Randy Lew: Vlogging the hell out of a life he loves
We had intended to publish this interview during the latter stages of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Then Daniel Negreanu set about giving us a roller coaster ride all the way through to the closing stages, which seemed only right to focus our attention on. But it also seemed right to hold off publishing what we thought was a fascinating and candid interview with Lew, who is one of the game's most fascinating talents. So here's the interview in full, a little later than planned.
Last time I talked to Randy Lew it was at the World Series of Poker exactly a year ago. He'd confessed that he'd gone back home during the six week Series to satisfy a craving for online poker, before flying back.
"That sounds like something I would say," he said, before explaining that he'd done something similar this year, playing a total of just ten events.
"I felt like I needed a break," he said. "Yes, I'm known as some kind of super human poker player, but I find that it's still very important to recharge. And it's not the end of the world to miss an event here and there. Poker will always be there."
Spending his time between Vancouver and San Francisco, Lew is to many someone to look up to. He personifies the modern online player, operating almost at super human speed and ability, and giving fans the chance to watch him do it.
But while that is something that gives Lew a great sense of satisfaction, he still has a lot to prove to himself. He talks about the game with reverence, knowing that to him at least, he has found his calling. He's dedicating his life to it, and that keeps him coming back to Las Vegas each summer.
"It's a little bit of the fame and glory to be honest," he said. "I started playing the World Series specifically more than just the main event about four years ago. And I've been a poker player for nine years or whatever. I haven't had any really solid results here yet. I don't have any final tables or bracelets, so it's like a motivator.
"People want that for me too. That's why I keep coming back. I could quit poker today and make a living. But I'm not going to do that because I'm that passionate about it, you know? I want to be able to prove not only to myself, but for fans.
Being a poker player in the modern mould, Lew has a following, not just on Social Media but on Twitch, where he makes regular appearances either alone or with other Team Pros. With that comes responsibility, but also attention.
"That's one of the biggest things I really like," he said. "When people just want your autograph, and they really look up to you, being a role model in that sense. That's something I really could never have gotten. It's not just something you can just buy."
But contrary to that almost robotic image of Lew playing online on countless tables, there's a philosophical side to the Team Online Pro. The rewards he gets from the game are more than just financial, something he realised, weirdly, shortly after Black Friday.
Before then Lew could play whenever he wanted. Now, in San Francisco where he lives, he doesn't have that option. Torture for some players perhaps, but Lew thinks differently.
"I come to find that I really appreciate that time more," he said. "I took it for granted before. A lot of people say how Black Friday is terrible, but I just adjusted and changed my perspective."
It's meant a greater appreciation of his life away from the table, of his family and friends. Let's not kid around, this is still a man who treats reaching Supernova Elite as a mandatory achievement each year, but it means he gets the best of both worlds.
Not bad for a kid who at school preferred to apply himself to video games rather than his school work. Lew did have one skill though, and that was applying himself to the things he really loved. In the beginning that was Street Fighter, but you can't make money out of virtual kicks and throws. Then he found poker. It came as a revelation.
"This game is fun and what, I can pay rent with this? I can buy my own food?"
Suddenly Lew became Nanonoko and set about turning online poker upside down. Here was a job that not only earned him money, but met a greater need, albeit requiring some sacrifice.
"I can't step away," he said. "It's too big part of my life. With Black Friday, it was April. I didn't move until September. During those five months I was a little lost to be honest.
"It was a really big decision for me. And I decided that poker was too big a part of my life to just drop like that and just start playing at casinos. I just couldn't do it. I decided to give it a shot. That was like five years ago, and here I am today, going hard at it."
It's why, as his World Series came to an end for another year, Lew was not looking backwards, but forwards; not at missed opportunities, but at those yet to come. That means not only WCOOP, and "TwitchCon" later this year, but a trip.
Away from work, away from the pressure of poker.
"Basically all I need to do is set a date and time, plan it out a little bit. And vlog the hell out of it!"
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.