Reluctantly carrying the title, “dot-com millionaire”, Paul Phillips now has plenty of time for poker. Yet that’s exactly why he chooses his tournaments carefully and doesn’t burn himself out. While he’s made quite a few friends over the years, he hasn’t avoided the usual throng of haters out there. So how does this guy stay focused and still find a way to win a tournament now and then? Read on to find out…
PokerLizard: How did you first get interested in poker?
Paul: I’ve always been a sucker for gambling. When one of my programming
buddies in college found out about my penchant for blackjack, he took me out to play poker. I never recovered.
PokerLizard: On most broadcasts that you have been on the announcers generally call you a “.dot com millionaire.” It seems as though they are insinuating two things: that you didn’t work hard for your money, and that poker is just a hobby for you. Do you ever get sick of their qualifying you and your poker success?
Paul: It comes with the territory because television loves to have “sound bite stories” for all the players and that has become mine. There’s some truth to it — at least that I was very lucky to have as much financial success as I did, and that it’s unlikely I’d be devoting so much time to poker if I hadn’t had that early success.
Some people judge players by their results alone, and others will always diminish the skills of someone who didn’t earn his poker bankroll through poker. That’s a matter of opinion intractable to argument, which is fine with me. In many ways it’s better for me if people devalue my poker skills.
PokerLizard: What advice would you give to any aspiring pros? Any pitfalls to avoid?
Paul: My advice to aspiring pros is to change aspirations. Poker seems much more glamorous than it actually is, and for every player who is living the dream, there are dozens who aren’t. If you’re smart enough to succeed at this game, you’re smart enough to succeed in the real world, with much greater satisfaction. If you don’t want to work for “the man”, then start your own company and put your efforts into that.
I think poker is a great hobby but a very poor choice of profession. I’m concerned that the current poker craze is going to leave us with legions who eventually discover that poker isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but who have also rendered themselves largely unemployable.
PokerLizard: I’ve noticed that you are very active in the online poker forums. What do like and dislike about them?
Paul: I’ve been active in online discussion of all kinds since I first discovered bulletin boards fifteen years ago. As poker came to dominate my life it came to dominate my online discussion time too. I enjoy the process of articulating my opinions because it is through that process that I sharpen my thinking. I also enjoy authoring the occasional flame when people take poorly thought-out positions.
Unfortunately, the quality of online poker discussion has plummeted the last few years and I am close to giving up on everything but my live journal. I admit it’s difficult to completely tear myself away, but there’s a point at which one has to surrender to the weight of garbage.
PokerLizard: You have an online blog, http://extempore.livejournal.com/, that is gaining in popularity. Was it bitter-sweet to have people discover your writings? What made you decide to start a blog?
Paul: I started writing in my blog because it’s immune to imposters and because I thought it’d be a relief to only be read by those who went out of their way to read me. That latter goal didn’t quite happen since it’s still read by plenty of people who openly hate me, but I guess that’s the price of being high profile.
I’m glad people read it and participate in it. It’s a compliment anytime someone wants to spend their time writing in my personal journal as opposed to a general purpose poker forum. I’m sure its popularity is a result of the dearth of quality alternatives as much as anything else.
PokerLizard: What is it like being on the WPT? From watching the show, it’s hard to tell how long the betting rounds last, how long the final table has been playing, etc.
Paul: When you’re out there playing, it’s pretty much like any other final table except with cameras, hot lights, and a large audience. A typical final table takes about five hours to complete, which might be a little faster than I’d like but still leaves room to play. Of course you see fewer than one hand in ten on television and they make it nearly impossible to tell what happend in between the televised hands.
PokerLizard: Do you think the WPT/WSOP shows are hurting new players since the viewer only gets to see a bunch of all-in play?
PokerLizard: Do you have any specific poker goals for this next year?
Paul: I can’t be too ambitious with goals since my wife and I are expecting our first child in April and I expect that will severely curtail the amount of time I spend playing. Indpendently of that, I was already dropping most of the WPT events from my schedule because I’m tired of traveling to unappealing locations for poorly-run tournaments. I suppose my goal is to have another winning year; given the variance in $10K tournaments these days, it’s easy to have a losing year when you don’t play that many.
PokerLizard: What has helped develop your game the most (books, mentors etc.)?
Paul: By far the most important development was the decision to critically, honestly, uncompromisingly analyze my own play. In many ways poker isn’t that difficult to get good at, but if you can’t admit that some aspect of your play is hurting your results, then you cannot improve. And there’s a huge difference between rationalizing your plays and critiquing them. If you can’t think of any mistakes you made at the end of a tournament, then you’re
either the greatest player in history or you’re not being honest.
Any time I see someone complaining about how lucky someone or everyone else is, I know they haven’t turned this corner.
PokerLizard: How much do you play online? What do you like about the online game?
Paul: I rarely play online. It’s fun but I already spend more time on computers then I ought to.
PokerLizard: How does your strategy online vary from live games?
Paul: Online I mostly play my cards. In real life I mostly play the player.
PokerLizard: Which do you enjoy more: live or tournament games? Why?
Paul: Tournaments are far more fun for me, in no small part because I’m much better at tournaments, but also because of the slowly-building excitement that comes with arriving at the late stages. I will never win a million dollars in a cash game because I don’t want to risk that kind of money, but many of the tournaments I play offer that possibility.
PokerLizard: You certainly have a flair for interesting hair/clothing color combinations (orange/purple). Do you color your hair for an edge, fun, to support Dutch soccer?
Paul: I like to have fun with my appearance. You only live once.
PokerLizard: Do you think it will be more difficult to be successful now that you are famous and people will be gunning to knock you out of tournaments?
Paul: I think it’s the opposite. The thing about being on television is that I know what hands people have seen me play so if they’re modeling me on that basis. I can estimate their model and react accordingly. And if they just want to knock me out because I’m well-known and they’re willing to take the worst of it to do so, then that’s fine with me too.
PokerLizard: Some people may not know this, but you were banned from the WSOP a few years ago for speaking out on the way the Horseshoe split money between tourney personnel and casino personnel. What exactly happened, and how glad are you that Harrah’s now runs The Horseshoe?
Paul: The comment for which I was barred when it appeared in the paper was “the players have been misled”, which in my naivete I never imagined would cause me such grief. Although I was eventually unbarred later in 2001, fallout from that incident persisted and I decided to stop playing there; I only played one event in 2002 and none in 2003. So I was happy to have the opportunity to play again. Other than that, I’m just glad it’s over.
PokerLizard: How would you describe your poker style?
Paul: I try to have all the gears so it is as difficult as possible to narrow my hand range in any given situation.
PokerLizard: What 10 players do you most like to match wits with?
Paul: I won’t give you ten players but I always enjoy playing against [John] Juanda and [Phil] Ivey because I think they’re on another level than the rest of us.
PokerLizard: Which future tournaments are you planning on playing?
Paul: The ones in Vegas, so I can drive home at night.
PokerLizard: What is your favorite game to play and why?
Paul: Chinese poker – slot machines for poker players, the most addictive game known to man.
PokerLizard: 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?
Paul: Now that we’ve found out that Famke Janssen used to be a man (see the most recent season of nip/tuck) I’m not sure I could go for that no matter how convincing the illusion.
You can keep up with paul at his Live Journal (aka Blog) improving.org
Update: Since this interview Paul’s wife had a baby and they all moved to Colorado, and Paul is addicted to Scrabble..
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