It's time to end our series of interviews with founders, but what a great ending it is!
Recently Banis has been really busy working on other projects, such as the already announced Smart Backing, but thankfully he's found some time to answer our questions!
His life story is full of unexpected turns and experiments with various jobs and poker formats. It looks like he was always trying to find his place and something he can truly devote to.
He found it in Smart Spin and for the first time in his life he is not going to rest on the previous successes. He wants to achieve something much greater and we are all glad to be a part of his dream!
Former high stakes player, organizer of the biggest charity events for poker players in his country... ironically, now called "Bloody".
dolar: Hello Banis! A year has passed since our last conversation and it’s about time people get to know you a little bit better… so, let's start with this one: how did poker make you become happy?
Banis: One small remark Mr. Editor, you are assuming I had not been happy before I started playing poker, and to confirm this we must go many years back and touch quite personal matters. Not going into details, I come from a dysfunctional family, and I use to call kids similar to me “children of the worse god”. I could now start telling some maudlin story about what life difficulties, first small and then a bit bigger, teenager Banis had to oppose, but I don’t think it’s a proper place and time for that.
dolar: I think our readers would like to know what exactly shaped you, as later on you were known in the Polish community as someone who helps people who struggle to do well.
Banis: I understood pretty early, even as a child, that money does not give true happiness, but that it is also the most effective tool to get rid of problems with sustenance, so also the best way to achieve its simplest form. I was born in an affluent but dysfunctional family, which had a plethora of problems, except this most common one - problem with sustenance. The situation was really bad, but at least I always had something to eat, something to wear, and some spare money for my various whims. Back then I’ve been thinking - at least I have money to go to college, unlike other kids in the village. Unfortunately, around the time I was 14 years old, my father went bankrupt, and in a big way. We lost everything. Everything of material value just disappeared. I was left alone with my sister, a huge pile of debts and this whole mess that was recompensed earlier by financial stability.
I first started earning money when I got my first job at 14 years old, painting houses made of wooden logs in a seaside town. My salary was 4 PLN per hour (less than $1), and I worked during weekends for 8-12 hours daily. That way I had money to travel to school in the city nearby. After that I was accepted to the best high school in the region and also one of the best in the country back then. My whole life my biggest passion and beloved science was mathematics. In my youth I was made to believe that it would be my future, but the material situation soon cut me down to size. In those years in our country mathematicians was not a science one could make money on, but I heard that in the west it is possible. Now a question to you, Mr. Editor, have you ever heard of Fermat’s Final Theorem?
dolar: We have seen many scientific minds trying their hands at poker, with very good results. You come from a poor family. Did you see a chance to earn big money in poker, bigger than a chance of becoming a mathematician in the fabled “West”?
Banis: Not at all. Poker came much later. Back then I didn't even know what Texas Hold'em was. Fermat’s Final Theorem took one year of my life – literally. When I was in the first class of high school I heard that for proving it in algebraic form one can be paid $100k. I took the challenge immediately. Each day after classes I have been sitting with a notebook trying to prove this damn thing. I think I wrote several hundred pages full of calculations then. I lost hundreds of hours on that. As a mathematician I'd been stuck in a terrible stagnation, and the frustration coming from the failure and tilt (notion then unknown to me) made me angry at mathematics for the next few years. I gave it up and started to spend my free time on construction working, artistic blacksmithing, and so the things looked throughout my time at high school.
In the second class of high school my friend of blessed memory asked me in the school smoking area if I were going to participate in the economics olympiad. If there is something like a life turning moment, something which defines your reality in the next years, that was it. Thanks to Lukasz I participated in the olympiad in the second class, in the third class I became a finalist, and I was accepted at the University of Economics, and I haven’t been expelled from the school despite a reprehensible number of absences. I also owe Lukasz my understanding that money is in economics, not in mathematics.
dolar: What happened next? Mind we don’t know you as a person working in the ministry of finance or one of the international banks.
Banis: First of all I completely abandoned my dreams of studying maths at Princeton or even Jagiellonian University, and if it comes to the ministry, I will cite one of my favorites, professor Gwiazdowski “If you work as an economist in a public institution for 6k PLN per month, you must be either a thief, or an idiot”.
Before I started studying at the university, during the longest “holidays” in my life, I managed to convince the local wholesaler to employ me as a magazine worker with quite a good salary, and also as a finalist of the olympiad I received a scholarship from the mayor of my city. That secured me a good start at the uni and a clear head. In my first year at university I was one of the top students in my department, I was sent to attend seminars in the European Parliament, I managed to receive a scholarship, and found a new passion - topics regarding Laffer’s curve. My passion for mathematics came back as well. A career in the minister was just around the corner! ;) Nevertheless, one day an old friend of mine visited me at work, telling me he has just won 2,5k PLN in one day, playing the game he thinks I will be very good at. It’s not hard to imagine that this game was poker.
dolar: You played it yourself and… decided to give up everything else? Or did it look differently?
