During my last poker trip I managed to score copies of all four (I believe there are now four) major poker magazines that are widely distributed to poker rooms around the country -- Ante Up, Bluff, Card Player and Poker Player.
Sadly, Rounder long bit the dust. My gravy train ran off the rails, and at least I didn't get banged up too much by the con artist who last owned it. He only owed me about $600 when he folded and didn't pay anybody. Others got hosed for much worse...
Obviously, as a former poker magazine "managing editor" (it was a pretty loose term) and an avid poker player, I am always interested in what other poker magazines have to offer. So let's take a quick look at what's available today and see how they compare in various categories:
Content -- Chris Cosenza and Scott Long, the publishers of this Florida-based publication, have focused on the lower-bankrolled, regional-based player, which I think is a smart move for them. Unfortunately, it can make for a rather boring magazine. The brunt of content in Ante Up is written by area "ambassadors" detailing events and personalities in their areas. (Full disclosure: I talked with Chris about doing something for them in the St. Louis area until I learned there was no hope of getting paid for my work.) The ambassadors work for free, which I think is pure marketing genius by Cosenza and Long -- they get most of their content for gratis by puffing up the egos of folks who like to have their pic and name in a national magazine. Ante Up also includes strategy from notables such as Jonathan Little and Joe Navarro, as well as several pages of useful daily tournament listings from casinos around the country. Grade: C-
Design -- Tons of black and white, with only small photos breaking up the text. It's not a thing of beauty...but it's not the ugliest poker magazine, as we shall see... Grade: D+
Content -- From the start (about 2005 or so, I think) Bluff has put out a publication with a nice variety of content, from news briefs to feature stories on important topics (recent issue: The Power 20) to tournament coverage to strategy. I've never been a fan of the "party of the month" columns from the likes of Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilley, but I can handle a few turds among the gems. Bluff only include token tournament listings from Vegas, California and Nevada. Grade: A-
Design -- Bluff excels again here, from professional portrait shots (see the recent Power 20 cover) to great graphic design. The layout is lively and pops out. The only knock is the overuse of some generic card and chip graphics for some of the strategy columns. Grade: A-
Content -- Now in its 26th year, Card Player is like that warm, fuzzy blanket you grew up with and can't part with. It's a good mix of stuff, but also a fair amount of content I could do without. I'm really digging the Bart Hanson column, as well as a new column on poker rules and etiquette. The hand analyses are cool, and strategy article by the likes of Gavin Griffin and Steve Zolotow are good. On the other hand, there's a fair amount of valuable page space dedicated to profiles of online luminaries that I don't care about. There's a pretty good daily tournament schedule from around the U.S. for those who need it. Grade: B
Design -- Most columns consist of text and mugshots, with the occasional generic photo creating eye appeal. Like Ante Up, Card Player seems to depend on colorful ad pages to break up the monotony of its actual editorial content -- a bit lazy, if you ask me. Grade: C-
Content -- We got your press releases! We got your grammatical errors! (Can we do without a few of those overused commas Mr. Sludikoff?) There's two main areas of content here: recaps of recent tournament main events, which read as if they were ripped straight from the press release and strategy columns from recreational players. You get the occasional well-written news recap from my old colleague Haley Hintze or trip recap from Russ Fox. The Mike Caro bipolar ask himself questions column every month is tired, and lame. Grade: D
Design -- Oh, Lord, what a mess. This tabloid-shaped magazine looks like old newspaper did when they used to literally cut and paste the text and photos onto large sheets to print before computer software such as QuarkXpress and In Design became available. Caro's column often jumps across three of four pages throughout the publication. Grade: D-
So that's my two cents. I think Bluff is far and away the best magazine, with Ante Up and Poker Player significantly below Card Player.
For the record, my old magazine was pretty fallow from the content standpoint, but had pretty good design. It'd probably fall in the middle if it were compared to the current publications.