The insidious spread of social media has led to me meeting people in a different way. It used to be a handshake in a card room or restaurant. These days, people edge digitally into my field of view and either do something to become known or dissipate like free electrons unleashed from the circuit.
I first became aware of Tim “TheTrooper97” Watts through his appearance on my Twitter feed. The Vegas poker scene is surprisingly small, so when multiple friends included links to TheTrooper97 vlog I naturally gravitated towards it.
Since the Youtube vlog primarily covers two topics that directly impact me – poker and Las Vegas – I subscribed to the channel. And like most of my subscriptions I mostly ignored it until I noticed Tim was putting up a new vlog every day. The frequency of the related buzz on social media had also ratcheted up a few kilohertz. It seemed TheTrooper97 was transitioning from an internet curiosity into a minor cult.
I decided to devote an afternoon to try and figure out what the fuss was about through an extended vlog viewing session. Two elements stood out. The first was that the production quality had, over the last couple of years, progressed from competent to excellent. The second, revealed in some remastered footage of Tim singing lead for a band, was that he has excellent mic technique.
Exactly why I found these two features notable is a long story, the short version of which is that when you’re cast as The Devil in a Charlie Parr music video you get a crash course in this sort of thing. I bring it up in part because it provides a contrast to what stands out for Tim’s other fans, not to mention his detractors. A little bit of internet digging revealed that those who follow TheTrooper97 feel very strongly that:
- He drinks too much coffee
- He has a terrible diet
- He walks too much
- He parks in the wrong casinos
- He lives in the wrong apartment
- He is hysterically funny
- He sucks at poker
- He is good at poker
- His bankroll management is bad/good/indifferent
- He is pursuing a noble dream
- He is creating his own nightmare
- He is too profane
- His profanity frequency is optimal
- He should quit/get a job (depending on employment status at the time of the vlog)
Since his mic technique had been ignored completely by these individuals and his production skills had received far less attention than I felt they deserved, I decided to track down TheTrooper97 in an attempt to figure out what made this unusual cat tick.
Since my RCP expense budget is $0, I invited Tim to meet me at the Harrah’s Diamond Lounge. When he arrived he looked longingly at the neighboring Starbucks which was closed. I made a preemptive apology for the likely quality of the cuisine we were about to enjoy and we went inside.
My plan was for a thirty minute chat with Tim to fill in some gaps in what I’d gleaned from the vlog and other sources. I was therefore somewhat surprised when I noticed the Diamond Lounge was about to close for business and we’d been talking for over three hours.
The first takeaway is hopefully obvious. Tim is a delight to talk to. If you’ve watched the vlog you’ll know he can transition seamlessly (I guess that might just be the editing) from the F-bombing ranter to quiet introspection. It’s the latter persona he brought to our interview and the one I suspect is closer to the core Tim Watts. In one of his daily vlogs, this Tim expressed himself as follows:
“A mosaic can be made of anything. You can take tiny little pictures of yourself and make them into a real big picture of something else. It’s kind of like Las Vegas. You could take a hundred thousand tiny little pictures of drug addicts and dealers, the homeless, people puking, or anything that you wanted that is horrible and disgusting, and make a mosaic out of those tiny little pictures and make the beautiful Las Vegas Strip. When you’re looking at it from up there – from the hotel windows – it’s this magnificent display of buildings and lights and sounds and smells. But when you get down close on the street it’s all dirty. It’s sad, but it’s like a disguise for what really goes on here.” 
Contrast this to Tim’s description in the vlog in which he announced his most recent relocation to Las Vegas :
“I need all the sensory stimulation you get in Las Vegas; the sights and the sounds and the smells, even the tastes… Everything about Las Vegas I fucking love. I need that action. I need to see the lights, I need to see the water, I need to hear the sounds of the casinos. It’s the only place I’ve lived where I didn’t think to myself: ‘There’s somewhere I’d rather be.’”
As we discussed these two apparently contrasting views of Las Vegas, I realized that Tim had concisely summarized my own ambivalent feelings. The first time I visited Vegas I knew I’d eventually live here, and now that I do I have no intention of living anywhere else. But anyone who has made Vegas their home, particularly those of us who spend a significant fraction of our days and nights in casinos, is well aware that the allure of the place comes at a considerable cost.
I redirected the conversation to Tim’s days singing in a band and whether his impeccable mic technique  resulted from formal training. His was as informal as it can get. Belting along in the car with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson  led Tim to the serendipitous discovery that singing expands an individual’s vocal range and improves pitch control. His mic usage derives from observation of singers he admires.
So what about video production and editing? Again, Tim is self taught. He described, eyes sparkling, when he first discovered “jump cuts” in the Youtube videos of others and started incorporating them into his own work. How quality improved with the purchase of an editing suite, but that most of the remarkable progress he has made has been through trial and error and through studying the work of others. It was really quite inspiring to appreciate what an admittedly smart and self-motivated individual can accomplish through hard work and passion.
Passion is a word Tim uses a lot when discussing both video-making and poker. Some of his social media followers have tried to pin him down on which is more important. Is he a poker player who makes videos or a video-maker who plays poker?
Tim dismisses the false dichotomy with a wave of his hand.
“Neither! I’m passionate about poker, I’m passionate about making videos, but they’re both part of an ongoing story.”
