In the poker industry, there is no secret signal when a scandal strikes. There is no bat symbol illuminating the Las Vegas skyline when a cheater surfaces. No siren sounds when a particular ruling is botched.
If there was, it’s easy to imagine it being patched through to the desk of Shaun Deeb. If anyone has a weather eye on the horizon for controversy — it’s him.
Deeb’s Poker Career
First and foremost, Deeb has amassed a formidable poker resume. In addition to five WSOP bracelet victories — including two seven-figure scores in Pot-Limit Omaha High Rollers — Deeb has a staggering thirty top-10 finishes in WSOP bracelet events in both Las Vegas and at King’s Resort, Rozvadov for the WSOP Europe.
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His over $11,000,000 in career earnings was boosted most recently by yet another mixed-game win, coming in the PokerGo Tour Mixed Games $10,300 H.O.R.S.E.
“I think that, because of my history and my expertise, people should blindly listen to me”
Deeb does not immediately strike you as a caped crusader; a vigilante against poker injustice. However, he believes the longevity of his career — and perhaps the success he has achieved during it — should earn him a modicum of respect from others in the industry.
“I’ve been in the poker scene for almost 20 years now,” Deeb told PokerNews. “I’ve seen most situations, so usually I’m a pretty good judge when it comes to the rules and what should be done.
“I interject my opinion because I think that, because of my history and my expertise, people should blindly listen to me — almost always.”
A Controversy Magnet?
Despite a reputation as a family man — he once missed the birth of his son to play in the World Championship of Online Poker — Deeb has publically feuded with numerous poker stars such as Daniel Negreanu and Bryn Kenney. A cognoscente of sorts, Deeb is not afraid of taking opinionated stances on tournament rules, and what he perceives to be the correct application of them.
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But how do these situations come about in the first place? Is the person involved inexperienced, interpreting the rules incorrectly of just plain negligent?
“Some of the most difficult arguments that I’ve had with staff members are with those who think they’re more experienced.”
“Thinking back, there have been so many controversies that fit into every one of those categories. What I will say is that some of the most difficult arguments that I’ve had with staff members — at different properties — are with those who think they’re more experienced.
“They’re quick to say they’ve been doing something for twenty years. And I’m like: consistency doesn’t make it correct.”
While Deeb may be quick to fire up Twitter to voice his opinion, he says that others come directly to him. According to him, they recognize his vast understanding of the poker industry and actively seek out his thoughts and input.
“Someone once came to me saying they liked my ideas and basically asked me to tell them everything that was wrong with what they were doing, and how I thought I would change it. I don’t expect to be the only person listening to people like that in the industry, but I do want to be one of the voices.
“A lot of times I end up arguing with players in a certain situation saying ‘Why isn’t XYZ happening?’, and I’m like ‘Don’t you understand how difficult that would be to implement?’ I think the decision-makers in the industry know who the passionate players are, ones who are also knowledgeable and understand where operators are coming from.”
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Deeb and Robbi Lew
The most recent scandal Deeb inserted himself into was arguably the biggest of 2022. The scandal surrounding the “Call Heard Round the Poker World” would go on to spawn several spin-off scandals — most of which Deeb was heavily involved in.
From appearing on podcasts to accusing Robbi Jade Lew directly, Deeb’s presence was felt and opinions heard not just on the original hand, but the ensuing fallout, accusations, and alleged malfeasance by anyone and everyone evolved in the debacle.
Even now, months on from the scandal and after a subsequent investigation found “no evidence of wrongdoing” Deeb says that his instincts immediately told him something was up.
“When I saw that hand, my instinct said something’s weird. And I just got involved right away and things kept getting bigger and bigger.
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“I’ve played on live streams before, and was always afraid of people assuming I was cheating, because a lot of my plays seem bad on the surface. And the GTO guys are like ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ But there are usually some dynamics going on, and my image plays into some of those hands. But I’ve always been afraid that at some point I’ll be watching something, and my instinct will go ‘This ain’t right’.
