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Inspiring Conversations with Bryan Blase

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bryan Blase.

Bryan, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
While bartending at The Vortex in Midtown in 2003, I had some customers ask to change the channel to the World Series of Poker. It was the first year they used cameras in the tables so you could see the player’s cards. As I watched, I thought this is something I could do. I asked the customers lots of questions and figured it out pretty quickly. Someone started a weekly bar game and I was hooked. I was reading all the books I could get my hands on, watching hours and hours of past and present poker footage and started a weekly home game. I was playing about ten games a week and numerous hours online back when it was legal. I was making decent money without taking much risk, playing mostly tournaments with modest buy-ins. Freeroll Atlanta started in 2005, and I played every game, luckily my girlfriend at the time worked nights so it wasn’t an issue. Daniel Stabler and John Carol started the league 16 years ago and kept it reasonably small. Later I moved to Korea and Vietnam to teach English and of course, search out any back alley poker game I could find.

After five years, I came back to Atlanta and taught English at a small school in Midtown Atlanta. Daniel, then the sole owner of Freeroll Atlanta, asked me to run some of his games, so I did that along with teaching. I started teaching at 8 am until three at my day job, then drove to Marietta to prepare and teach another two and a half hour class, then hurry back to Atlanta to run a tournament until 12 or 1 am I ran tournaments in Little Five Points, Midtown, Virginia Highlands and East Atlanta Village. While running these games, I kept saying to myself. I wish I could do this for a living! So I saved everything I could while living in a small studio apartment in Little Five Points. I noticed Daniel was getting busier with his other job, so I asked what it would cost to take this over? He said, let’s meet next week and give me a number. I ran some calculations and gave him my offer and he accepted. I’ve been playing with the league since its inception and have been running the games for about five years and have owned the league for two years. I’m running games every day now and looking to add new games all the time.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It was rough at first. Poker lost a lot of popularity since the big boom in the early 2000s. Getting new players has been tough, which is the only way to survive. I’ve added nine new games since I took over and lost 6 of those due to covid. Right, when Covid hit, I had introduced three new games and was working on a few more in the coming months. I’m almost back to my precovid number, but player participation is still down. And this Delta Variant isn’t making it any easier.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Freeroll Atlanta is a poker league with tournaments daily played at restaurants and bars in Atlanta. It’s free to play, and prizes are cash and gift cards awarded nightly to the top three players. We play tournament-style No-Limit Texas Hold’em. But ultimately, players are there to accumulate points to qualify for a quarterly tournament in which the winner and a friend are sent to Las Vegas for at least three nights, flights, and hotel. Four trips a year are awarded.

The biggest difference between my league and others is the social aspect. The tables are octagons, making it easier to converse with your buddies and make new ones. Players make lifelong friendships at my games. There have even been two marriages as a result of the league. Freeroll is a legit game following The Tournament Director’s Association rules which are used worldwide. We welcome beginners and pros alike. A free game is the best place to learn with no risk. Our players and tournament directors are welcoming and helpful.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
I was a punk rock kid growing up in the 80s listening to the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. I grew up in the burbs of Cleveland and Chicago, which wasn’t easy. We were basically seen as the enemies of everything normal. We got it from teachers, police, shop owners and basically every adult, not to mention other teenagers, whether it was jocks or metalheads. That was a tough time for a kid to walk around with spray-painted jeans, combat boots and spiky hair. I was kind of a shy kid, so I think that was what attracted me to the punk scene. I could stand out and look cool without a loudmouth. I guess it was a way of giving the finger to all the plastic fakeness we thought about the suburbs in the 80s. Plus, I think it gave me some confidence as well.

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Image Credits
Matt Mammola

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