Although they don’t spend all their time in the highest stakes cash games or gambling it up on the high roller circuit, Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen have still climbed to the top of the poker mountain in their own way, dominating the world of poker vlogging.
The two Las Vegas-based grinders have built huge followings on their respective YouTube channels, documenting their ups and downs as they hunt for action and try to avoid downswings.
Neeme is considered a pioneer of the poker vlogging format, having started his channel back in 2016 with a then-unheard of focus on lower stakes games. Although many would go on to follow in his footsteps and even copy his style, the Detroit native remains one of the most watched poker content creators on YouTube with nearly 200,000 subscribers.
As far as numbers go, only Daniel Negreanu himself can rival Owen, who has built up an incredible 650,000 subscribers in the last five years. The California native even won Poker Personality of the Year at the 2019 Global Poker Awards and added the best vlogger award this year.
As it turns out, a lot of these viewers were looking for a chance to play with Neeme and Owen. Thus, the Meet Up Game (MUG) was born. The duo started traveling the country, setting up games at various casinos and cardrooms while rotating from table to table to make sure everyone got a chance to win their stack. The MUGs have continued to grow over the years, and now partnered with the World Poker Tour, have been able to reach an international audience.
This December, Neeme and Owen will be hosting their biggest MUG yet to kick off the festivities of the season-ending WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas.
Neeme and Owen can also often be found in Texas at their very own poker room. The two became minority owners of The Lodge Card Club House near Austin along with fellow poker pro and YouTuber Doug Polk earlier this year.
Card Player spoke with both about their time with WPT so far and what we can expect at Wynn Las Vegas.
Can you talk about your relationship with WPT?
Andrew Neeme: The partnership with WPT is off to a great start, as we’d hoped when I chatted with Dan Maor about some of the goals of the tour and company. I’m not sure any brand has more experience in producing live poker events, but there’s some things that Dan believed we could contribute in order to give players a more personal connection to the stops. From a ground-level perspective via the YouTube vlogs, to throwing MUGs, to participating in additional adventures around the poker tournaments themselves, there’s more of a 360-degree view into the tour that they wanted to share, and leveraging additional content creation is a great way to do that.
Brad Owen: From the top down, the entire team does a great job trying to figure out ways to improve events and help me grow as a player and as a content creator. WPT goes to so many amazing properties and cities around the world; at times, it’s still unreal to me that my job is to host poker events at all of these phenomenal locations. From the time I first started playing poker, it was what I figured to be a pipedream to be sponsored by a well-respected, major company in the industry. I’m as proud as I could be to put on the patch and be a brand ambassador.
Is there a highlight or two so far from your time as a WPT ambassadors?
AN: The World Poker Tour is very much living up to its name, immediately. My second event as an ambassador was in Cambodia. To be able to host a MUG in Phnom Penh, to get multiple tables running, and to play the “stand-up game” on the other side of the world with some very enthusiastic vlog watchers was an incredible experience. Shortly after that was a second international stop in Gold Coast, Australia. The people there are lovely, the poker is fun, and the skydiving was glorious.
BO: There have been so many special moments for me this year, it’s tough to narrow it down. I played a high-stakes cash game session with Doyle Brunson that will be televised early next year. In a separate streamed game, I got to play with Phil Ivey on my left and had the biggest win of my career. I’ve watched Phil and Doyle play for two decades now, so to get the opportunity to sit down with them was incredibly memorable.
Beyond that, I’ve had deep runs in tournaments and I’ve won several satellite packages to the WPT World Championship in December. It’s been a difficult year for my family with my dad passing away in July, but I was able to give one seat that I won to my brother, Matt, who along with my dad helped teach me how to play poker when I was a teenager.
You are obviously veterans of MUGs. How have they have evolved over the years from your first to now partnering with WPT? (Steve Aoki crashed the latest MUG at Bellagio!)
AN: The basics of the MUGs haven’t changed since inception. We just wanted to have a fun poker night with people who like to watch poker vlogs, have a couple beverages, and capture the less-professional side of poker. The social aspect of poker is what, by far, most people in the world approach the game from.
Partnering with the WPT helps us in a couple of ways. As mentioned, we’re bringing these events to destinations that would’ve been unlikely for us to get to. Secondly, there are additional hands on deck, whether it’s sorting out a hosted cocktail hour at a nearby casino bar, or bringing in additional friendly faces like Steve Aoki. Upgrading the MUGs has already begun, but they still retain the same unpretentious vibe as before.
BO: When Andrew and I first started the MUGs in 2017, we’d only fill up a few tables at some of the casinos here in Las Vegas. Over time we’ve grown the events to the point where they now regularly get several hundred players in attendance. With WPT’s help, we’re able to offer a lot more to those who show up. At nearly every stop we’re giving away seats to main events ranging from $3,500 to $10,000+ buy-ins.
