Calen 'Big Whee'l McNeil
WSOP Bracelet Winner, 2013, Omaha Hi/Lo

​Full audio of this interviewHERE

Great to have this guy back! WSOP bracelet winner in 2013, Event #20 Omaha Hi/Lo, and he finished 4th in the same event the following year. He’s in the restaurant business, calls himself a part time poker player, but it’s a helluva part time job. Calen 'Big Wheel' McNeil, welcome back man, thanks for being our High Roller today! 

Q: First of all, heading into the WSOP this year, how much poker have you actually played. Your social media has been all about Big Wheel Burger. You've been busy?

CM: It was a fun event because you got to buy in as many times as you wanted. It was unlimited re-entry. I personally bought in three times. In PLO, there’s always opportunities to get it in and you’re never really that far behind, so it was a fun tournament to play in. I think they should do more PLO. In my opinion, PLO should always be re-entry, maybe a smaller buy-in as well, because it’s a fun game to play with a lot of action. There’s a ton of mixed games going on this year. The schedule is fantastic. 

Q: That was my very next question, the schedule. I know you love Omaha Hi/Lo. There’s lots to choose from this year. Did you play the three-game mix?

CM: I actually didn’t. I had to zip home real quick to deal with some restaurant stuff. I booked my trip in January and didn't properly entertain the schedule. That would have been my best possible game to play because I’m fairly good at PLO8, I’m probably one of the best in Omaha Eight and Big O is obviously an extension of the PLO. I didn’t make that one but I’ll be heading back shortly to get into the PLO8 that’s coming up next week. I’m hoping to do good things there and I’ve been playing well. I cashed a couple of times in PLO8. I may also play the eight-game mix. In HORSE, I built up stacks too. I had a really tough table in the eight-game mix with Greg Raymer, Shaun Deeb, Randy Ohel and Natasha Mercier, who are all really tough, tough players. I competed well against them. It’s all about building confidence. Even if you’re not cashing, if you’re going deep and playing well your confidence builds.

Q: Okay, I thought i’d run down your twitter account for some topics. I couldn’t find the tweet but I saw it in real time. You weighted in on one of the controversies this year, all those marked cards. What’s happening?

CM: The cards are incredibly bad as far as quality goes. There’s a lot of mixed games going on and the cards are being used in both NLHE and mixed games. In mixed games card markings are more pronounced because there are more cards to mark. If you’re in a Hi/Lo game you could mark the deuces, the threes, the aces obviously, but the fact of the matter is these cards are so bad that they’re all marked. There’s a jack marked, a queen marked, nines are marked, and they’re not specifically being marked on purpose. They’re just being marked because the way people are handling their cards, which are just not top quality. I’m confident the maker of the cards can make quality cards but, for whatever reason, these cards are definitely sub-standard. Marked cards are bad, everybody knows that, but if they're all marked it’s really hard to tell what cards are the good cards and what cards are the bad cards. It’s equal for everybody. It’s weighted equally for everybody. I know Matt Glantz made a stand by not playing a few of the 10k’s for that reason. I get why he did that. Principally, I support his move. Fundamentally? I just don’t think it’s as big an issue as it could’ve been because it’s applied equally. It’s hard to tell what the cards are when half the deck is marked.

Q: Your issue stems out of frustration, I guess, because with all the cards being marked people are asking for new decks constantly. The floor is bringing over new decks. It’s a game flow thing?

CM: Yes, when people are asking for new decks, I’m like, “Guys, all the cards are marked. Just cover the cards with your hands.” Is there an opportunity for the card to be sliding across the table and some one spots it? Yes, but the probability is so remote because so many cards are marked. The players need to suck it up and just play. I was at a table where one guy was wanting to change the decks every other hand and it’s ridiculous when every card is marked. If the aces and deuces were specifically marked then, yes, someone is doing it on purpose. The other frustration for some people is that the floor managers are coming over and berating the players for marking the cards. It’s not the players marking the cards. It’s players just holding them, which marks the cards. Matt Glantz made a big stink about it and I think he’s right that they need to make a change of marked cards but, as far as the integrity of the game goes, I don’t think it’s a big issue when all the cards are marked.

Q: You retweeed @bartdesoma, who wrote, "Instead of recording a dealer making mistakes and blasting them on social media, why not stop and assist them.”

CM: One-hundred per cent! I had maybe three or four instances where I actually had to scold players and tell them to leave the dealer alone. I go out of my way to assist the dealers, especially dealers who are clearly under trained. I come from the restaurant industry. The labour market around the world is super tough. Getting quality labour is a tough. As poker players we’re lucky there are dealers who deal to us. Even though a lot of people rip the Rio or the WSOP for the bad dealers, there are far more good dealers than there are bad. As players it’s incumbent upon us to assist where we can to keep the game flowing. Berating them? If you say something nasty to a dealer it rattles them and it will only make them worse. It’s far better to be encouraging. I make a point of encouraging all dealers. Do I get frustrated sometimes? Sure. There are spots where you get a little frustrated but it’s only a 30-minute down and then usually the dealer who comes after them is much better. In life you get what you give and I think players should be encouraging and helpful to the dealers. It’ll make the game better.

