APPT Seoul Day 1B: The unsung tall man of Asia-Pacific poker
Having worked as a poker blogger on the ANZPT and APPT since 2010, I've gotten to know the team here pretty well. During that time myself and colleagues like Heath Chick have written about head honcho Danny McDonagh several times, but McDonagh's right-hand man only occasionally gets a passing mention - usually when he has competed and organised one of the fun competitions that are held on our poker tours, or if he has partied too hard at one of the player parties.
That changes today.
It's hard to miss Sam Dawson if you have ever been at an ANZPT, APPT or any of the events held at PokerStars Macau. That's probably because Dawson is generally the only 6"5' white man in a suit lurking around the poker tables or behind the media desk.
McDonagh perhaps summed it up best when I asked him to describe Dawson:
"He's been referred to as the 'Big Greek God' at D2," McDonagh quipped referring to the famous Macau drinking establishment. "Guess he stands out in Macau as he's such a tall white guy!"
But there is more to Dawson than just being tall.
Dawson, from Sydney, currently does a bit of everything on these tours, from Tournament Directing to Media Coordinating. He originally started working full time at PokerStars in June, 2008, but had already worked alongside PokerStars for two years before that as a PR and Marketing Consultant. At that point Dawson was working for a company called "Icon International Communications" and following Joe Hachem's WSOP Main Event victory, PokerStars approached Icon looking for some marketing help in the Australasian region.
Dawson had never worked in the poker industry at this point, but was very interested in the chance to work in what he saw as a market with a lot of potential. So when PokerStars wanted some help with marketing and journalism stuff at the 2006 World Series of Poker, Dawson jumped at the chance to sink his teeth into the poker world.
His first impression of the WSOP?
"I loved it," Dawson says. "The real reason why I was eager to get into poker was that having a sporting background, I love the history of poker and the old stories and all the old characters. I just loved the potential that was there with poker. Everyone was excited about poker in Australia at that point and I thought we could really gather some momentum from a marketing point of view."
Dawson tells us that there was mixed success on the job that summer in Las Vegas, but the following year he met McDonagh and Jeffrey Haas at the 2007 Aussie Millions and the course was set for what would eventually become a continuing and decorated career in poker. Dawson, still working for Icon at the time, aided in the marketing side of the first-ever APPT. It was a huge success, with Dawson spearheading an effort to get lots of PR around Asia, including filming APPT Manila. During the Manila event Dawson also worked closely with a large roster of Team PokerStars Pros. One of Dawson's best memories is a PR stunt that saw him taking Lee Nelson to do some Taekwondo.
Having had so much success in Manila and some changing of the guard at PokerStars, Dawson was head-hunted away from his position at Icon and into a full-time role. At first it was just as a sort-of marketing / events manager hybrid, but after being involved in successful ventures such as getting the popular poker reality show "The Poker Star" on network television in Australia, Dawson secured a role as one of the ANZ Country Managers, becoming involved in everything such as launching the ANZPT in 2009 and helping that grow into the premier poker tour in the country.
Eventually the glory days of poker in Australia back in 2007 began to fade and with poker evolving and trying to adapt to a new place in the Australian market, Dawson's role also had to adapt to a changing climate. Dawson speaks of the difficulties he's had with growing the brand of the ANZPT and APPT in Australia once marketing had to be scaled back in this region, but considering the APPT joined forces with the Aussie Millions this year, we would say he and the rest of the team in Australia have done a pretty fantastic job.
So with the marketing apect of his role scaled back Dawson has had to develop new skills that are needed for such jobs as being an Assistant Tournament Director to McDonagh at events on the APPT and at PokerStars LIVE Macau - a job which Dawson is undertaking here at APPT Seoul.
Despite travelling all around Asia and the world over the last several years, Dawson hasn't been back to Seoul since 2007. Dawson recalls an interesting tournament back then and he was certainly excited to get back to Seoul for the latest stop on Season 8 of the tour.
"The last time I was here, the only thing I managed to do was go up Walkerhill, so I wanted to come back and do more," Dawson tells me. "I can't believe how much nicer it is being here when it's a little bit warmer. Walking out and seeing the Cherry Blossoms is just so beautiful and just going out to the Flare bar and driving around Gangnam and going to some of the bars has been great. Last time I didn't experience enough of the food either, so I was excited about the opportunity to explore more of the food around Seoul."
As I mentioned, back when Dawson was here in 2007 he was working exclusively in the marketing side of things, but right now Dawson is out on the floor working as a tournament director. I asked him which job he would prefer to do.
"If I'm honest with you, I'd generally always prefer to be marketing. Sometimes I get frustrated when I can't do marketing stuff. Because sometimes I just don't feel up to speed with guys like Danny, who has this immense experience and background in gaming. I do love the challenge of it in the sense that I'm not totally in my comfort zone. I do love working on these events and I love working with Danny and pitching in where I can."
McDonagh tells us that having Sam helping out as an Assistant Tournament Director at these events has been great as it helps Dawson gain a "greater appreciation for the operation of the actual tournament, which in turn helps him on the events and marketing side of things."
Though what McDonagh is saying is undoubtedly true, the APPT President probably loves having Dawson here so he was a buddy to run with each day, eat inconceivable amounts of oysters with and make fun of Dawson when he eats an entire large piece of steak before McDonagh has even picked up his knife and fork.
I've been going on about Dawson for a long time now, so you probably think you know him pretty well. But you cannot truly know a man until you know what he did before he was part of the poker world.
"My first job out of Uni," quipped Dawson. "I was the Toy World Bear."
If you don't know what the Toy World Bear is I give you Exhibit A:
So if you are at the tables of an APPT and see a tall man lurking around, breaking tables and ruling on tournament decisions, just know that although he might be wearing a nice suit now, at one point he dressed up like that purple bear above.
Seriously though, people like Dawson and McDonagh are one of the big reasons I'm happy to travel far and wide, working extremely long days and getting little sleep. They are simply a very important part of the Australasian poker scene and will continue to be so for many years to come.