”The more I hear many chips rippling, the better I feel. I’m addicted to this music.”
At the end of season 2016 in the animated world of live poker tournaments in Romania, I asked Alex Cretu, tournament director at PokerFest (probably the most familiar figure for live poker fans), to accept a discussion about his special job.
Rep.: Alex, you’re the only Romanian who can write on his business card the name of the exotic job he has: „tournament director.” How do you feel in this unique position?
Alex Cretu: I’m not quite the only one. It’s a profession in which I try to initiate my colleagues also. In fact, inside PokerFest there are top dealers and supervisors with extensive experience who can manage a tournament without breaking a sweat. In fact, the side-events from our festivals are managed by colleagues, I only handle directly the majority of Main Events. But the tournament is not just what is seen in the hall. For me, the festival starts a month before.
Rep .: It starts with what?
Alex Cretu: One thousand preparations. I view all possible scenarios, depending on the hall, on the online collaborator, on the market potential at that given moment. Depending on all these, the series of the tournaments is projected: how much will the Main event cost, what blind structure and what payout will it have, how many side-events, what days, at what time, because I need the players to to feel surround-ed by a fluent, accessible, comfortable event. Basically, when the first players show up, I already have the full picture in my head, until the end, when the last player will leave the tournament premises.
Rep .: Given that you have a profession which is so rare, wasn’t it difficult to learn it? What models have you had?
Alex Cretu: There are several factors that helped. First of all, my experience in casinos. I started my career having Sorin Constantinescu pushing the buttons at Regent Casino. He leaves nothing to chance and he liked paying attention to the details, a habit I inherited also.Then, naturally, we went together further into the poker world. Subsequently, I studied the work of the greatest tournament directors in the world very carefully.
Rep .: For example?
Alex Cretu: First, we had the pleasure to work with the director of the EPT circuit (now PokerStars Championship), Thomas Lamatsch. Then, Matt Savage, TD at WPT (World Poker Tour) is a benchmark in the industry, he has „globalized” the rules of conduct of a poker tournament, so wherever he enters a tournament, a poker player is able to guide himself by the same rules. Then, of course, I follow Jack Effel constantly, the TD at WSOP. And also, I monitor continuously the TDA (Tournament Directors Association, n.r.) activity, an organization established by Savage which mutually regulates our work. Things are changing a lot lately, because there is the tendency to recruit recreational players.
Rep .: By the way, what do you think of Jack Effel’s decision to penalize William Kassouf with a table shift at the WSOP Main Event for talking too much?
Alex Cretu: It’s a very thin line between the relaxing atmosphere conversation and the abusive conversation. I wish for my tournaments to host discussions, socializing, jokes, not a professional atmosphere of general silence. That is not good for poker because poker tournaments are not a job but a fun place. Kassouf speaks more than anyone, but in my opinion he has humor and that makes him popular and liked at table. But Jack Effel is a very good professional and I should listen to his opinion to decide whether or not to agree with him. Every manifestation in the gambling hall must be within the limits required of decency and common sense.
Rep .: Are you happy with 2016 season? How goes live poker in Romania?
Alex Cretu: I am satisfied with my work. In this business it’s a valid question: „No news is good news”. I mean, if my presence is not necessary, if I am invisible, if my presence is not requested in some way, it means I did my job well. Regarding live poker, this is visible to the naked eye: it is not in the crisis the online poker is. The level of play is still very affordable -and will keep on being many years from now – and live tournaments still beat records of participation. In Romania, we see the same trend. But it is essential for the health of Romanian poker, that our country becomes a hub for major festivals. They bring foreigners, meaning „fresh blood” and his way the money and players are not recycled from the same limited pool.
Rep .: What were the most beautiful and the ugliest moment in your career as a tournament player?
Alex Cretu: I have no bad moments. I love my job and when you love something, you see only the good parts. As far as the most beautiful moment is concerned … this is repeating itself every festival: when I see the game hall filled to the last place and I have no issues with dealers coverage or congestion of the players. As many rippling chips I hear, the better I feel. I’m addicted to this music.
Rep .: Still, there must be a downside. Stress? Fatigue?
Alex Cretu: Yes, actually, there is a regret: that the moments in which I wish I played poker are exactly those when I am not allowed to do it. Sometimes I burn my tooth to give myself a „claw”, as they say. I love the game and probably if it was not meant for me to be at the microphone, I was in the room, a simple player.
Rep .: Plans for 2017?
Alex Cretu: I still do not have exact plans for next year. Only objectives were established: more tournaments and more players, especially foreigners.