Two years ago, Arlie Shaban was sitting behind the desk at a Toronto branch of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, taking bookings, selling upgrades, handing over keys, sometimes heading out into the bitter Ontario mornings to wash the cars. “I absolutely hated it,” Shaban recently recalled. “I was wearing a shirt and tie, it was not what I am about at all.”
No sooner had he started the job than he was plotting an escape. “I’d walk there in the winter, when it’s all slushy and cold, when it was raining on me. I used to make videos on my phone, where I would talk into the camera on the walk in, being like: ‘In two weeks, you’re going to be done. Just have faith. Everything is going to go well. You’re never going to have to do this again in your life.’ I have those videos on my old phone, just pumping me up about it. I’ve never showed them to anybody but I’ve definitely looked at them myself.”
Shaban maybe wants to look at those videos again this week, because his faith has paid off in spades. He is here in Las Vegas, playing the World Series of Poker Main Event for the first time, a PokerStars patch on his sleeve and a million metaphorical miles away from the Enterprise lot.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play the Main Event, ever since I was a little kid,” Shaban said. “I watched Moneymaker win, I thought everything was so unreal and unbelievable, a fantasy. I didn’t really know if it would ever be possible in my life to do it.”
Like pretty much everything good that has happened to Shaban over the past two years, he owes his presence here to his extraordinary abilities as a Twitch poker streamer. Now 30-years-old, Shaban is almost certainly the most committed poker streamer in the business, with hordes of loyal followers tuning in daily to watch his exploits. Around 70 percent of his $10,000 buy-in came from his Twitch subscribers (with no mark-up) and Shaban is giving them all a sweat into Day 2 — and hopefully far beyond.
None of this has come about by chance. Shaban’s rise through the Twitch ranks has been nothing short of sensational, but it owes everything to his exceptional work ethic. PokerStars Blog asked Shaban to describe the key steps that took him from the Enterprise lot to the World Series of Poker, and this biography should stand as a road map to anybody starting out in poker streaming.
Here’s how it happened for Shaban–and how it could happen for you too. These next few paragraphs are stacked with brilliant advice.
STEP 1: A FAMILIAR START IN THE GAME
I’ve loved poker my whole life. My grandfather played a lot of cards with me. He played gin rummy all the time and then in public school me and a group of my buddies fell in love with poker. We would start home games all the time. That translated to high school and university. I was always playing with my friends, not online or casinos. And then I got to the age where I was old enough to actually play in casinos and online. I dabbled a bit. It wasn’t profitable, but I was having a lot of fun.
STEP 2: (BIG) BROTHERLY ADVICE
What really transferred by passion as a recreational player into being full time was meeting one of my best friends now, Kevin Martin. I was on a reality show, Big Brother Canada, five years ago now, and Kevin was on the season right after me. When he got cast they revealed that he was a professional poker player and Twitch streamer, and that was the first time I ever heard what Twitch was. At that point, I was just playing recreationally. I was around break even, I got to that point without any type of studying, just trial and error, but I couldn’t really get past that. I kind of plateaued for years. And after Kevin got out of the Big Brother house and I finally got to meet him, I picked his brain for a little bit and started following his channel, watching what he was doing and I was so intrigued by everything. So I just called him up one day.
STEP 3: MARTIN SETS SHABAN ON A NEW PATH
Talking to Kevin, I was like: “Alright bro, I don’t get it. I played so many hands of poker. I’ve played probably 5 million hands of poker at this point of my life, and I just levelled off at break even because I don’t know how to get to the next level.” He was like, “Well, how are you playing? What’s your game selection like? What are you doing for study?” He broke down a bunch of different things. I was like, “Oh, I don’t do any of that stuff.” He was like, “Well, that’s your problem. You don’t just play to get better. There are training programs you can go through, and these people have made millions of dollars consistently over years.” That’s what took me to the next level.
You game select, so you take out turbos and hypers and play some really slow-paced games, so you can really get a feel for all the new stuff you’re learning, and you want to lower your buy-in range. You’re playing wild big buy-ins, you should just play the smallest games online until you can beat those profitably with all this stuff you’re learning in these new programs, and then you can work your way up. That’s pretty much the only way you can do it. I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing.”
STEP 4: ENTER THE APE
I took everything Kevin said on board and it completely changed my whole game. I did a training program called Max Value, by Rob Tinion and “apestyles” [Jonathan Van Fleet]. “apestyles” is one of the most winning online players in history of MTTs and he’s a brilliant, brilliant coach. I went through that program, took it very seriously, and it turned me into a full time player. My poker graph and my ROI just sky-rocketed compared to where it was. I started plotting my escape from Enterprise.