Q: Lastly Calen, what’s the atmosphere at the Rio like this year for the 2017 WSOP?

CM: It’s good. The field sizes are dow about 10%. I call that the "Trump Effect.” You know my views on things. I do think international travellers are down. I think domestic travellers are about the same. I do notice less European players at my tables but it’s still got the buzz. It’s the Word Series of Poker. They’ve done a good job at redesigning. Traditionally, the Amazon room was the big room where they had the Thunderdome. They’ve moved that to the Brasilia. They’ve segregated it and I think that’s good. I’ve made a couple of Day 2’s and being in that room on a Day 2, with nothing else happening, I think is good for players. It’s the WSOP. It’s so much fun. The schedule is fantastic. They always do a great job. As much as they make mistakes, like with the cards this year, overall they do a wicked job. It’s tough running a tournament series where hundreds of thousands of players are coming in so kudo’s to the WSOP.

Q: Tell us more about the ‘Trump Effect?”

CM: I think there are some outright boycotts of the United States, to some degree. I do think if anybody has any questionable history, as far as entering the country, or minor infractions, criminally or whatever, where they could actually travel but could potentially come under the microscope, they won’t come. It’s the only explanation. Throughout the year, at all the other major events, the attendance is up. This is going back before Donald got elected. The economy is booming for the most part. It is in Canada. The US economy is going well, so there’s no other reason why the numbers should be down. International travellers are definitely down. I’ve heard that stat before. Whatever side of the argument you land on, he is a very controversial figure and has proposed some pretty controversial things that affect global-minded thinking people. I think it’s restricting those people from coming down. I definitely think it’s the ‘Trump Effect,’ that’s my opinion.

Calen McNeil Thank-you!

High Roller Radio

Big Wheel Burger

Calen McNeil owns four restaurants in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Real-Fast-Food baby!

CM: We’ve had a bit of a growth spurt. I’ve got four restaurants in Victoria. We opened our second Big Wheel Burger last summer right around the World Series of Poker. I’m not sure why I chose the timing but somehow it worked out that way. This year we opened the third of our Big Wheel Burger concept restaurants. We’re in the process of opening another restaurant. I was hoping to get it done before the world series but life doesn't always work out that way. We’re pretty excited and it’s going really well. It’s all good.

Q: Looks like a fun restaurant to be at?

CM: It’s great. We grind our meat fresh everyday, we’re carbon neutral, so we’re proponent of the environment, and it’s just a fun place. It’s character driven with the Big Wheel characters, which kids get into, and it’s got a bit of a cartoon feel to it. It’s a very passionate project for myself and it relates to my personality, so It’s really an extension of me.

Q: It looks like you’re having dun but it takes me back to my original question. Have your business activities hampered your ability to get ready for the World Series of Poker? You see all these young whiz kids, the guys you’re going up against, working out, eating right, playing lots of poker, they’re getting ready. You’ve got other obligations. How have you found it heading into this year?

CM: I’m always keeping my game fresh online. I don’t play a lot of live poker throughout the year. I have maybe two or three live tournament trips I go on and my main live events are obviously the WSOP. This year I could have been in better physical shape, something I’ll work on for next year. I’ve been busy with the businesses and it’s hard to to keep fresh but I’m a huge poker fan. I follow some training video sites and, with the influx of Twitch, I’m always watching Jaime Staples, Doug Polk and all these twitchers. I do try to stay fresh. I’m a fan of the game. If you’re a fan of the game you’re staying fresh. I’m a studious guy so I like to do a lot of preparation when it comes to studying the game of poker. I feel like my game is as sharp as it’s ever been. My biggest problem is just the stamina. I’ve been going fairly deep in most of the tournaments I’ve been playing. I’ve also been suffering a cold, so physically I feel I should be in better shape. That’ll be my focus next year because it is a grind for sure.

Q: I see you cashed the ‘PLOssus?' What was that event like? Was is like the actual Colossus with just a sea of contenders?

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Poker Transcripts

Calen 'Big Wheel' McNeil Interview

High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players. Here is our Q&A with Calen 'Big Wheel' McNeil, WSOP bracelet winner (2013) & one of the best Omaha Hi/Lo players in the world. McNeil dicusses the restaurant business & issues affecting the 2017 WSOP; marked cards, dealer abuse & the 'Trump Effect!'


Big Wheel Burger