If you’ve ever watched any poker on TV, downloaded a poker podcast, or ever read one of the many books out there, chance are Phil Gordon is not a new name to you. This seasoned pro has taken his fame and reach to new levels both within and outside of the poker world. He’s won two WPT titles, hosted Celebrity Poker Showdown for many successful seasons (before recently turning it over to Phil #2 – Hellmuth), and tirelessly works to raise money for his charity, “Bad Beat on Cancer”. We were lucky enough to get 30 minutes of Phil’s time and get his take on everything from epic roadtrips, to poker legislation, to what’s wrong with the WPT, and finally to Roshambo.
PL: So let’s jump right into Celebrity Poker Showdown and what’s next for the show.
Phil: Yeah, I’m all done with hosting the show, Hellmuth’s taking over, and they’ve already taped a few episodes – and good for them. I already have some good opportunities coming up and have some good traction broadcasting for some pros, so should be a good time.
Dave Foley will still be on the show, and I think the show will certainly be different…
PL: What would you say was your least favorite episode? And your favorite?
Phil: Hmm, my favorite episode – Ray Romano and Brad Garrett did some good stuff. My least favorite episode…Fred Willard, Heather Graham and Malcolm Jamal Warner.
No wait, let me take that back. My least favorite episode by far was the Reality All-Stars.
PL: Yep, that would have been my guess…those people were so irritating on that show.
Phil: Yes, they were terrible. And at the end of the day, it was not a pleasant place to be.
But after 42 episodes, they all kind of run together. It’s been a year since I was on set, and believe it or not, I don’t sit around and watch every episode [laughs]. We had some great shows, it was a great fun time, but all good things must come to an end.
PL: You’ve recently made the jump to radio with ESPN’s show “The Poker Edge”…
Phil: Yeah, it’s a great fun time, an hour a week every Monday on ESPNRadio.com in the podcasting center. We pick a new topic each week – so far we’ve covered the big stack, image, and bluffing for the first 3 shows. We also had Phil Hellmuth on for the first show, then Mark Seif, and this week Greg Raymer So we definitely get the right poker stars to come on and talk. We basically discuss what’s happening in the world of poker and what’s coming up on the TV schedule. It’s a real radio show that is professionally produced by a top company.
PL: With this new show, your best-selling “Little Green Book”, television shows, podcasts- it almost seems as if you prefer broadcasting about poker instead of playing it…
Phil: I enjoy teaching poker more than I do playing poker for sure. One of the things about poker that’s a little disturbing is that it’s one of the only professions in the world that pays big money to find the biggest morons you can find. And a pro player’s job is to separate the mentally challenged from their well-earned money. But as a teacher of poker, I get to surround myself with intelligent people who are eager to learn – and I enjoy that aspect a lot more. Certainly I continue to play a lot of bigger tournaments, but if I had the choice of teaching a seminar to 200 people about how to play NL Holdem vs. playing in a $10K buy-in tournament, I’d teach the seminar every time.
PL: I noticed that you and Andy Bloch are holding that Las Vegas Academy, and the price is very unreasonably reasonable…
Phil: You know, the other poker camps are good, and I do teach at Howard Lederer’s camp and believe that players get their money’s worth. Our camp is different – it’s only one day, so for $199 at the early bird special and $299 regular, you’re going to get six hours of poker instructions. I’ll talk in-depth about NL Holdem for two and a half hours, then Andy will talk for two and a half hours about the world of card counting and the MIT Blackjack team. Then you’ll get an hour of Q&A with both of us together. So look, this is mostly for locals, but some are flying in because they see the real value we’re providing. A similar level of instruction as the WPT Boot Camp, except that will run you about $1695.
PL: On top of that, you have the FullTilt “Bad Beat on Cancer” event coming up – tell us a little about that.
