Meet PokerStars' longest-serving player of all time
Choosing a suitable screen name for your poker account can be challenging, because all the best or most appropriate ones are taken. With PokerStars now celebrating 100 million customers, getting something close to your initial choice right now would be nigh-on impossible. But what if you were one of the very first players ever to register at PokerStars? Wind back to September 5, 2001, days before the site's official launch, and imagine that you signed up to this shiny new "internet poker room", and that you could therefore use just about any screen name in the world, one that would be envied for ever more. Frank Öberg was that player. But he didn't care about bagging a premium name that thousands of others would try unsuccessfully to register for years to come. He had been a massive fan of the British girl band, the Spice Girls - and so it was that SpicyF became one of the first players to grace the PokerStars tables.
It wasn't just a fleeting flirtation by a poker "wannabe", either, because Frank still plays with us today, an extraordinary feat that officially makes him our most loyal, longest-serving customer of all time. In the 15 years since those dizzy days of 2001, he has seen it all - the pioneering early-adopter tournaments and cash games, the Moneymaker-effect explosion in online poker, the extraordinary growth in online tournament series like WCOOP, and the changing poker strategy and gaming landscape that has seen mobile poker and other innovations like Zoom and Spin and Go's become normality.
Frank, from Sweden, initially played our tournaments with a few dozen people, or grinded limit hold'em cash, which back then was the daddy of the cash tables. He saw tens, then hundreds of thousands and then millions of others signing up to PokerStars. The number of hands being played spun around in a blur and he played through our famous 100 Billionth Hand promotion in 2013, won by Greek player microulis69 for a handsome $103,800 payday. Our man Frank didn't win that one, but remarkably he had won our 20 Millionth Hand milestone promotion back in 2002, receiving $500 for his efforts!
"I started playing poker with friends in around 1996," he said. "Then I found the internet newsgroup rec.gambling.poker which, in my mind, was the premier forum for poker at the time. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, and it was there that I found out about an online poker site (no real money) called irc.poker.net. I met many people there, including, if I remember correctly, a few future WSOP champs like Chris Ferguson.
"After that I tried most other online sites when they opened up (including Full Tilt a few years later), but the first time I heard about PokerStars was in 2001 from rec.gambling.poker. If I am not mistaken they were looking for staff at launch, so this was before they had officially opened - and that's probably why I signed up pretty quickly as a player."
Looking back at it now, those early days at PokerStars were surreal. The lobby showed only hundreds of people playing, and there was an excitable announcement on our formative website's 'Notice Board' that 836 people had played a $5,000 freeroll, making it the "biggest online poker tournament ever". The speed of player sign-ups was to become supersonic, of course, and many years later PokerStars was to set another tournament world record - with a spectacular 253,698 entering the launch event of the Common Cents promotion! "The numbers of players are the biggest changes I have seen over the years," Frank said. "Very few games were running when I started, and there were only a few types of games anyway!"
Frank thought he could make some profit in those early days as new customers flocked to the site. He explained: "My motivation for playing poker has always been to make money, and when I started at PokerStars I played only limit hold'em because, if I remember correctly, there were not many other games available. So I think I started playing $1/$2 or $2/$4 limit, and I lost my first deposits rapidly."
He found initially that winning was easier on other sites which at that time had a large database of sports bettors who did not seem to mind trying and losing at poker. But his early impressions of PokerStars were so good that he kept coming back. "The good thing about PokerStars is that from day one it had pretty damn good software, and in my eyes they have had the best software ever since. Many other sites at that time used java applications which were slow and sluggish.
"There is also excellent support. Like five to ten years ago you could send an email to support and get a reply within five minutes! Right now the response time is not quite as fast, but it is still miles ahead of other sites I've had contact with. To me this has always been important."
Frank became a winning player, both live and online, and moved up the stakes quickly, playing $2/$4 up to $5/$10 no-limit hold'em, and $50/$100 and $100/$200 limit hold'em. But he soon learned the hard way that it could be easy come, easy go, and he might lose his roll. "But back then it was easier to start from scratch at the lower stakes and build up quickly. It took me a few attempts at the higher stakes before I started winning there regularly. For me, poker started out as a hobby. I had a real love for the game and winning money is always fun, in whatever shape or form of gambling. I'm definitely a winning player since I started, but there have been ups and downs along the way.
"On PokerStars I think I played in the first $100/$200 limit game they ran, or it could have been $50/$100, but it was memorable because support and/or management would come in and chat in the chat box - and treat everyone who played to a pizza delivery! They actually ordered you pizza in real life. I don't think that happens much anymore, unfortunately!" The pizza "delivery boy" that day was Lee Jones, then the PokerStars poker room manager.
Even in those early days of 2001, controlled aggression at the tables was the key to success. "I think from the beginning I played pretty aggressively which proved to be very successful. I would think that since then my game has adapted to changes, because over the years there have been many shifts in how online poker is played. Also, initially I played mostly limit and no-limit hold'em before finding my new love for pot-limit omaha."
Frank concedes there is a luck element to poker, but that the cream always rises to the top. "It's obviously a skill game in the long run, but in the short run it's a luck game. If you are good at poker you take gambles where you have an edge - and it's that edge that gives you the long-term wins. But in any given night even the best players can lose their shirts if the cards go against them.
"But over a year or two these best players will have won."
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All his years of play have mostly been on his trusty desktop computer. "I always found laptops a bit too small to multi-table efficiently," he said. "But I don't have a new laptop which would probably work better for multi-tabling. Speaking of laptops, back in I think it was 2004, I had won a satellite to the WSOP main event on PokerStars, and while over in the United States I bought this really sweet Sony Vaio laptop. When I got home I wanted to use it to play on PokerStars. Literally the first day I got a massive bad beat playing pot-limit omaha and casually threw the mouse on the table. But the mouse cord got stuck on something and it took a swing at the laptop screen, which cracked! So I think PokerStars owes me a laptop!"
Frank still plays for a few hours a week. But nowhere near the volume that he used to put in. And there's a very good reason for that - at 34 years old, he's gone back to school. "One of the downsides of getting into poker at a young age is that I didn't care to further my studies at university, because playing poker was just so much more fun and profitable. So recently I've gone back to school at the ripe old age of 34, something I never had imagined I would do!"
He hopes to now get a job working online from Sweden, and is open to any employment offers that the community may have for him in areas such as content writing or support (anyone wishing to get in touch can do so via firstname.lastname@example.org).
So that is the story of our longest-serving player, who has clearly enjoyed his poker, from the early-adopter days, to high-stakes cash and tournaments, to now taking a more leisurely approach, including the occasional Spin and Go on his mobile phone (something that would have seemed like science fiction back in 2001). The screen name SpicyF has been his companion at the PokerStars tables throughout, and his avatar has also remained the same since he signed up, making it absolutely the oldest avatar in PokerStars history because the few who signed up before him, and who no longer play the game, changed their image in the following years.
It's somehow comforting to know that in an age where everything moves so fast, there are some things that never change.
Thanks for being a PokerStars player, Frank!
Simon Young is Editor-in-Chief at PokerStars.