I point out his recent increase in vlog output suggests making videos currently dominates his time.
“Sure. I’ve discovered what I wish I’d be doing for the last ten years.”
So what’s the appeal?
“After I quit singing in the band, I had zero outlet for the creative process. With the vlogs, they are my creation from beginning to end. I want to make the best vlog ever. Maybe through videos I can give to others the kind of enjoyment that Iron Maiden have given to me.”
I decided that since this article would appear at Red Chip Poker I should turn our discussion to topics suggested by RCP subscribers. I kicked off with a loaded question.
What do you think about poker training sites?
Tim’s face slipped into a lop-sided smile as he averted his gaze and forked a pot-sticker. He knew where this article would appear. He presumably also realized that as a poker player I’d get a pretty good read on his physical reaction to my question. A brief leveling war ensued in which we both ate our pot-stickers while decoding each other.
“I commentated on Live at the Bike,” he offered evasively.
I redirected my prodding from the pot-stickers to Tim who continued to talk around the subject. His skepticism about training sites is, I think, reasonable. I told him I felt RCP was different not because I had to, but because I meant it. But like singing and video-making, Tim has mostly developed his poker game by observing others and through discussions with a limited number of people who he respects.
What about books?
“Oh the Sklansky and Miller one. It’s green . That took my game to a different planet.”
In what way?
“So many important ideas. Like charging draws enough to make it a mistake for them to call without blowing them out of the pot.
What about meditation?
“Mental game stuff?” Again a wry smile. “No I don’t tilt anymore.”
Tim then gave a candid description of his gambling demons, mostly related to video poker, and how he attributes his lack of poker tilt to beating those demons. These days he stays out of the pit and is well-known for being drug- and alcohol-free.
What’s the hardest thing for you to overcome to make a living playing poker?
“Simple. Putting in enough hours.”
Let me anticipate RCP-subscriber reactions to a couple of these responses.
Yeah, probably. But to some extent it’s a question of degree. And in my experience, those with balanced lives who avoid investing all their self-worth and ego in poker tend to tilt less often and less dramatically. While Tim’s hectic schedule of vlog-production, playing poker, and dealing at The Linq may not strike some as balanced, it seems to work for him.
If the last book you read was Sklansky and Miller…
Sure it’s a little dated. But the majority of your opponents at $1/2 have likely never opened a poker book. Tim’s current study habits are not intended to be a fast track to crushing $5/10. That’s not his goal.
At this point I realized I’d only scratched the surface of What Makes Tim Tick, but since I’m not his official biographer it would do. However, one area I’d completely neglected was the third prong of Tim’s spork: his dealing gig at The Linq. As we left the Diamond Lounge I warned him I’d be sitting in his game within the next few days.
I played at the Imperial Palace once. I had to, a freeroll got moved there.
I played at The Quad once. They had a micro buy-in tournament and I was helping a novice with her game.
I had never before played at The Linq.
There is definitely a place for a poker room like The Linq on the Vegas Strip.
I got there about ten on a Saturday evening and saw Tim dealing at a tournament table. I put myself on the $1/1 list (there’s a first time for everything) and wandered around trying to find some useful adjectives.
According to my session notes I sat at 9:40, left at 11:15, and finished up $215, which means this article realized $204 more than my last royalty check from Kendall-Hunt. I guess Tim pushed in at 10:30 and after his down the blinds hit me again at 11:15.
It occurred to me I mostly notice dealers when they screw up or are annoying, and that Tim was running the game smoothly and unobtrusively. He interacts well with the players and recognizes quickly those who want to engage in banter and those who are wondering where the damn cocktail waitress got to. The informality of the room suits Tim and his energy suits the room. My only complaint is that the Saturday night DJ , who is clearly an idiot based on a complete absence of Ramones songs, employs a volume that requires dealer and players alike to shout.
It’s… ah… informal. Loud and informal.
From my perspective as a player, I enjoyed Tim as a dealer, but to get a different angle I button-holed Cindy Arnowitz, Linq Poker Room Supervisor.
“Tim? He is awesome to work with!” enthused Cindy. “His vlog definitely brings his fans to our room. People are constantly stopping by asking if he’s working. Truly a pleasure to work with and an asset to The Linq poker room.”
Having never received an endorsement like that myself, I asked Tim how he felt about it. Specifically, what it was like to have fans tracking him down. I got a typically self-effacing response.
“It’s… great. But I don’t want fans of me, I want fans of the vlog.”
I’m glad I made a rare journey outside the digital realm to sit down and talk with Tim. It confirmed for me his authenticity. The cussing, ranting vlog persona is a genuine part of Tim, as is the introspective, thoughtful side that studies the Vegas underbelly.
One other thing I would not have discovered had I not interacted with him directly. We both prefer to shake hands left-handed.
Footnotes: Revised from the original by Tim for flow and content. He’s a craftsman.  Look, I obsess on the strangest things, but seriously. There are people who have been fronting bands for years who haven’t figured out that when they move into the top third of their register they get louder and have to increase mouth-to-mic distance accordingly.  Bruce wasn’t in the car. CD.  No Limit Hold ‘Em; Theory and Practice. If you leave it on a Vegas balcony for a week in summer it turns turquoise.
 A.k.a. “pill-popping jukebox,” credit: Jet.