Danielle Andersen Interview (from Bet Raise Fold Documentary)
A CardsChat Interview with Danielle Moon-Andersen by Jennifer Newell
Danielle Moon-Andersen was a thriving online poker player prior to Black Friday. Her future was clear, her family was happy, and poker was not only her sustenance but her pride and joy. That was when a documentary film crew began chronicling her life about online poker, but Black Friday changed the tone, focus, and even financing for the movie. And Danielle's life was changed forever as well.
"Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker" followed several online poker players in their lives before and after that day when online poker left the United States. Danielle's story was an integral part of it because it illustrated the impact of the US government's decisions on a typical family in Minnesota. The film has now been released for DVD sales and is making its way to film festivals and showings around the country.
We caught up with Danielle after one of the three film viewings in Las Vegas during the 2013 World Series of Poker.
CardsChat (CC): The film briefly talks about your beginnings in poker. Can you sum that up for us?
Danielle Moon-Andersen (DMA): The first 30 times or so that I played poker, I could not get it through my head that a straight did not run through Q-K-A-2-3, so I kept getting pissed off because I thought I had the best hand. They told me that I didn't actually win, so I didn't get off to the best start. But once I picked up on the rules, I got better pretty quick.
CC: At what point did the game go from a fun thing to do with friends to something more serious?
DMA: My boyfriend-now-husband convinced me to put money online, which was $50 to start. I was working at the Nike shoe store, a normal college job making like $8 an hour. As I started to build my bankroll up online, I realized that I could make at least $10 an hour playing poker instead. I quit my job at the shoe store, and that was about six months after I first starting playing. It just escalated from there.
CC: When did you start to consider it as your career?
DMA: It was after my second year in college that I made the decision to drop out and play poker. That was the time I decided to start taking it pretty seriously.
CC: What kind of stakes were you playing at the time?
DMA: I couldn't even tell you exactly, but I think I was playing $2/$4, $3/$6, and some $5/$10.
CC: How did your boyfriend fit into that decision and deal with it?
DMA: He's a saint, so he's been nothing but supportive. My husband has all the makings of what should be an amazing poker player; he's very analytical, very mathematical, just very smart. He read all of the poker books and really loved the game, but he was never able to move past the break-even point as a player, whereas I didn't read any poker books or put much time into it but just moved through the ranks. I think he was a little frustrated by that, but he was still proud of me. Other than that initial frustration, he's super proud and supportive.
CC: What does he do?
DMA: He's a teacher. You see in the film that it says I've been supporting my family with online poker for six years. Well, the story behind that is that he was a Division 1 football player, so for the first four years of college, he had a full scholarship, so that was his job. After that, when I was doing well in poker, we made the decision that he would continue on in school and not work because we had our son then. Now, he has a job as a teacher, and he coaches football and track and field.
CC: Does he have a hard time explaining what you do for a living?
DMA: Not anymore. At first, when nobody really knew who I was or how well I was doing, I used to get many more negative reactions to being a poker player. Sometimes, he and I would be in some awkward positions in conversations with people. There were some members of his family who weren't very supportive and were skeptical at first that I would gamble away our house, but the public perception of poker has changed a lot over the years, even in small-town Minnesota. Now, I get mostly 99% positive reactions.
CC: What does your son think about what you do?
DMA: For him, it's just normal, and he doesn't know any different. Mommy plays poker for a living, and he knows that when I'm traveling, I'm working. He knows that the payoff for my traveling is that I get to be home for significant amounts of time, and we get to do fun stuff because of it. He's old enough now - five years old - that he understands the traveling.
CC: A lot of adjustments had to be made because of Black Friday. Can you talk about your thought process and how serious was a consideration to move out of the country?
DMA: Right after Black Friday, I would say that we were just in a holding pattern. I was so numb and shocked that we didn't even start to consider our options for a few months. You see in the film that I worked at the bar at that time because I didn't know what to do but needed to get out of the house and clear my head. Working at that bar probably saved my sanity, helped me crawl out from under the rock I was under. We did talk about moving, but there were so many unknowns. Nobody knew what was going to happen, and I was still holding out hope that online poker would come back, that it was all part of a ploy to get it legalized in the US and collect their tax dollars on it. There were so many federal bills presented to get our hopes up, and there was never a point that it seemed impossible. If you would've told me that I will not be playing poker in Minnesota five years from Black Friday, we probably would have left the US. But we just didn't know how long it was going to be. It's hard when you have this picture in your head of where your life is going to be. We own a house, our family all lives there, so it was tough. Moving out of the US is still something on the table for us, something that we would consider under the right circumstance.
CC: What is your career like now? How much do you have to travel?
DMA: My usual schedule is roughly to be home for about six weeks, and then I'll fly to LA and the Commerce Casino to play live for seven to 10 days. There is some variation in that, but that's about average. At the Commerce, I usually play $10/$20. If there's a really good $20/$40 game or, in rare circumstances, a $100/$200 game like the one I played with Manny Pacquiao, those are the exceptions. When I'm home, I spend a lot of time with my little guy. He gets a lot of Mommy attention. I do dabble on some of the online poker sites that take American players, but I obviously don't risk a lot of money on there. But it keeps my game sharp. I'm also a registered nurse, so I have an intermittent position at a mental health hospital, so I work two shifts a month to keep my license current, get the experience, and I really enjoy the work.
CC: What's it been like to have your story, which has been pretty tough and heart-wrenching at times, made so public with this film?
DMA: It's been really surreal. I will say that the process of showing it to people is much easier than that of having cameras in my face and actually explaining it on camera. Now that it's done and finished, I like sharing my story because it's so representative of so many people and what they had to go through. As weird and sick as it sounds, I want people to feel my pain, and I'm glad that it comes through on the screen. After Black Friday when they wanted to come right away, the last thing I wanted to do was have a camera in my face and talk about how much my life sucked. That was really difficult. If you had told me that Black Friday was going to happen before I agreed to do the documentary, it would have been really hard to say yes. It was the worst time period of my life.
CC: What's the next chapter for you?
DMA: It's yet to be decided (laughs). I love poker and want to keep playing. I had an awesome opportunity with Full Tilt that they put me in the Main Event this year. I certainly appreciated that and thought it was really cool. Unfortunately, I busted on Day 1, but that's poker. For now, I'm going to continue traveling. I'm hoping to change up some of my stops this year. Instead of just going to the Commerce, I might be following some of the tournaments, maybe playing some of the World Poker Tour events or something.
CC: Did that Full Tilt sponsorship feel weird at all, considering the love-hate relationship you've had with that name?
DMA: I'm logical enough to understand that it's a completely different company now with a completely different set of people running it, but I'm not going to lie; the Full Tilt symbol has been one of pain and anger for a couple of years now. Putting the patch on my shirt was a really weird moment, but like I said, I do understand the difference and appreciate what they're doing. I don't think that any of the sins of the former company should be held against the new company. They're heroes, really. I was pretty proud to wear the patch, actually.
CC: How does your son, Easton, feel about being a movie star, having been featured in the film?
DMA: He thinks that he's the world's greatest movie star. He loves it. Anyone who's seen the film can tell he obviously likes being on camera, and he played it up. He thinks he's pretty cool. When the first trailer came out, he probably watched it about 100 times on YouTube.