Banis: No. I told him he was a gambler and also to go to hell. However, the seed of curiosity has been planted and slowly started to sprout. Back then I worked in the newspaper in Poznan as a fancy sounding NBDM, or New Business Development Manager. One time, after hearing another success story of my friend, I opened an account on Party Poker which was offering free bankroll, and started playing NL2s. It’s easy to guess that I lost my first bankroll, but I got excited about the game. I started playing local “matches” games. Well, it wasn’t going too well, I was passive, I was a weak donor.
dolar: The beginnings are very similar for everyone, but what I’m curious about is what moment at the beginning of your career was the most important? When did you start thinking about poker as your source of sustenance?
Banis: I made a summary of my first months of playing and it came out, that except for several free bankrolls, I lost 1500 PLN in live games. I decided it’s enough. I logged to Full Tilt, where I had my last remaining $6,5. I decided to play a tournament for it and that way I will end my poker adventure. I decided to choose 90-man knockout. The end of this story is pretty obvious :)
dolar: Random win decided that you committed the rest of your life to poker?
Banis: No, but it gave me bankroll to play NL5s. I started scrimping poker money. I decided to bet everything on it 6 months later. I had a conflict with main editor of the newspaper I worked in, I didn’t want to yield in one matter, I had poker that I thought I could win at. So I gave him my termination. The next year started splendidly. I won local “matches” league. I was playing NL25s then. I started to become “someone” in the local community. The sad truth was that matches league hardly earned me something, and lack of self-development was the reason why I was break-even online for 3 months and tried to earn peanuts as a “rakeback pro”. At the same time I realised that lack of regular salary had a big impact on my home budget. Cherry on top was my debit card rejection at a grocery in 2010. After checking the balance it came out that my limits were maxed, and after clearing out my account at FTP there was enough money on Skrill for 2, maybe 3 months of living.
dolar: So what finally happened that allowed you to get out of this hole?
Banis: €90 which I got from UNIBET for winning the league :) I closed myself at home for 2 weeks and i turned that into 3k euro on cash games, allowing me to pay off my debts and stabilise my financial situation. In June I passed my final exam and thought up a challenge - I will deposit $750 with FTP and made 10k of BR in two months. In September 2010 I was a regular winning player at nl100/200.
dolar: And those were the stakes you stayed at?
Banis: Ultimately I managed to reach regular play at NL1000, and shoot for some NL2000 in 2013. If it comes to No Limit Texas Hold'em I was in my life shape back then. I was working on a daily basis with Thomson, 24kgilded, spinx87 and our current coach, Ciachooooo. Apart from cash tables I was also successful at live games. That was definitely my best poker year, crowned by participation in PCA, which Dominik Panka won.
dolar: You were no longer a 14 years old child painting wooden huts for 4 PLN/hour. Do you sometimes remind yourself of this kid who barely could afford travelling to school?
Banis: For me this kid is an inspiration, motivation, but also a caution.
dolar: Reaching NL1000s is an unimaginable feat that not many can brag of. However, after talking with you several times, I have a feeling that of course it was a success for you, but you weren’t completely content with it. Am I correct? If yes, why are you feeling that way?
Banis: I managed to become one of the top players in my country back then and it of course is a success, but it is also has a bit bitter taste. I try to be self-aware and I know how much more I could have given of myself and how high I could be if I have had my current work ethic back then. This knowledge makes me embittered, and I even regret myself.
I am not a big fan of football, but I enjoy one metaphor - I was content with being a top attacker in national football league, when KillU was scoring goals in Santiago Bernabeu.
dolar: Don’t you think that Spin & Go players are behaving in a similar manner right now? What would you like to tell them?
Banis: I can tell them exactly the same thing I told dozens of Smart Spinners. Poker is not a lifetime job, it’s a job for the next few years. If you make it your financial trampoline to something bigger depends only on your engagement and hard work, here and now - not in a week, month or a year. Each week while reviewing spreadsheets of our 30s+ players, my heart bleeds, seeing “overworked nurslings” averaging 30-40 games daily.
Really? 3-4 hours at the tables per day?
This attitude sickens me and I have to hold my tongue very often in private conversations, not to present my opinion on some people’s idleness in a too harsh way.
dolar: Right, since you started this topic - how did you became involved in Smart Spin? Table games are quite far from HU HTs, and as far as I know, you knew the founders a bit earlier.
Banis: I met killuifuplay many years ago at TLP convent, which I was one of the organizers. I met bakudranski through him one or two years later, we went together to Estrelle in Madrid. I met iJustGamble at EPT Berlin through our Diamond member, Andrzejeczek, 4 years ago. I got to know FCDplayer in Smart Spin.
In 2014, together with Tomson, we moved to PLO HUs. After one year of struggle it felt like home up to the 1k PLO lobby. At the beginning of 2015, I heard from KillU about a new initiative which he joined. I remember well even today as he wrote to me that they were starting recruitment and to let them know if someone was interested.
I looked closer at this announcement and I don’t know why, but if there is anything called “flash” in the psychology, that must have been it. Exactly one day later I jumped in my car and drove to HU SNG emperor. A week later I was a part of Smart Spin as a “Member/counselor to the management board”.
dolar: This is probably the most interesting thing. How from a member you became CEO? To be honest, you jumped one level above the founders, and that doesn’t happen very often.