STEP 5: RESEARCH, HARD WORK AND CONSISTENCY
I also had my degree in business communications. When I looked at Twitch from a business point of view, I noticed that there was a lot, a lot of room for other people to work their way in. There’s not a lot of Twitch poker streamers at the top of the directory and then there’s some in the middle and a bunch at the bottom. There’s huge gaps between the people in the middle and the people at the top. I did a lot of research into why I thought those gaps were there. I decided that when I was going to start streaming, I was going to do the exact opposite of why I thought there was a gap. So one of the biggest things that I realised as a viewer was that I liked when the streamer streamed really consistently. I like when they have a schedule and they stream five days a week, something like that. You really get into a routine of watching the same guys every day. So when I started streaming, I streamed 125 days in a row, eight hours on average a day. One of the main reasons I did that was for the consistency, and also as a viewer, when I was kind of studying Twitch, I realised the guys at the top would always talk about how hard it is to stream consistently. You’re going to need some days off. But consistency is one of the most important things, so I just took it to the next level and decided not to take any days off.
STEP 6: EMBRACE THE CHALLENGE
Viewers really enjoy watching challenges. Any type of challenge. I remember as a viewer, challenges were always super exciting for me. So that’s why I set out the 125-day streaming streak, which is how I first started out on Twitch, for my first stream ever. And that was one of the biggest momentum builders for my channel. Everyone was like, “No one has ever streamed that long before and this is some brand new streamer saying he’s going to do it, let’s see if he actually can.” Being consistent, doing crazy fun challenges, sticking to what you say you’re going to do — that involves your scheduling, but it also involves completing things. If you say you’re going to do a fun bankroll challenge, start it and complete it. Twitch doesn’t like it when you half-ass things and give up, and they really like it when you give it everything you have, your heart and soul. Shortly after my 125-day streaming streak, I did a 43-hour stream. Til this day, that’s probably still my most successful stream. That was over a year ago. But everybody was going nuts. I really think you just need to find what you can bring to the table that’s different, and really, really hammer that into the Twitch audience. For me, for my very first streams, even before I started, I always said I wasn’t going to be the best poker player on Twitch, I wasn’t going to be the funniest guy on Twitch, I wasn’t going to be the most entertaining person, but what I could do is put in more time and energy than anyone else has. To this day, since I started streaming, there isn’t one Twitch poker streamer who has put in more hours than me. And that’s all part of my game-plan. I didn’t know what else I had to bring to the table. I was brand new into full time poker. But I have a pretty intense work ethic and Twitch loves seeing you work hard. That’s a big reason that my channel grew to where it is. I’ve consistently just put in the hours over and over.
STEP 7: LOVE IT
I’ve always had that capability and work ethic, but I have to want to do it. I can’t be told to do it by someone else. It can’t be anything other than my own willpower. There have been a lot of things in my life that I’ve half-assed. I half-assed university. I just got by. I got a degree, all I wanted was a good social experience and a degree with my name on it. But I could have excelled if I’d wanted to as school. I just didn’t want to. This I wanted so bad, and I was afraid of failure. I don’t mind failure, but I want to do everything in my power not to fail.
STEP 8: ENTER THE RED SPADE
When I first started streaming, I definitely wanted to get noticed by PokerStars. One of my strategies was to tweet them every single day during by 125-day streaming streak, just to let them know it was happening, to let them know it’s still happening, so they would start seeing my name every single day on their Twitter. And eventually they popped into my channel, I think because of that, they finally took notice of it. I think that was a big part of just getting introduced to them. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I first started streaming. I didn’t know what companies were going to reach out to me, but I was reaching out to PokerStars every single day and then one day they reached out to me, they popped into my channel. They started popping in every once in a while.
They subbed to my Twitch channel, which I thought was super cool, and then they approached me maybe six months after I started streaming, about the 12 Labors of Arlie challenge, where I ended up winning a Platinum Pass. I went to the Bahamas and played the $25K PSPC this January. They reached out to me about that around this time last year.
STEP 9: THE BIGGEST TOURNAMENT IN THE WORLD
It’s been a dream of mine to play the Main Event, ever since I was a little kid. I watched Moneymaker win, I thought everything was so unreal and unbelievable, a fantasy. I didn’t really know if it would ever be possible in my life to do it. But that’s the main reason I’m here right now. When I started streaming, my viewers were asking me if I was going to be playing World Series last year, and I was like, “No, definitely not. It’s totally not in the cards.” And then as the year went on, and people started asking about this year, I started to realise that I could probably play in the main. I was going to put out a feeler with Twitch and see if I could sell some action. I ended up selling 70 percent of my main at no mark-up, put in $3K myself, and that’s how I got in here. I would never have been able to do it without Twitch, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without them egging me on. People were just telling me it was a good opportunity, that this year is the year to do it. A few of my friends who are professional poker players have always gone on about how the Main is the softest $10K you’ll ever find in the world and that they’d never miss it because of how much value there is in it. I think a combination of those things got me out here this year. I don’t remember the exact number, but I believe there’s about 90-95 people who have a sweat in the Main.
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive