Blair Rodman Interview

A craps dealer back in the day, Blair Rodman decided that over 20 years ago, he’d make gambling his life. Poker, blackjack, craps, golf – he’s done it all. No stranger to a WPT final table, he’s recently co-authored “Kill Phil” with Lee Nelson in an effort to give the inexperienced player a greater edge in tournaments. Find out what this seasoned pro and tournament expert thinks about kids playing poker, the WSOP, and where this game is (and should) be headed next.


PL: So what’s the quick history of Blair Rodman in the poker world?

BR: Well, I’ve been doing this a long time. A lot of the guys you see playing now are ones I played with as a kid. The first time I came through Vegas was in ’76 and played a bit of 1-5 5-card stud with a .10 ante. Then I came back in 1980, and I spent a lot of time learning, reading, looking for tough games where I could improve my play. I’d stay up all night playing with the old props at the Bengal Palace (sp?), and they were pretty good, so I learned a lot doing that. Then if I needed to make some money, I’d go find an easy game. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone with aspirations of becoming a world-class player. You need to get out there and play the tough games to improve, but then you also need to survive so I suggest you alternate between those and the easy ones.

PL: It sounds like you’ve known for a long time that this was the life for you…

BR: Yeah, pretty much [laughs]. I enjoy gambling and the challenge. Since I’ve started with this lifestyle, it’s been pretty good to me. You know, I tried a few other things, but I always knew I’d end up back here.

PL: You mentioned that you read a lot of books – which ones most influenced you?

BR: The first book I picked up was Theory of Poker by David Sklansky, and I probably read it twenty times before it finally sunk in and I had that “aha!” moment. There are so many concepts there, that once you get those and you have the basics, then you can branch out from that firm foundation. I recommend that everyone read that book. It’s the basics, and you don’t want to jump into high school without finishing 1 st grade.

From there, I just picked up some things here and there. Every book has something of value. Now, there are just so many books out there that you have to be a lot more selective.

PL: You listed reading as one of your hobbies, so did that influence your motivation to write Kill Phil?

BR: I’ve had a few things in mind to write for a few years, just a bunch of projects that got sidetracked by Kill Phil. That book came about when Lee Nelson went to Anthony Curtis, the publisher for Huntington Press, well-known for its gambling books. Anthony and I had been best friends for 25 years, so he came to be and said Lee wanted to write a book and suggested I co-author it with Lee. We got together to figure out what we were going to write, and I wrote this great outline about poker from a-z. Then when we started on it, I realized just how long it was going to take, and I didn’t want it to get lost in this flood of poker books that were about to come out.

So I came up with the Kill Phil idea, much like Sklansky’s idea, and we started talking about it, and since the wave of the future is more and more of these all-in type moves from players, I said why don’t we write about this? It’ll be something different, so we went from there.

David (Sklansky) came up with the idea originally, and having played against players that use the technique, it’s easy to see how hard it can be for a pro at times to handle it.

PL: Watching the WPT though, I notice you don’t use the Kill Phil technique yourself.

BR: No, I don’t. I did learn a lot while writing the book, though. I don’t use it strictly – early in tournaments, I’ll play “small ball”, chipping away at the other players’ stacks through small to medium pots. Those who use the Kill Phil strategy fulltime will be relative newbies who need a way to compete with the experienced players. And if you really get into the book, there is a lot of math behind the strategy that some of the best players don’t even get. They don’t truly understand the power of the all-in bet, especially in the latter stages of tournaments. I’ve found pieces of the strategy to incorporate into my game. But if you’re watching me and you say “he doesn’t play Kill Phil”, well no, I don’t. The better player you are, the more you want to take advantage of your skill at the small ball game against the newbies. Kill Phil is for those newcomers looking for a way to compete against the pros.

PL: The reviewers seem to have a ‘love/hate’ relationship with the book…

BR: Well yes, they do. When the book first came out, I expected a lot of opinions from both sides. When it actually did release, we got a huge group of supporters on our website’s forum – people, mostly newcomers, who said that this really helped them improve their play and compete longer in the tournaments. But we also heard from a lot of experienced players who said that they finally found something that clicked – that they’ve been afraid to bust in tournaments, which hurts their aggression and makes them scared to put in their money…so this is what we needed to get over that hump.

What Kill Phil really teaches is the value of fearless aggression, which you absolutely need to win tournaments. Just look at the WPT events. They start slow, with lots of play, until you make the final table when it becomes an all-in crapfest. Which is ashame. I understand they need to pay their camera crews and all that, but it is ashame, because when it gets down to the big money, you don’t have really good poker any more. I’m hoping the PPT’s [professional poker tour] structure will change that.

PL: It seems the Kill Phil style wouldn’t work as well online as it does in brick-and-mortar casinos. Why do you think that is?

