Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. Actors, singers, dancers – people from every walk of life make the move to Southern California with dreams of making it big. L.A. also happens to be a mecca for poker. To that end, you can add poker pro Gary Blackwood’s name to the list of people who are looking to find their fortune in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. However, Blackwood isn’t here to break onto the big screen, he’s here to break into the big games. And he’s taking you along for the ride.
Blackwood, aka Gazzy B, the 33-year-old incredibly affable, quick-talking poker player and coach from Inverness, Scotland has left his home in foggy London and planted his flag firmly in the warm sands of Venice Beach for the next three months with one goal in mind: create. Create action, create content, and create opportunities.
“The main reason I’m in L.A. is I love it here. I live in London normally, and it’s that time of year when London gets really cold and wet and gray,” Blackwood said. “It’s like 75 degrees Fahrenheit here at nine in the morning. I love it here. I’m primarily here to make content, make YouTube videos, and grow the channel but also here for the lifestyle. I absolutely love it.”
One aspect of that L.A. lifestyle is poker and there’s plenty of it. Blackwood, now a decade into his poker career, has an established reputation as a top-notch coach for online poker training site Upswing Poker and is gaining traction as an up-and-coming content creator/vlogger. As he looks to expand upon his public image and put his skillset into action, Blackwood is currently taking up a residency, of sorts, in the Hustler Casino $5/$10 (sometimes $20) game, capturing all the action on camera.
Blackwood is not new to the content game. He started out years ago by writing a blog on former industry hotspot Two Plus Two which evolved into an Instagram account that gained a healthy following. But it wasn’t long before he saw the next step he was going to need to take to elevate his image.
“I’d always streamed on and off over the past few years, but it seemed like the next progression from having quite a few thousand followers on Instagram was to try my hand at YouTube. I see lots of players, lots of great players, with huge followings traveling the world, playing poker, making content on YouTube, and it was just something that I decided that I wanted to do…It’s a lot of fun to make content.”
And Blackwood’s YouTube channel has been steadily growing. Rapidly approaching the 10,000 subscriber mark, his is a fast-paced look into the mid-to-high stakes L.A. cash games narrated by an equally educated, charming, and relatable pro. It’s hard to do something different in the poker vlogging space these days, but Blackwood is working on developing his own style.
“If we talk about someone like Brad Owen who’s got like 700,000 YouTube subs, a lot of those people are there to see Brad Owen. He’s built up this wonderful persona. He’s such a nice guy. Everyone loves him. A lot of people are there to see Brad,” Blackwood said. “But with me, and anyone who’s got like 10,000 YouTube subs – they’re not there to see me. They don’t care about me.”
Blackwood turned to a trusted source, Mike Brady, Vice President of Upswing Poker, for some advice. Brady recommended Blackwood to “get straight into it” which has led Blackwood to his current style of no-nonsense, into-the-action breakdown of major hands and big pots.
“They’re there for poker content. So I genuinely feel like if I’m like, okay, here’s me at breakfast, here’s me going to the casino…they’re going to turn it off.
“And if a lot of people are turning off your video after 10 seconds, it’s really bad for the algorithm.”
He’s looking for the balance between bringing his viewers lightning-fast analysis versus drama and suspense. Either way, for now, he’s keeping the show strictly about poker and hoping people take notice.
That includes the decision makers of Hustler Casino Live. Yes, creating content is one part of Blackwood’s trip but he was also hoping for the opportunity to take a seat on the Hustler Casino Live stream. With thousands of viewers every night, a spot on the stream could mean a big step up in exposure for him.
“First and foremost, I’m not friends with Ryan Feldman [HCL co-founder and director], but I’m somewhat friendly with him,” Blackwood said, talking about his desire to play on stream. “He comes in and we fist bump and say how’s it going and stuff like that. I want to make it really clear that, I mean, I’ve asked and asked to the point where I feel like I’m really annoying Ryan.”
As it turns out, Feldman kept Blackwood at bay for weeks, unable to find a place for him in the more recreational games like Max Pain Monday. “I completely understand why I haven’t had the opportunity to play in that I’m a relatively small fish in a big pond in terms of Brad [Owen] and Mariano [Grandoli] and Rampage [Ethan Yau].”
Blackwood’s been offered a spot in the big game with the likes of Nik Airball and Andy Stacks, but “with only X amount of dollars in America”, Blackwood had to decline and hope another offer would appear in a few weeks. It turns out that he didn’t have to wait very long. Shortly after this interview, Blackwood was offered a debut appearance on HCL and is set to take a seat on Wednesday, November 1.
Playing in front of thousands on stream for thousands of dollars is a long way from where Blackwood got his start. It was actually Zynga poker on Facebook. And honestly, it wasn’t really the game he was interested in at all.