There’s so much more value for the people who come out and now Andrew and I have the opportunity to travel with the tour to places that we wouldn’t necessarily have had the chance to go to previously, such as our recent MUG in Australia. It’s awesome to be able to connect with viewers from different continents on their home courts.
What do you expect from the upcoming MUG at Wynn?
AN: The Wynn is easily one of the best poker operations in the world. In my opinion, their biggest strength has always been to bring professionalism combined with personalism. Expect that from a MUG at their venue, mixed with a couple of guys who’ve somehow made a career out of capturing poker on their cell phones. We like to play $2-$5 no-limit at most of our MUGs since that stake is the best mix of being approachable but also interesting to viewers of the vlogs at home. Everyone is welcome.
BO: I expect it to be one of the biggest and perhaps the most exciting event we’ve ever hosted. The Wynn is such a beautiful property, it’s the perfect place for WPT’s premiere tournament series. We’re going to have everyone on board to kick it off at the MUG. In addition to Andrew and I being there, Doyle, Phil Ivey, Lynn Gilmartin, Tony Dunst, Vince Van Patten, and likely several other notable names will be there playing and interacting with those at the MUG.
Have you had to make any adjustments to your own games given your notoriety?
AN: People generally play more aggressively against me, especially at MUGs. On the surface that means I’m getting more action, but it’s tough when someone is playing aggressively vs passively. You never know what someone’s up to in the moment. Combine that with me not wanting to just nit it up at the MUGs, and it can be an explosive recipe.
BO: People certainly have different motivations when they play at the same table as me these days. Sometimes players will go out of their way to get on a vlog if I’m filming, sometimes players try to avoid me putting them in tough spots. Even before the YouTube channel, I’ve always tried to do my best to determine the reasons behind people making the plays that they make, then I develop a strategy counter theirs.
Both of you have traditionally focused on cash games on your channels. How are the viewers liking the tournaments so far?
AN: I think there’s a lot to offer to a poker-interested-but-non-professional viewer from the cash arena. When it comes to tournaments, not only does the nature of them make it tougher to capture (the best players still cash only a minority of the time) but they aren’t my strong suit. That being said, if you play enough tournaments, you’ll make a deep run here and there. And deep runs are always exciting… perhaps even more so than a big cash game score. So regardless of my technical shortcomings in the format, people will tune in for that first-person perspective of a deep run.
BO: Now that I’m playing more tournaments, improving at them, running deep and getting close to some really big payouts, the viewers seem to have enjoyed ride. I’m having by far the best year of my life in poker, and a lot of that is due to several large tournament scores. The feedback on the content created around those runs has been really positive. It’s been fun for me to dive into a different format and create vlogs that have an increased sense of urgency, excitement, and weight in every hand. I still love playing cash games though, and will continue to put out plenty of vlogs around those going forward.
Do you two have a friendly rivalry as far as your results go? You both made deep runs at the Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic, and you were heads-up with each other recently. Brad has been on quite the tear, cashing in Las Vegas, Australia, and Tampa.
AN: There is no point in attempting to beat Brad at anything as he is the chosen one. In fact, he will be president one day.
BO: He and I work together on so many projects including The Lodge, MUGs, and our role as ambassadors for WPT. Success for one of us usually ends up benefiting the other in some way but even if that wasn’t the case, I’ll always be rooting for him.
We’ve been heads up in tournaments against each other twice and are 1-1 in those instances. It’s pretty cool when that type of thing happens, especially when we’re both in the money. We don’t put too much emphasis on who wins, as we try to be respectful of the pain that comes with getting second.
Any chance we might see a WPT event at The Lodge one day?
AN: I’d love to see a WPT event at the Lodge. Combining forces and bringing more events to more markets and more people should be a goal for both teams. The WPT has traditionally partnered with casino companies, but as time goes on, myself and the guys at The Lodge are working to see the membership club model flourish. It’s a model that puts poker first in an industry where poker can often be an afterthought and competes for square footage with slot machines. There are endless fun stories to be told from the poker world and I think both teams are eager to provide the backdrop for more poker stories.
BO: We’ve certainly had discussions about it. With Texas still being the wild west when it comes to regulation, it’s tough to get a main event tour stop there, but there will very likely be ways that the WPT and The Lodge could be working together in the future. I’m not sure to what extent exactly but I’m excited for when the day comes.
Check out both Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on their YouTube channels and follow them on Twitter @andrewneeme and @TheBradOwen.
*Lead photos from Antonio Abrego. All other photos from World Poker Tour / Joe Giron.