Who is Rob Yong? - Interview with the Man behind Dusk Till Dawn and the ISPT

Barry Carter talks to Rob Yong, the owner of poker club Dusk Till Dawn (who has guaranteed €1 million for the winner at the International Stadiums Poker Tour). Learn about the businessman behind one of the biggest poker stories of the year.


Anyone who has followed my writing knows that I have been very critical of the International Stadiums Poker Tour. That was before Dusk Till Dawn became partners, changed the format and guaranteed €1 million to the winner.

Now the €300 buy-in event is having a huge number of Day 1s online and in live card rooms across the UK, before staging Day 2 onwards at the legendary Wembley Stadium in London. Not only are they guaranteeing a seven-figure first prize, they are also guaranteeing over 1,000 Main Event seats in online and live satellites.

This is massive news in the UK, because Dusk Till Dawn and its owner Rob Yong have arguably done more for the growth of the game here than anyone else. Their name being put next to the otherwise tarnished brand of the ISPT has completely reversed public opinion on the event in the UK.

I realise not everybody knows who Rob Yong is, so I wanted to give the rest of the poker world an insight into the man behind Dusk Till Dawn.

"There have been as many failures as successes"

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Rob Yong
Rob Yong is a very successful entrepreneur from Nottingham, England. He owns a number of businesses including a recruitment business, several pubs, a property company and is also the Chairman of Eastwood Town Football Club.

"When I was a kid I was always trying to generate money. I wanted things like nice trainers and to go to the cinema, my parents were not well off so I had to generate the money myself. I used to sell Bric-a-Brac under a subway with Nick Whiten (Dusk Till Dawn Operations Director) when I was ten years old."

"I needed a job when I was 21 so I went to a recruitment agency and they offered me work there as a recruitment consultant. I tried that for a year but I didn't get on with the owner, so I set up a business for myself. At the start it was just me in my room with a fax machine. Since then I have had lots of different projects and businesses. There have been just as many which have gone seriously wrong than right; it's not all been riches."

Adversity is something he has had to face often at Dusk Till Dawn, and his experience in business outside of poker is surely what helped him develop the grit to deal with it.

"It's hard, way too hard. Sometimes things happen outside of your control. Generally when setbacks happen I just try and get more focused so if something goes wrong I get up earlier the next morning, get more organised and review what I am doing myself - because the only thing I have control of is myself. I just try and adjust to the environment around me".

"Customer service is at the core of everything we do"

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Rob celebrating with his football team
Wise words for both business and poker. So how did Rob discover the game?

"My local casino was the Gala in Nottingham, I walked into the wrong room by accident and it was the poker room. I saw some guys I knew, sat down and played. It was a £5 rebuy, I really liked it and I was hooked from there."

"I travelled a lot with work, and I always liked gambling, so poker was a perfect way to combine the two".

The story of Dusk Till Dawn is famous in the UK. Rob and his friend and business partner Nick Whiten were refused entry into a tournament because they turned up one minute late. Nick made a throwaway comment: “why don’t we open our own poker room?" - the rest is history.

Rather than open up another casino, Dusk Till Dawn became the first venue where the focus is almost exclusively in poker, with just a small amount of space devoted to house games. It is also one of the most impressive looking card rooms in the world, events always start on time and boast big guarantees every night.

"When I first came into poker you would be stuck in the back room, with one valet for 100 customers. There was a lot I felt I could change in poker. That's what I tend to do in business, I generally look at industries where I could improve customer service."

"We are really close to customers in everything we do. That's the core of our business - speaking directly to customers, making sure they are happy. That's a long term key for our business, but in the short term it takes a lot of time up".

"I take overlays on the chin, but they are embarrassing"

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Inside Dusk Till Dawn
Dusk Till Dawn are very well known for their customer service. They are also very well known for making huge guarantees, which many times they have had to pay out big overlays for.

Their lowest guarantee is £5,000 for a nightly £25 tournament, they have a monthly £300 freezeout with a £150,000 guarantee and they guaranteed £1 million for UKIPT Nottingham.

Although they have paid big overlays, I asked Yong if there was a marketing benefit with them.

"Never. That's a misconception. I take it on the chin, however it's a failure of the tournament. Overlays as a whole are bad, it makes it look like the players don't like the product, I find them embarrassing sometimes".

"It comes in useful for people trusting us because we always pay out on them. It's great now for the ISPT, but I'd rather have a business with no overlays and product with great reputation."

Onto the International Stadiums Poker Tour. It was an event that nobody seemed to want to get behind until Dusk Till Dawn put their name to it. In a recent column I suggested that the significant negative publicity it gathered could actually be a positive for Dusk Till Dawn in terms of marketing, does Rob see it that way?

"The ISPT had some of the worst PR I've ever seen"

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Wembley Stadium
"It's the most infamous poker project, it's had some of the worst PR I've seen in my life. I didn't see that as an opportunity - the worse their PR, the worse it was for me. And the worse it got, the less chance there was of me getting involved." 

"It's not about trying to turn around the mistakes they made and looking good for it, it's because I liked the idea of the event two years ago when I met with them."

"I didn't like the idea of playing tablets in the stadium. When I went to Wembley there was no way I thought they could wire 30,000 tablets up. I liked the idea of online and live day ones before going to the stadium."

"We've done this before at Dusk Till Dawn with our Grand Prix event. I advised them loosely on this format. They made some changes where you can buy in on Day 2 which I have never done before. We had about 4,000 people for a €60 buy-in for that event; I think we need about 15,000 people at €300 for this event, so it's a tough task".

"It's not about the challenge, it's about taking the next step"

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A poker player at heart
The challenge ahead of Rob Yong is immense, and I wondered if he is the sort of person who needs an impossible challenge to motivate him:

"Having been a gambler, I know the more you put on the table, the bigger your wins will be. All the challenges we have previously took on like guaranteeing £150,000 for a monthly £300 event, hosting a 2,089-runner tournament, guaranteeing £1 million at UKIPT Nottingham - they were hopefully fundamental step changes in our business to progress."

"If we had not guaranteed £1 million last year for UKIPT Nottingham, we probably wouldn't be able to guarantee the €1 million first prize for the ISPT. Nobody can say we haven't done it before. It's not about the challenge, it's about putting the building blocks in place."

"Our monthly £300 deepstack guarantee went from 20k to 40k to 75k to 100k and now it's £150k. We do it in stages, but people who haven't tracked our progress will maybe think we are crazy doing this. We've already done a million prize pool, so the next step is obviously €1 million to the winner". 

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Comments (5)

newest first
  • gxtwo

    #1

    Nice article Barry, enjoyed reading it.

    He seems like he's passionate about the game and willing to take the necessary risks for the next level :D
  • BarryCarter

    #2

    I really expected him to be flashy and cocky, but he actually is a really down to earth and humble guy - he just happens to also be very driven and determined.
  • gxtwo

    #3

    Well from what I took of the article, he seems like he's happy to just see something tried.

    If it doesn't work out, fair enough. It will be fun and something will be learned from it.
  • maritsula

    #4

    Rob Young seems like a really great guy.
    A friend of mine who works at DTD told me he that Rob is willing to play anyone heads up to 100/200 ;p
  • pleno1

    #5

    nice one Rob ;)