Phil: It’s going to be a lot of fun. This is a different spin on the usual celebrities playing poker in L.A. . This is a heads-up challenge where the world’s greatest players will play against the highest bidders. For instance, Phil Ivey is coming in to play, and the winner will get the shirt right off Phil’s back, signed and all. It’s sponsored by Bluff Magazine, HighRoller Fashions, Sector Watches, and Pechanga Casinos, and Full Tilt Poker, and I think we’re going to raise a lot of money for the fight against cancer.
PL: So which do you take more pride in: becoming a well-known poker star, or finally getting Roshambo legitimized?
Phil: [laughs] Well, you know, I probably have won more money at Roshambo this year than I have at poker. I’m up about $30K since January.
Last year at the World Series we had 64 players at $200 a piece, and this year I think I’m gonna go for 120 players at $500 a piece. Should be good fun.
PL: You’re following up your excellent Little Green Book with “Little Green Book in Practice” in the Fall…
Phil: Yes, I just turned it in Monday and I think it’s really good. It’ll be out October 1. It’s 75 hands fully annotated selected from hands I’ve seen on TV to ones I’ve played on the internet. It’s sort of a “choose your own adventure” kind of thing. You’ll get to a point in the hand where you’ll have to decide what you would do. I really want you to think about what you’re doing, and then I go in and describe what I did and why I did it – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I think you can learn a lot about the game by just listening to the decision process that a lot of the top people have in the game. And while I’m certainly not the best player in the game, I’ve had my share of success at the table and getting inside my mind could be a good thing.
PL: Looking forward to that next book – just finished ‘Little Green Book’ and it’s loaded with great info. So let’s change gears now and talk about the industry as a whole. What are your thoughts regarding the recent attempts to legislate and ban online gambling?
Phil: I’m not worried about that at all. That legislation comes up every single year and every year it doesn’t pass…and this year will be no different. There are more than 25 million Americans playing online poker right now, and the masses speak. They [the government] should tax it and make it legal instead of being…well, I don’t know how to describe the current government, but it’s not good.
PL: It’s kind of a double-edged sword for a site like FullTilt, isn’t it? If it becomes legal, you might have to worry about the big American sites coming online – the Bellagio.com, etc…and if it’s illegal, well then you lose a huge market.
Phil: America is all about competition, and even if it hurt our business, which I don’t think it would, a) we have a 3-year head start on them, b) it’s not as easy an engineering problem as people think it is, and c) bring it on! I’d love to see the Bellagio and the Mirage open online poker rooms and I think they would enjoy the challenge as well.
Competition is a good thing and you know, from my perspective, a ban would be a bad thing. Legalize it, tax it, and take the 2 billion dollars of revenue and start paying down some of the national debt.
PL: We’re based in Texas, so we couldn’t agree with you more…
Phil: That’s right, you can’t even play Texas Hold’em in Texas , right??
PL: Right, and even the charity events get scrutinized down here. We’re all about driving to Louisiana to find games.
Phil: There’s no reason you should have to drive to Louisiana. Richard Nixon financed his first presidential campaign with his poker winnings. The Supreme Court justices have a weekly game. This is not something that should be illegal. It’s social poker and the government doesn’t need to protect us from the ‘evils’ of the game.
PL: OK, so on to the WSOP. Were you part of the group of players that lobbied to get the new $50K buy-in HORSE tourney installed?
Phil: No, I would not lobby for that because I’m pretty much dead money at 7-stud. I’m going to wait and see how I do this year, and if I’m having a good series and am up at least $50K, I’ll probably play. If not, then I won’t.
PL: Will you be producing your podcast from the Rio again this year?
Phil: I’m going to be doing some sort of podcast and I’m hoping it’ll be video. I’ll continue to do the ESPN radio show, but it’s unclear because Bluff Magazine has exclusive radio rights at the WSOP this year and they’re going to be doing like 47 days of live radio from the Rio on Sirius Satellite. They’ve asked me to host a couple hours a day on their show, so I might do that. But I’m trying to limit my professional obligations this year away from the table because I haven’t played a lot of poker lately and the more you pile on your schedule, the harder it is to concentrate on the table.