Banis: It’s hard to answer that question. I think that I managed to convince the “Founding Fathers” in the early stage to several major changes in the company philosophy, due to which we managed to rescale Smart Spin to the biggest Spin team in the world 6 months after it was established.
I have just felt love at the first sight to Smart Spin, and they saw that in me ;)
dolar: What did you tell them?
Banis: That we need to conquer the market from the bottom. That we shouldn’t waste time for negotiations with spoiled stars of HU SNGs, but try to create new stars for this type of game.
dolar: I think you’ve probably been preparing for this role for your whole life. Mathematician, economist, editor… a killer mix. Also, during your poker adventure, you were responsible for several sideline projects, weren’t you?
Banis: “Mathematician, economist, editor” - at best a teenager wannabe :).
I remember as, before the third semester, we had to choose a specialization. A woman in the deanery asked me:
“- Which major do you choose?
- Sadly, we don’t have one.
- I can handle that”.
During my poker adventure I had a pleasure of managing three editions of PPdSZP charity initiative. I managed to collect about $100k (at then exchange rate) and help about 700 people. About three hundred donors and several dozen “professional poker players” were involved in the initiative.
Noble Package reminds me of the road I had to travel while fighting life difficulties, but it also taught me a bit of humility, which was priceless in the latter part of my poker career.
I look back at this time with a smile on my face.
dolar: It’s hard to believe your nickname is “bloody”.
Banis: It was given to me by other founders due to my negotiation skills. Supposedly, when I am “in the zone”, I am the best negotiator, KillU says the only one better than him he knows. This sometimes may result in a bit of “blood” But well, that’s how I am - if it comes to the good of our team, I am relentless.
dolar: Walking over everybody to achieve your goals?
Banis: Definitely not, simply in business I am guided by the economical equation, not my emotions. I try to differentiate between day to day life and business, otherwise I’d go insane. Many of my poker colleagues, and even friends, play, work or cooperate with me, that’s why I live by the rule - “be close to your close ones”. And I believe that the people from my “inner circle” know, that they can count on me.
If you come from the environment I come from, life gives you only one choice - either you stay where you are, or you try to achieve your dream life by working hard. I had it easier because I have a sister, which was my source of inspiration for many years, and then I found a girlfriend which accompanies me since about a decade - now as my wife. when I was very young I met many outstanding people who helped me in dire times and were near me when I needed it the most. It was then I understood that it is not blood ties that define who is your family, but you can create your stepbrothers and stepsisters by working hard. Those people are with me till today.
It was similar in poker. Over the last few years many outstanding players helped me - KillU, Tomson, Krolewicz, Soprano, Alchemik… the list is long. With many others I experienced freaking cool moments, parties, travels. I tried to help myself as much as I could, because I believe it is what it’s about. I am very happy that through these years I understood it’s not only me who is a “father of my success”.
dolar: It has been already two years since Smart Spin was opened. What was the biggest obstacle you manage to overpower? What is the most difficult in being CEO?
Banis: As a response I will use a part of non-published entry for Be what we wanna be. For almost two years I am responsible for not only my closest ones, but also several dozens persons from Smart Spin’s closest circle, and several hundreds of our members. Managing such an extensive business is very exhausting, even consumptive. Thousands of interactions monthly, many of them hard, unpleasant, requiring consistency, which may often result in a conflict. As if it was not enough, the reality of our industry is looking like a stormy ocean. We are lucky that Spins are a kind of Noah's Ark for regs and it’s the time of prosperity. However, despite how powerful our ship is, we must carefully overcome each new incoming wave so as not to end like the Titanic.
To end this scribbling, I will try to get to the point. Have we managed to create the biggest spin team in the world? Great, but as someone once said: “old achievements do not matter”. It is unofficial motto of Smart Spin founders. We don’t want to BE the second Poker Strategy, as it’s a giant on clay legs. I don’t mean to offend here the founders and other creators, because those were people with a vision, which created something impressive and pioneer back then. Sadly, today only a memory of these times remained. We are a melody of the future.
dolar: How does this future look like?
Banis: The future of Smart Spin is Smart Community, which is a byproduct of our hard work. SC in a vision of my dreams is a global poker university at which people, after a few years of studying, work on their poker future. Play smarter, live better.
dolar: How do you want to achieve it? Will you reveal the secret?
Banis: We are going to start with creating Smart Backing, which will expand our activities to other types of games - MTT and NLTH cash, and finally even PLO. Live scene will be the next step, we want to co-create live poker tournament series, where our members would be able to try their best. Another integrating element will be Smart Spin convents - at this moment we plan to host 2 per year, the first in 2017 will take place after Smart League 2.0, and the second in December. We are also thinking about many other side projects - I’d like to have the first official Smart Academy outpost within a dozen or so months, and make each nationality of members have its own manager.
dolar: What’s the best thing you got out of Smart Spin?
Banis: A new life goal. I am not going to make the same mistake again that I made earlier when I became content with my place in the “national league”. Now I am hungry for nosebleeds, I want to finish the game called “E-gambling” and reach the very top of this “lobby”.