BR: You’re right, and it’s because people call more online. It boggles my mind what they do! People don’t even bother to hesitate calling all-in with K-5.

I actually talk a lot about this and the conclusion I’ve come to is that online, you have to play tighter, but play your bigger hands much stronger. As far as Kill Phil goes, the strategy is constantly changing – we update it on the website, are coming up with a section called “Staying Ahead of the Curve.” People are starting to call more now, so the all-in move is losing some of its power. And a lot of the tournaments now are about getting your money in there and winning a bunch of races.

PL: Do you think that the online style of play can be attributed to people basically learning from TV?

BR: That is a lot of it, yes. They don’t get to see enough hands on TV, just the big ones. Plus, online players just don’t want to lay down mediocre hands. The game is more of a trapping game where you just wait to get paid off by your strong hands.

I really only play online now when I’m bored and feel like playing some poker. I write a lot, update the website, and travel the tournament circuit. I also gave up cash games about 4 years ago, after 25 years of it. I made a decision to focus on tournaments, and I’m happy I did, because it’s very difficult to do well in both. Different strategies, plus as you get older, it’s tough to do them both.

PL: I noticed looking over your successes that many are in the Pot Limit games. Do you think it’s a better game than NL?

BR: Oh absolutely. No-limit holdem takes some skill, but not nearly the skill involved in PL, since all of the real play happens after the flop. Getting your money in pre-flop takes away so much of the true game in both holdem and Omaha. As a matter of fact, we recommend a structure of pot-limit before the flop and no-limit after. Only because I don’t think TV will ever go for a full pot-limit game. People love to see the all-in move. It’s taken over so much, that I call it the “beast that’s eaten poker” because it’s not really poker anymore, just no-limit poker.

PL: We’ve heard many people call the WSOP the “World Series of Holdem”…

BR: That’s exactly right. I’ve been playing this game for 25 years and I love the other games. I NEVER played no-limit holdem. It just wasn’t spread until recent years when the big boom hit. I think pot limit Omaha is about the best there is.

They’ve actually got it all backwards. At the beginning of a tournament, when the stacks are deep, that’s great no-limit holdem. You can get in there, make some moves, play deep after the flop, etc. And it’s fun! But when you get down to the end, I think it would be better to play Limit – there’s a lot more strategy to think about, the blinds are bigger, making things more interesting.

I don’t really know where it’s all going, but I imagine NL is here to stay. Even though with more and more players entering the game without truly learning it, and just employing the ‘all-in’ move, the overall skill level is going down, which is not a great thing.

PL: So are you excited about this year’s first $50K HORSE event at the WSOP?

BR: I am very excited about that one. I can’t wait for it, I think it’s a great idea, but once again, I think they’ve ruined it by making the final table completely no-limit. Of course, they figure no one wants to watch limit poker – again, focusing too much on the TV angle. I think it’s terrible, no one’s happy about it, but they all understand why it’s happening.

TV just doesn’t understand. ESPN is worried because rating have been going down lately, but maybe they should stop to consider that the episodes aren’t as good. They’re showing too much crap like Jesus throwing cards into bananas…it’s just bullshit. People want to see poker.

It’s very hard to figure out what drives good TV. But I think what’s happened is that people started watching poker and loved anything they could get. Then they started to play a little, and watched a little less, and now are looking for ways to improve their game – and not just from watching final tables. They’re not getting any of that from television right now, and I think the execs don’t get that are afraid to change anything that’s worked in the past. So instead of making smart adjustments, they just throw more shows out there back-to-back-to-back to try and keep people watching.

PL: Which do you prefer – the WPT or WSOP?

BR: You know, World Poker Tour events are very fun to play. Making one of their final tables is very exciting, and the production is better than the WSOP – although the world series bracelet holds a lot more prestige. I like the WPT, I just wish they could slow it down some at the end. They’re all fun though – I’m psyched up for the WSOP this year. I just spent a week at a meditation/yoga retreat and am fully charged for the run.

PL: Are you planning on playing every event?

BR: These long events are just grueling – you really have to pace yourself, and I don’t have quite the stamina I used to. I played all the events in 2004, made 3 final tables, got really deep in the main event, and by the time I started a late day with about 5-6 tables left, I was just beat. You know, most everyone was in their 20’s and 30’s and fired up. You really have to conserve your energy and be careful.

PL: How do you feel about the WSOP of today vs. days of old?