“There was a girl that I really liked and I was letting her win. She never went out with me, unfortunately,” Blackwood laughed. “But then it progressed to playing penny stakes with friends online. I actually hated it at first. Then, I had a day off work one day and I thought, maybe I’ll play a little bit of poker. I had a couple of bucks left in my Stars account and it progressed from there.
“I eventually started to learn the theory side of things and understand that it wasn’t just gambling, there was a lot of skill involved. I was really lucky to fall in with the right crew, who I still speak to every day going on about ten years now. They have helped me massively throughout my poker career. So it literally went from playing for no money on Facebook to playing for penny stakes, to getting very lucky to fall in with the right crew to working quite hard to ten years later.”
It’s clear that in poker, Blackwood has never been afraid of that hard work to get ahead. He got involved with Upswing by essentially cold-calling Brady in hopes of commentating on the Negreanu vs. Polk heads-up match. That opportunity led him to coaching for Upswing, which also put him on his podcast.
“[Gary’s] depth of knowledge about No Limit Hold’em strategies is incredible and his teaching ability is top-notch,” Brady said. “He gets things done and seems always to be working on something. Whether it be Upswing Lab content, our Level-Up podcast, his Instagram account, his vlog, or his overall poker game.”
Now, he’s grinding the daunting task of building up a YouTube following in what is becoming an increasingly crowded field of poker content creators. He’s set goals in the past and hit them, that’s what he’s doing again in Los Angeles.
“My long-term goal with streaming and with building the channel and the brand and stuff like that is that these doors sort of open up. And I’ve seen that already to a smaller extent because if I was an absolute fucking nobody and I messaged Mike Brady was like, ‘Hey, can I do commentary on the Doug Polk match?’ He’d just not even reply. Whereas the fact that I can say I got 5,000 Insta followers, 10,000 Twitch followers, et cetera, that has already worked for me. I would just like to get to a stage where it’s on a much bigger scale.”
It’s not that he can’t create content from his home in London, there’s plenty of poker to be had there too, he notes. It’s just the mix of sun, sand, and poker was too much to pass up at this time of year. When talking about cash game poker in the U.K., Blackwood insists it’s better than its global reputation. However, there are some aspects of it he’d like to see upgraded.
“I’ll be honest…and you can quote me on this if you want, I really don’t mind…the action in London is unbelievably, shamelessly predatory and it’s really quite slimy at times. And I’ve seen a lot of things which are just really not enjoyable.
“The action in London is really weird. It kind of goes in waves depending on who’s in town. Sometimes it can be really good, sometimes it can be not that great. Sometimes you can go into the Hippodrome and the biggest game you get is like $2/$5. Sometimes you get $10/$25 and it’s amazing. So it’s kind of like L.A. it just depends. I think the action is better out here overall, but in London, it’s not as bad as people think.”
The trip to Los Angeles may be the start of a new chapter for Blackwood, one that could really boost the numbers on his YouTube channel and get him closer to his dreams of vlogging big. When Blackwood first started his channel, with essentially zero viewers, he made a bet with a friend that he could get to 1 million subs from zero faster than WPT Ambassador Brad Owen (currently at 700,000 subs). Purely as self-motivation.
“We made this really stupid prop. I bet $2,000 on myself at 50-1 that I can hit a million subs before Brad Owen. It wasn’t an anti-Brad Owen thing, I absolutely love him. It was simply a way for me to motivate myself. Then I started to make videos and I put hours into making a video. And then you put it on YouTube and you get 9 new subs. Then you put another one out and you get 12 new subs. And I was just like, this is really, really hard. When I made the bet, I had no idea how tough it is to get people to sub.”
Blackwood quickly realized that even a hit video, one that he poured his heart and soul into, one that is viewed by tens of thousands of people, isn’t always enough to get people to subscribe.
“So with that…I now realize that it’s not possible to win this prop bet. And one last thing I’ll say on that with me realizing that it’s not possible, my utter respect for Brad Owen to get to 700,000 when it’s 12 new subs per video. It’s just like he’s just the YouTube God.”
“One last story I’ll tell is that Brad knows about this bet and he needles me about it in a fun way. We were at the same table in the WPT World Championship in December. We sat down and some guy was there and he was like [to Brad] ‘Oh my god, I love your stuff! How many subs have you got on YouTube?’ Brad replied like 650,000… and the guy was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot. Are you aiming for a million?’ And Brad was like ‘Yeah, hopefully one day.’…and then there was this silence and Brad turned to me and said, ‘Gary’s trying to get to a million as well. How’s that going?’”
Well, Blackwood’s been booking wins at the Hustler Casino, posting 2-3 videos a week, and enjoying all that Southern California has to offer. Like many who end up making it in Hollywood, Blackwood’s not waiting around to be discovered, he’s blazing his own trail and it feels like he’s about to break out.
So, all in all, actually, it’s going pretty well.