Fit for a king: A new beginning for Sydney’s Poker Palace

Regarded as the very first standalone poker room established outside the confines of an Australian casino, the Poker Palace has remained an icon on our poker landscape since its doors first opened at Club Marconi in 2009.

After celebrating its 10th Anniversary last year, the Poker Palace is now officially under new management, with WSOP International Circuit ring winner Shivan Abdine at the helm, alongside business partner Rod Meneses and Room Supervisor Lauren Mooney.

Shivan and Lauren took the time to sit down with PokerMedia Australia to tell us more about their work in revitalising the Poker Palace brand and offer a sneak peek into what the future holds.

PokerMedia Australia: What was the inspiration in taking over the reins at the Poker Palace?

Shivan Abdine: The opportunity for the Poker Palace came through my business partner, Rod Meneses; he approached me and asked if I was interested, given my history of playing poker and being based in Sydney, so we had a look at the numbers and decided to make the purchase.

PMA: I guess it goes without saying that your success at WSOP Sydney last year, where you won the $5K Challenge at The Star in December for a tidy $260,000, may have helped in raising the capital for the acquisition?

SA: Sure, sure! It always helps having a nice score!

PMA: On a serious note, you’ve been involved in poker as a professional player for almost nine years.  Is this your first opportunity to work on the other side of the table, as it were?

SA: It is, actually. Admittedly, I wasn’t actively pursuing a route like this, but given the opportunity, it was definitely worth considering and I’m always up for a challenge.

Shivan Abdine

PMA: Lauren, you’ve worked extensively on the European poker circuit since 2013. In your experience, what are some of the differences between events here in Australia compared to overseas?

Lauren Mooney: Australia has definitely been a challenge, because from an industry perspective, the business of poker is run very differently. I tend to be more strict when it comes to rulings, because if anyone’s ever played or worked on those tours, they know everything’s black-and-white.

But when you try to bring that approach over here, it’s quite hard for players to understand that you’re simply trying to run a tournament in their best interests, as opposed to being perceived as being a stickler for the rules.

PMA: Can you give us an example?

LM: The biggest example in Australia is probably speech play in multi-way pots.  Back home, it’s not really a thing and if it is, it’s over in a couple of seconds. Over here, it’s a lot less serious; people really like to chat!

PMA: What are some of the ways in which you’ve been able to adjust your approach in managing tournaments down under?

LM: Training staff in the correct procedures, first and foremost. I have a set group of dealers that have worked for me for a long time now, so training them up to my standard is essential to make sure that certain scenarios and dealer errors don’t happen as often.

This helps in reducing the need to be called over more frequently to make a ruling and also focus on other important matters that need attending to during the tournament.

At the end of the day, you want to make sure that the integrity of the game is upheld. Sometimes players want you to use more discretion because they might not be used to it, given that they are still playing in a club environment like the Poker Palace and not a casino.

What they need to understand is that our rules are modelled off both TDA (Poker Tournament Directors Association) and casino rules, but we’re able to find more of a nicer balance and make the game more enjoyable for our staff and players because casinos don’t have the freedom to change their rules like we do.

That’s not by any fault of their own, they have to go through numerous legal channels to make those changes. Working at the Poker Palace gives me the flexibility to run the room how I like but still to an elite standard.

Lauren Mooney brings extensive experience from Europe to the Poker Palace.

PMA: It sounds like Lauren runs a very tight ship, Shivan!

SA: She does, but it is generally true in Australia – everyone is more relaxed, so the rules are more relaxed too.  Lauren applies the TDA rules and procedures well, so what you get from that is a professionally run tournament that the Poker Palace is renowned for.

As a player, I have full confidence in her running the floor how she sees fit. Certainly from what I’ve seen and from all the feedback I’ve received from others, she does a fantastic job.

PMA: Now Lauren, both you and Shivan have been working together only since the start of January, but it seems things are moving along nicely already?

LM: Absolutely! It’s interesting … normally, as a tournament director, when you try to think of things from a players’ perspective and vice-versa, it can be tough because your mindsets are so different.

But the great thing about Shivan and I – and I actually can’t think of a situation where it’s happened before – that previous player/TD relationship between us has helped form a great dynamic where we’re able to come up with ideas that make things as enjoyable as possible for everybody.

PMA: What are some of things you guys are working on at the Poker Palace at the moment?

SA: Right now, we’re focused on building up the weekly games. Our big point of difference is that all Poker Palace games (except freerolls) are fully dealt – there’s no other fixed room outside of the casino in Sydney that does that.

One thing we are considering is perhaps lowering the price point for some of those dealt games, although given we have to pay for staff, there is a limit to how much we can go down. That’s why, for example, you don’t see $60 dealt games at the casino, because it’s just not feasible.

But we definitely want to encourage people who might play a $50 self-dealt tourney to come in by offering an affordable jump into, say, a $125 dealt game, so they can get that experience and progress their game.

Outside of the weekly schedule, we offer a monthly $550 buy-in High Roller – the Australia Day edition attracted 128 total entries and we got about 80 last Sunday, which is pretty good.

We’e also aiming to host at least four tournament series this year, plus looking into corporate and charity events and of course, we’re hosting the Deaf Poker Australia (DPA) Championship series for the first time in October.

PMA: Speaking of series, there’s the Marconi Cup Carnival (MCC) coming up next week. What are some of the things we can look forward to?

LM: Great structures, great play, massive guarantees, fully dealt and smoothly run from start to finish! All you have to do is sit back, play and have a good time, you don’t have to worry about the other things. We also deliver a lot of great tournaments there for every type of buy-in, depending on what you’re after.

PMA: Anything in particular we should keep an eye on?

LM: Definitely the Monster Stack, because it’s just so popular – always a big day and so much fun! I also love the 6-Max High Roller and the Teams Event, but the big ones to watch are always going to be the High Roller and the Main Event.

I know I’m slightly biased, but I genuinely believe the Poker Palace delivers the best when it comes to tournament standards outside the casino. I’m sure the MCC is going to be bigger and better than ever.

The Marconi Cup Carnival will be held at the Poker Palace from 15 to 30 March 2020, while the 2020 DPA Championship will take place from 15 to 18 October.  For more information, search for “The Poker Palace Australia” on Facebook or visit their website: thepokerpalace.com.au.

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