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Andrew Neeme, the Pied Piper of Poker

With nothing more than a cellphone, he started a movement. Meet the modern-day folk hero who changed the way people see Texas Hold ’em.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Gamblers is a podcast about men and women who live by their wits and wagers. People who bet big on themselves, and won. From golf and chess hustlers to a Super Bowl handicapper, Season 2 focuses on the fascinating lives of professional underground gamblers and how they make their money.

After being introduced to online poker by his younger brother around 2007, Andrew Neeme decided to dip his toe into a vast ocean of online poker, but at the smallest of stakes, playing for blinds as low as one penny.

He was frequenting online poker forums like Two Plus Two and Daniel Negreanu’s Full Contact Poker, and reading about players who would grind for hours and hours, weeks and weeks to turn small initial investments into bigger bankrolls by slowly moving up in stakes as the bankroll grew.

To him, this was a distraction—a fun game to see how high he could get his $50 before he went completely bust. But with job prospects looking grim, and with so many people online boasting about their success and their transition from poker as a hobby to poker as a full-time job, Andrew found himself wondering whether poker could be his career.

But as long as he was going from $50 to $2,500 to $0, rinse and repeat, he would never be able to seriously consider poker as anything more than a distraction. Until he found a smaller, less-frequented poker site in a dusty corner of the internet called Bugsy’s Club.

On Bugsy’s Club, everything was different. You know that old saying that if you can’t spot the sucker at the poker table, then you are the sucker? Well at Bugsy’s Club, Andrew spotted plenty of suckers.

“I was able to move up through the stakes in a relatively short time span,” Andrew said. “Not that this has any indication of poker skill, on my part. I think it’s just mainly an indication of how easy online poker was back in the day, especially if you could find a good spot.”

Within the span of a year Andrew went from playing online poker in his spare time to playing it eight hours a day with a five-figure bankroll. One day it dawned on him: He was a professional poker player.

Andrew had always heard that live poker was easy pickings for the online professionals. Brick-and-mortar poker rooms were full of fish—from tourists looking to have fun to older poker pros who were still stuck in a very outdated way of playing the game.

In the early days of the poker boom in the United States, everyone who visited Las Vegas liked to sit in a poker room and play the game they watched on ESPN. The dead money was easy to find and in high supply, and anyone who could do some simple division in their head could get a piece of it as long as they had the time to camp out in casinos.

So Andrew packed up and moved. Even though he’d been to Las Vegas about 20 times, that was as a tourist, and when he moved there, he knew next to no one. And life at the poker table, despite technically always being surrounded by other people, is really a life of solitude.

In addition to the loneliness, Andrew experienced another major drawback to being a poker pro—the swings, both emotional and in his bankroll.

Eventually, Andrew had hit a wall. Or more appropriately, a ceiling, with the stakes he was playing in Las Vegas. And he felt stuck.

“I was playing in this 5/10 game at the Bellagio and I would see the tough game happening in the higher-stakes game, but I just don’t think for whatever reason, I don’t think it’s for me,” Andrew said.

“But it also just feels like those questions are popping into my mind a lot more regularly. ‘What am I going to do with my life? Is this the thing that I’m going to do? Does it feel like I’ve reached as far as I want to go with this, or is there another idea?’”

Casey Neistat was an internet trailblazer who, back in 2015, started to document his life every day on YouTube by producing “vlogs”—short, edited videos about whatever he did that day. Today many of the vloggers from that era, like Jake Paul or David Dobrik, are major celebrities, but back in 2015 they were still a curiosity. Andrew, however, was captivated by Casey’s vlogs, and he had an idea.

Andrew saw that there was a hole in how the media covered poker. It focused on high-stakes players and big tournaments. But he figured that documenting his daily life as a mid-stakes grinder, someone earning a comfortable but modest living entirely at the poker tables of Las Vegas, would be interesting and relatable to the universe of aspiring poker professionals in a way that content about millionaires wasn’t.

“The vast majority of people are playing much more reasonable stakes—1/2, 2/5, and maybe have dreams of playing 5/10 regularly, or maybe even for a living,” he said. “That would be something cool to show to people and what it really looks like. And to be able to have Las Vegas as a backdrop for all that stuff made a lot of sense.”

But Andrew’s vision was bigger than that. He also thought that giving himself exposure in this way might open up doors for him in his career. That perhaps if he could build himself an audience, he could become a kind of blue-collar ambassador for the game.

To hear the full Andrew Neeme episode, click here. Be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new Gamblers episodes. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.