“I’ve lived on my instincts; that’s how I made money in poker and succeeded in life is by trusting my instincts.”
Preparing for the 2023 WSOP
Having missed out on a sixth bracelet in 2022 — he managed five top-five finishes in bracelet events last year — Deeb will no doubt be back in action at the 2023 WSOP. The former WSOP Player of the Year said that he is often in contact with WSOP Vice President Jack Effel, and is involved with amendments to the WSOP schedule alongside the likes of Negreanu, Brian Rast and David “ODB” Baker.
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“Jack [Effel] is always creative with some of his ideas, and he’s wanting to try stuff. Every year getting to work alongside Negreanu, Rast, and ODB as advisors […] sometimes Jack takes our opinion and mostly he doesn’t — but that’s fine.”
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Deeb’s first bracelet came in 2015 when just 68 bracelets were awarded in Las Vegas. Now the 2023 WSOP schedule features 90 bracelet events, what does the five-time winner have to say to accusations that the achievement of winning a WSOP bracelet has become diluted in the intervening years?
“You have 90 events playing 25 different forms of poker, with buy-ins are from $300 to $250,000. Every year you get this chat about the dilution of bracelet events, but there is no dilution! There’s inclusion.
“To win a $1,000 No-Limit [Hold’em] bracelet, yeah, it’s a little different to winning a $10,000 mixed event — but it’s such different player pools. The WSOP is there to appeal to all players in poker.”
The 2023 schedule features the smallest Las Vegas WSOP bracelet event buy-in in history — just $300 to enter the Gladiators of Poker. Deeb says he remembers asking Effel about the introduction of the $365 buy-in Giant in 2017.
“I remember asking Jack ‘What’s with this small event?’ and he said ‘I’m going to appeal to everyone; if we have the staff, there’s no reason not to.’
“Obviously operationally if they took out a few smaller buy-ins they could work with a smaller staff and maybe improve the player experience in other areas when those massive fields are going on. Lines can be long, tables aren’t available or there’s a wait for the bathroom — it kinda sucks — but the high roller guys have accepted that.
“We know that 1 out of 20,000 players in that event might end up in our event eventually, so long term it’s better for us.”
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Working to Make Poker Better
So what does Deeb think needs to happen to improve the poker experience? His first priority is the introduction of going round for round on the bubble, something that he says he’s been trying to implement for a number of years.
“It’s absurd — and people think they can get away with it!”
“It solves so many things, while also allowing people to take their time while they’re making decisions for a lot of equity.So I wouldn’t be shocked if in the next five years of poker that’s one of the big changes that I’ve pushed for that actually ends up happening.”
Deeb isn’t shy about things he’s passionate about. Another bugbear of his? Players dodging the big blind.
“It’s absurd — and people think they can get away with it! I think I got four people in the World Series this year, I get someone once a year at the World Series [of Poker] Europe. And it’s so obvious — they go over to their table and come back.
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“It’s just unfortunate that these people want to push those small edges and they’re just stealing equity from the other players at that table for no good reason. It’s like they’re seeing like an old guy drop $20 out of his pocket, and they’re seeing an opportunity to pick it up — knowing full well whose money it is.”
Whether it’s his thoughts on scandals, his calling out of cheaters or his passionate ideas for how to improve the tournament experience, Deeb says that he doesn’t really care what people think. He says he’s as authentic as he can be.
“I don’t think anyone ever thinks I’m fake. I try to be consistent. And I think by doing that, people can see that I really care a lot about this industry.”
European Executive Editor
Will Shillibier is based in the United Kingdom. He started working for PokerNews as a freelance live reporter in 2015 and joined the full-time staff in 2019.
He graduated from the University of Kent in 2017 with a B.A. in German, and then studied for a NCTJ Diploma in Sports Journalism at Sportsbeat in Manchester.