers.

Like I said, Kat, is classy.

I’m thirsty.

I order a cup of tea; Kat goes for a coffee, and I start by asking her what she thinks of the Malta Poker Festival, and it’s founder, Ivonne Montealegre?

“I love Ivonne, we’ve been friends for years,” says Kat. “I respect her as a person and what she does for poker. We have a weird relationship because we are friends and are dead nice to each other, but when we work together, we can have some superheated debates, because we are both quite feisty. We both love poker and want to put on good events. 

“I was always going to be involved in this event when Ivonne said she was putting it on. It’s the same team and the same venue that previously ran the Battle of Malta. I knew if I put some of my marketing muscle behind this one that I was going to get a top team. I was going to get people who really give a shit about making an excellent experience not just focusing on having the biggest guarantee, or trying to break records. It was more about having a great player experience. 

“I’ve really enjoyed it, actually. It’s nice to go to a large field, low-stakes event where you can walk between the tables quite easily. It felt like a mature event. It’s the first time under this name {Malta Poker Festival), but she {Ivonne} has been doing this for many years; it’s not her first rodeo.” 

The poker industry doesn’t consist of a few dealers, Matt Savage and 25-30 high stakes poker players. Many people can still tug on poker’s tablecloth without the teacups crashing to the floor. Kat is one of them.

By hook or by crook, Kat’s made a name for herself in a game that she loves, and in 2017, she got her big chance, when Evoke Gaming Ltd asked her to move to Malta to take care of the Redbet Poker brand.

It was perfect timing.

There was an idea brewing in her head. 

“When I first joined Redbet, they had just left their previous service provider and moved to the Microgaming Network,” Arnsby tells me as she pours sugar into her coffee. “When I arrived I told them that I didn’t want to generate rake and pull in professional players so I could argue with them over Rakeback deals via the traditional model.” 

I see a glint appear in Kat’s eyes as she shifts in her seat slightly. 

“I had an idea of a network-based sustainable model for small poker skins,” says Kat. “I had no idea if it would work. All I had was the idea, the industry experience to back it up, and deep knowledge of poker players especially those that played lower stakes. I wasn’t sure if my idea would work, but the CEO at the time, allowed me to experiment, and that was two years ago, now.” 

As Kat is still in her role, I assume her idea was successful?

“The numbers have been good,” says a Kat who looks like she has gotten the cream. “There have been a few things I didn’t see coming. But we are getting there, and hopefully, we have something that can be implemented by smaller companies. It’s not that I have anything against the big boys. I play on those sites. However, for me, long-term, if poker is going to remain healthy we need more competition.  

“I would like there to be at least 3-4 serious contenders, and one of them needs to be a network for smaller brands to take a piece of that pie and offer a different experience. It’s not always about money at the lower stakes. Sometimes, it’s about the ‘feeling’. Most of the people who play on Redbet are working class. They like a little banter and want to be part of a family. Some people don’t like what I do, and a network model allows them to enjoy the same liquidity, but at a brand that’s more their cup of tea. 

“It’s not about changing poker. For me, my main strategy is reframing how poker is viewed in the eyes of these top-level casino guys. At the height of the iGaming and poker boom money was flying in from everywhere. Due to regulation and customer awareness, that’s dropped off so much, these top casino guys, are looking at poker and thinking, “What the fuck is this? It’s not bringing in the money.”  

“We have to make them see that this is an affiliate tour. It pays for itself, and if you target the marketing correctly, you are bringing in the right sort of people to have cross vertical sales. I know you have some top pros who say it’s immoral to suggest poker players should play casino games. I think that’s hypocritical because the top elite players who make a living just beating the game; their livelihood is propped up by roulette and blackjack, and if we take it away their living is dead tomorrow.  

“I am a casino player, myself. I like bingo, Lee, I just like a punt. My biggest casino loss this year has been on PokerStars because I can’t play on the Microgaming Network, but their casino offering is terrible, and yet they still get more money out of me than any other casino site because I log on to play poker.” 

I bet Kat loved the old Full Tilt days when you could bet on the suit of the next card to hit the flop. 

“I like to have a little flutter during the five-minute break,” says Kat. 

So while most people are taking a piss, is Kat going all Antonio Esfandiari on us, by pissing under the table? Commode maybe? 

“I just get out the shewee and play some slots,” says Kat. “Shewee and Slots – that’s the name of my biography.” 

I know so many people who would steal the one pound coins sellotaped to one-year-old birthday cards to get a job in poker. I ask Kat to recall a few of her milestones.  