BR: Well it’s nothing close to the same. When I first started playing, there was one big event a year- the world series. You showed up, everyone knew you, they took care of you…it was great. Now it’s like the mom & pop store that grew up to be Walmart. It’s a total factory: get you in, get you out, take all the money they can from you, use you on TV. The players get absolutely nothing from it all, and are probably getting tired of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about the world series of poker. What I’m not excited about is how players are being treated. I just read where ESPN is going to put the Main Event final table on pay-per-view. That’s great, but they’re still taking out millions from the prize pools that players are all putting up. The food situation is ridiculous, and what I really hate is playing 10-handed now. It’s an insult. It’s insane, and just wears you down – it’s crowded doing that for 6 weeks, it changes the game by tightening it up, and it’s a different game now. Most player hate it, but again, the players have no rights.

Do you know about the WPA? I support it full-heartily. Jesse Jones is a great guy who’s really looking out for tournament players everywhere, so anyone who hasn’t joined, really needs to. The WPA is working to create tournaments where the players and casinos work together to come up with the best structures for everyone. It’s only $50 a year, I think it’s what we all need, and if this doesn’t work…then we’re all in trouble.

PL: A lot of other pros talk about the old days at the World Series, how it used to be a great get-together, almost like a family reunion. Now it’s just all business…

BR: It’s true, they’ve changed the nature of everything. I said to Doyle, you know, we’re all ready to retire, enjoying poker and loving life, and then boom – now we have to work hard, make business deals, etc. It’s really changed.

PL: Maybe the PPT will fix some of that…

BR: I’m excited about the PPT! I think it has a chance to usher in a new era in the poker world, and we’re gonna find out if it works or not. People love the high stakes poker and other shows, so maybe this will take off.

A lot of the big name players who will be on this are boycotting the WPT right now, but only for their own good, not for the good of the game. The WPA will address these sorts of issues.

PL: In your spare time, you’re an avid golfer. Who are the regulars in your group and what’s it like out there with the gamblers?

BR: Yes, I’d rather gamble on golf than play poker. It’s a great game and a lot of fun to gamble on. If you sit around late night games, you’ll usually hear the talk turn mostly to golf and setting up games for the next day. Mike Sexton and Doyle are the regulars, plus Daniel, Ivey, and E-dog are out there, but they usually don’t know what they’re getting into (Mike and Doyle are not great players, but they know how to setup the bets). They’re really into it.

Poker gets boring and tiresome being inside that long. Golf is a way to get out and refresh away from the table.

PL: How about other books – do you have anything else in the works?

BR: I’ve wanted to write a golf novel for some time now, so would like to get to that. I still think there’s room for other good poker books. I’ve been writing tournament trip reports on our forum and people really get into them, so I might do something with that.

But you have limited amounts of time and energy, so you have to have fun and take time for yourself…so who knows what I’ll get to next.

The other thing that I’m involved in and is about to take a lot more of my time is the new Ultimate Blackjack Tour. It’s going to be a great thing – we’ve had lots of poker players get involved. I’ve played blackjack tournaments since the 80’s when I used to travel the circuit. Now they’re coming back in a big way and it’s going to be on CBS on Sundays right before NFL football. It’s going to be great and a lot of people are going to want to get involved in that.

PL: How is that different from some of the GSN BJ tournaments?

BR: It’s a different format. GSN’s just isn’t that exciting. We filmed ours on a sound stage and it’s much more exciting in terms of structure. There are elimination hands, secret hands, and a lot of other things that should sway people to watch it.

PL: Sounds interesting. Speaking of television, what is your take on kids watching these shows and getting ideas on becoming poker pros?

BR: I liken it to pro sports. A lot of kids and young people have designs on going pro like the ones on TV. Poker is not physical, but it does take a lot of mental work, as well as a rare blend of various attributes for one to become truly great: discipline, math, the ability to handle the swings, natural talent, creativity, and imagination. If you can’t think more than 2 levels deep into the game, you’re just not going to make it over the long haul.

The problem with TV is that it doesn’t show everything. On the way to the final table, there is a lot of luck and a lot of traps you have to get through. Most of the real poker is played before the final table, but all you see on TV are those huge all-in hands at the end.

Making it big in poker today is tough. The sponsorships are drying up, and without those, life on the tournament circuit can get very expensive real quickly. The rake is higher, the food is pricier, making is harder to come out ahead at the end of the year. So overall, I don’t recommend anyone go into it full time anymore. Have fun, learn the game, and play some here and there.

PL: So by now, you’re probably familiar with our stock question: If you were Matt Damon in Rounders…

BR: Oh, I think Damon didn’t get with Famke because he saw that episode of Nip and Tuck and knew she was really a dude. Seriously though, as a poker player, or any other profession, you must have a supportive spouse/partner. So Matt’s girlfriend wouldn’t have lasted long at all.

PL: Thanks for the time Blair, and best of luck at the World Series!

You can get the latest on the Kill Phil strategy and check out Blair’s Blog at

If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.

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