Erik Seidel is arguably the best tournament poker player in the world. With seven World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets to his name and major tournament winnings of approximately $5 million, you would think Erik would have a big ego. You couldn’t be more wrong. Erik sat down with PokerLizard to discuss this year’s WSOP, the importance of bankroll management, and the need for poker pros to come together for the betterment of the game.
PokerLizard: How did you first get interested in poker? How long have you been playing serious poker?
Erik: I was a professional backgammon player and played BG with Chip Reese, Stu Unger and Puggy Pearson. I was very impressed with them and thought I would try to play some poker while in Vegas for a backgammon tournament. I played 1 + $2 at the Dunes. I won my 1st time out and was totally clueless but got very excited about the game. I didn’t have any thoughts back then of making a career out of it or anything, I would have been thrilled to just win at 15/30. I’ve been playing since 85′. I moved to Vegas in 95′ and so the last 10 years I’ve been playing full time.
PokerLizard: You finished in 2nd place in the WSOP final event back in 1988 in your first major tournament, were you stunned by your success back then?
Erik: Stunned is the right word for it. I felt like I was watching it happen to someone else.
PokerLizard: Speaking of the ’88 WSOP, it seems as though every time you play on TV, they show the final hand from that tournament. Do you ever get tired of seeing that famous WSOP hand scene in the movie Rounders?
Erik: I have mixed feelings about that whole Rounders thing. I think overall it was not a bad thing to be in the movie, seems kind of funny to me that people still bring it up.
PokerLizard: Which do you enjoy more, cash games or tournaments? Why?
Erik: I like tournaments much more. It really thrills me to make a final table of a major and try to play well and think well with so much at stake.
PokerLizard: How did you get involved with Full Tilt Poker?
Erik: It’s a long story, but the short version is Howard asked Juanda and me if we would be interested in investing in Tiltware, the co. that is responsible for developing the software and involved with marketing FullTiltPoker. The opportunity to be a part of something like that with your friends is just very cool. It has been so exciting for me to watch the software develop and the site progress. I am just amazed at the job these guys have done. I have played the other sites and in all honesty I think FullTiltPoker has the best software out there, I’m on there all the time playing. I get so much positive feedback about the site.
PokerLizard: How often do you play online with FTP? How do you vary your strategy to fit the online game?
Erik: I try to play about 10 hours a week. Online is a lot looser so I play a bit tighter than normally.
PokerLizard: From your dealings with Full-Tilt, how serious is the issue of online cheating (collusion etc.) to Full-Tilt, what does FTP do to put player’s minds at ease?
Erik: It’s very important to the online sites to keep the games honest. The online sites have tremendous advantages over brick and mortar casinos in their ability to monitor the games. Support can go back and look at a player’s history, see how often he plays with the same people. They can also look back at the hands players have played and see if there is a suspicious pattern. I think all the top sites take this stuff very seriously and if anyone has concerns about certain players they can email support and support will look into it.
PokerLizard: It’s often said that, “to be a true poker pro, you must have gone broke at least once”. I’ve read that you and some other pros have excellent money management skills, while others seem to win a big tourney one day and need backers the next. What do you believe are the keys to keep from going “bust”? How do you manage your bankroll – do you invest a certain % of your winnings and consider that money “untouchable”?
Erik: I am a little extreme on the investment side and recently have been trying to keep a little bit more money around because the volatility for all of us has gone up. It’s so easy these days to go through hundreds of thousands just playing tournaments. The fields have grown so much that your wins are bigger these days but sometimes you can go a long while between wins. I also back some players so I can go through money very quickly without anything unusual happening.
I’ve been very fortunate and personally have not gone too long without cashing a big ticket, but have certainly gone through enough dry spells to know that they will occur and it’s best to have some kind of cushion so that you are prepared. I think people should just try to play at a limit that fits their bankroll and try to be realistic about expectations. Ego has busted many more players than bad beats have.
PokerLizard: Which players do you like to play against? Who are some of your toughest opponents and why?
Erik: I like to play against the live ones. I think Juanda is very tough to play against, he just thinks so well at the table. Ivey of course, and Carlos has always given me trouble. There’s no shortage of great players these days to make my days more difficult.
PokerLizard: In the past, you seem to have had some disdain for the hole card cameras utilized by the WPT and WSOP broadcasts (sometimes even hiding your hand altogether), basically saying, “why should I teach someone how to beat me?” Has your opinion of the cameras changed due to them being one of the main catalysts for the current poker boom? Do those shows REQUIRE you to show your hole cards?
Erik: I believe it’s in the contract now that you are required to show your cards. I do have problems with showing. We are providing entertainment and information and we are being asked to pay the venues for that privilege. The venues and the TV channels are making huge money by showing us playing and it seems only fair that the players should get some compensation. I think this is a huge issue for all players going forward and hopefully we can find a way to get compensated in the future.
Right now the shows are taking for granted the fact that they don’t have to pay the players. When you compare poker to other sports that are televised it’s an embarrassment that we have not only don’t receive anything for our value but we are in fact paying out of pocket, it’s a shameful situation right now.
PokerLizard: You appeared as yourself on the ESPN show Tilt, how did you like being an actor? What did you think of the show?