“I started playing poker a long time ago,” says Kat as one of her Redbet folks hangs around behind her, unsure whether to break up our little tete-a-tete. She doesn’t, and Kat continues. “It’s a lonely game and a strategy game, and that suits me. I love playing strategy games and playing alone. My first milestone, was when I began working as a roulette and blackjack dealer. On my very first shift on a Friday night, I was running a game of roulette, and I was looking over to the card room, and there was a £10 rebuy tournament on, and it was so noisy. That was 15-years ago now, and I still remember that moment thinking, “I want to be over there”. 

“My other milestone was when I got the position of cardroom supervisor in Salford. The place wasn’t even break-even, it was losing money for the company. But, it was a real working man’s club; a scruffy casino. It was brilliant, and it really suited me. That was exciting. I walked in, and I was like, “This is mine now”. That was when I realised I didn’t necessarily want to be a player. I can’t handle the emotional swings, Lee. I have thrown a laptop off a ninth floor balcony. 

“I am not good enough to play these high stakes games, and that’s not an insult to myself. These guys have got skills that I will never have, and I am sure that works the other way, and I have skills that they don’t have, so I can’t compete at the high stakes level, but I play because it’s fun.” 

I first learned about Kat after reading her PokerBaffer blog. Today, relatively unknown poker players can create a legion of fans through Twitch. The old-fashioned way was to write daily and hope someone reads the shit you put out there.

People like reading Kat’s shit.

“It turns out my blog was quite important,” says Kat when I ask her how it’s helped her advance in poker. “I started it for my mates and me. There was never anything out there for low stakes. For so long all the media did was imply that the goal was always to be professional. There was no pride in saying, “I don’t care if I win or lose. I love my job, but I like playing poker on a Saturday night”. So I created it to combat that way of thinking. There was also a lack of microstakes strategy. The whole micro-end of the market was missing. Everyone is always looking at the big boys as if they are demigods, and it annoys me because the small guys are the ones propping up the industry. The money flows upwards. The guys going out to work are the people putting in the money at the bottom that ends up at the top. So my blog has been critical to me, it’s got me invites to tours, and helped create my relationships within poker.” 

As someone who will write about absolutely anything and everything, I ask Kat what’s the most challenging confession she has ever had to make. It’s not a question that produces an immediate answer. 

“I applied for the first ever series of Big Brother,” says Kat. “I had a friend who works in media who said I would be perfect for it. It made me think, “What if we were always watched, and everything we did was caught on camera?” I was about 19, and I said, “Why not live your life like that, Kat?” The upside is that is who I am. If I am going to think it or say it quietly to my mate, I should tell the world. That’s where my non-filter comes from.” 

I ask her if there has ever been a time when she has felt some fear of pressing the ‘publish’ button? 

“I wrote a blog ages ago, in 2015, after the WPT500 in DTD,” reminisces Kat. “I had a bad time, and I felt that should have been an event aimed at someone like me. Like this one {Malta Poker Festival}. My average stake is $15 online, and sub-$100 live, so $500 is a huge event for me, and I had a bad event. I was hovering over the publish button. I knew I was going to get a lot of traction because I was laying into these guys. But there were no lies. I had a bit of fear and self-doubt. I thought DTD might ban me. You have to choose the way you want to live your life, and I want to be out there and honest, and I know not everyone is going to like it and that’s ok.” 

Let’s turn this thing around.

What shocks Kat?

“It’s cheating that shocks me,” says Kat very quickly. “I am a little bit naive as to how far people will go to get an extra buck, and how low they will allow their morals to sink, and it’s happened to me a lot since I joined this industry. It’s not just this industry, and I am not saying I am a saint, I am very much group orientated, someone, shouldn’t have so much more than someone who has so much less. It still upsets me now that people can take and not care who is missing out, and not in an open way, in a snidey way.” 

I throw a random question at her, and she catches it between her teeth and swallows it in one gulp.

Whose brain power have you found the most intimidating and why?

“I am not intimidated by super brains, I love them,” says Kat. “I am not super intelligent myself, but confident enough to know where I am at, so I am not intimidated by clever people. I think they are a resource, One of the best brains I have met recently is that of the Grosvenor ambassador, Andy Hills. I think I love him. He is super great at the game. He is a level one nerd, and on top of that, he can translate his strategy into idiot speak for me. He speaks human and never gets bored. I can harass him 50 times and say, “I just don’t get it!” And he will keep trying to explain it to me until I do.” 

And how does poker make this wonderful woman feel?

She laughs. 

“From a business perspective, I am super happy at the moment,” says Kat. “I think I have something that can be successful and can be implemented in the industry, long-term, and that makes me happy. As a player, well you know how it goes, take last night for example. I had ten bbs with 30-minutes to go. I was miserable. I hated poker, I hated the people and wanted everyone to burn in a fire. And then I doubled up and loved poker and everyone at my table. There is a level of emotional masochism with anyone who enjoys poker.”

You can catch Kat Arnsby on her blog, or on Twitter.

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