Erik: I had a great time doing that little cameo. My parents were filmmakers and I have always loved the atmosphere on film sets. I have a lot of respect for Brian Koppelman and David Levien, they wrote Rounders and also wrote and produced Tilt. They are both real poker players and fans of the game, and certainly played a big part in popularizing the game. All that said, I would have liked to have seen Tilt present a more realistic view of the poker world. It was a great looking production and they had some gifted actors in the cast and it would have been fun to see more character-driven stories and plots. All that cheating and violence just doesn’t accurately reflect the poker world these days. I believe those guys have more to contribute to poker and before they are through, we will see some other great things from them.
PokerLizard: What characteristics do you believe are important for a person to become a great player?
Erik: I think all the best players have a certain innate intelligence and are just good decision makers. They are also risk takers. Barry Greenstein’s book (Ace on the River) covers this beautifully, and I recommend players read it if they are interested in finding out some of the intangible things that go into making a player successful.
PokerLizard: If you had any advice for an aspiring poker pro, what would it be?
Erik: I would say take things slow. I see many young players getting ahead of themselves and these games take time to learn. Poker has a way of deceiving people into believing they are better than they are. Try to be objective about your relative skills as you progress and develop.
PokerLizard: Which is your favorite poker game? Why?
Erik: I enjoy the pot-limit and no-limit games. Limit is dull compared to NL.
PokerLizard: How do you maintain focus and discipline for extended lengths of time at the poker table?
Erik: I just try to stay engaged and interested in what’s going on at the table. When I am paying attention I don’t get bored, these games and the players are really fascinating. I also bring an Ipod, which helps a lot especially when you are playing limit poker.
PokerLizard: Does the current popularity of poker amaze you? Do you think poker can continue this phenomenal growth in the future?
Erik: I think it still has a lot of room for growth. I do find it amazing, and it’s really incredible what has happened the last few years. I feel very privileged to be a witness to it and a participant.
PokerLizard: What do you believe has helped your game get to its current level (books, mentors etc.)?
Erik: I think playing was the most important thing. I was also very lucky to have spent a lot of time at the Mayfair in NY watching and playing with so many great players with so many different styles. Howard Lederer has always been a very generous friend, very helpful as I was trying to transition to the games outside of the Mayfair. Dan Harrington, Noli Francisco and Billy Horan were also great people to talk to about poker and very helpful to my learning process. I could go on and on as I have really learned from so many players over the years.
PokerLizard: What do you enjoy most about being a professional poker player? What do you like least?
Erik: I like the fact that I don’t have to answer to anyone. I have worked for people before and the freedom of working for yourself can’t be beat. The travel can be grueling at times. I love the luxury of being at home.
PokerLizard: What is the strangest thing you have ever seen happen at the poker table?
Erik: Probably a guy flopping a set after someone else had thrown away the same pair. That was described in one of TJ’s books. I was at the table. I’ve seen some pretty bizarre rulings as well.
PokerLizard: What do you like to do when you are not playing poker? What do you do when you get burned out on playing?
Erik: Nothing like friends and family to detox away from poker. I also like to work out, see movies, and listen to music.
PokerLizard: A lot of discussion lately revolves around the need for some kind of professional poker players’ organization, to further build poker’s popularity, gain better sponsorships, and create better self-regulation. Thoughts?
Erik: I think it is very important that the players organize and start to act in our collective self interests. Without any organization we are pretty powerless. Poker players are an independent group and it’s difficult to get them all to agree on doing something for themselves or especially for others within their community. Their personal need for attention in the immediate gets in the way of working towards making things better for everyone in the future. There are some positive things happening though and it’s great to see some outside income coming to poker players for speaking gigs and endorsements.
It’s very expensive to be on the tour and although many of the people at the top of the food chain are doing well for themselves, they are still shorting themselves of their true value in the marketplace. I would like to see the next couple of tiers of players benefit more. Tournament poker provides some wonderful highs, but it would be nice to provide more financial stability for players so that the lows are not so low.
Obligatory PokerLizard Question: If you were Matt Damon in “Rounders” how long would it have taken you to kick your girlfriend to the curb and get with Famke Janssen?
Erik: It has been so long since I’ve seen it I don’t even remember the characters. You may think this is a “Rounders” dodge, but I honestly don’t remember.
PokerLizard: You and many “name” pros had much more success at this year’s WSOP, to what do you attribute this success?
Erik: I think it was due to the excellent structure that Ken Lambert and Johnny
Grooms used. This year was very similar to 03′ when Matt Savage ran the tournament and gave us all an incredible structure to play. When you think of how big all the fields were this year the results were really amazing.
When you look at all the old school poker players that came through and did well or added to their bracelet count, you’ve got to give credit to the structure which gave the players plenty of play for their money. Almost every top tournament player did well over the course of the series. What was interesting is that many of the young super aggressive players didn’t do all that well and possibly they weren’t as successful adjusting to the slower structure as the older players. The reason why the World Series is what it is is that the people who run it understand that if they give the pros 8-10 hours at the final table vs. the 4 hours the WPT gives you are going to have skill win out more often and that in turn makes the tournaments more prestigious and more interesting to watch. People want a chance to watch good poker and tough decisions being made, rather than players moving in anytime they have 2 big cards or a pair.
PokerLizard: Erik, congratulations on your success and here’s to seeing you at many more final tables in the future.
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