PL: How about the WPT – do you even play those events anymore?
Phil: No, I’m one of those guys who refuses to play on the World Poker Tour until they fix their [legal] release. Along with Andy Bloch, Greg Raymer, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, we’re all in the same boat. What we’re asking for is very reasonable and no different from what we’ve asked for from ESPN and Fox Sports Net…but the WPT, and Steve Lipscomb in particular, have decided to continue their arrogant ways. What can I say, except for we would love to play at this point. I have two WPT championships and I’d like to add a few more, especially with the purses being as high as they are these days. But I can’t play. It’s not that I don’t WANT to play, I simply CAN’T play because the release they force me to sign is illegal and if I sign it and play in the event, all of my endorsees can pull their endorsement money and sue me. So it’s completely unreasonable that the WPT asked us to sign that release.
I’m hoping they figure it out so we can come back to the table and compete again.
PL: It’d be nice to see you guys back on the show again, get some fresh faces…
Phil: Howard and I were just speaking the other day about this and it’s simply a case of legality. We all have lawyers have looking at these things, and it’s sad, but we just can’t play. We’re sick that we can’t compete for these 6-7 million dollar prize purses.
There was one instance in particular where Andy Bloch sat down to play in a WPT event, was handed the release, crossed out a lot of stuff that was offensive, and they came and said you have to get up and leave. He said, “No”, and they said sign the release or we’ll have you escorted out by security. They strong-armed him into signing it!
I’m not playing until they fix the damn release and give us one that’s reasonable.
PL: So last year, you were on stage for the WSOP press conference with legends like Crandall Arrington, Jack Binion, and Doyle Brunson. How flattering was it to be up there with those guys?
Phil: It was tremendously flattering. I’ve been partners with Harrah’s for a few years now and they’ve been big supporters of my charity, the Bad Beat on Cancer. Harrah’s is very player-friendly, they’re very supportive of our program, and this year’s event is going to be bigger and better than ever.
PL: Now that you’re pretty well-known in the poker world, do you miss getting to go to Vegas with the Tiltboys and having a good time without getting noticed?
Phil: Actually, since we haven’t filmed shows in awhile, it’s not as bad to go out. When we were in the middle of the Celebrity Poker Showdown episodes it was tougher, but that’s the price you pay. I chose to go on TV and I knew that would happen. You know, it’s a flattering thing…it’s not something that ever becomes a bother. It’s not like I’m Ben Affleck walking through the casino getting mobbed. Most of the people who come up are very respectful, wish me well, and move on.
The explosion in poker over the last few years has been incredible. Now instead of one $10K buy-in tournament a year, there are 40. And that’s a very good thing for the professionals, so I don’t mind a little extra attention.
PL: So tell me it isn’t true – Phil Gordon engaged??
Phil: Yes! I got engaged a week and a half ago, and it’s a great thing. I’m thrilled about it.
PL: Great, so who am I going to live vicariously through now?
Phil: [laughs] Yeah, you’re gonna have to move all those thoughts over to Rafe [Furst]. You know, actually, I need to send you over to Antonio [Esfandiari] – he’s the man. When I would hang out with Antonio and see what kind of work he does, I realized that at 35, I wasn’t worthy anymore and it was time to slow time. I found the exactly right perfect girl – she’s amazing. The only real downside is that she’s smarter than me [laughs]. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
PL: You basically traveled the world for 5 years, seeing multiple countries – what did you learn about yourself during that time, and what was the most interesting place you visited?
Phil: Well, I try not to compare different places to each other because they start to lose their individual flare and what they have to offer. But probably one of the more interesting months was the time in Ethiopia. I went to a lot of places there where the kids hadn’t seen white people before and it was a very interesting experience that I’ll never forget.
What I learned from a poker perspective on my travels was patience – dealing with border crossings, immigration, not being able to speak the language. It’s a very trying, arduous process and I learned so much about cultures, interacting with all types of people in all class levels and learning what they do on a daily basis. If you have a chance, it’s something everyone should really experience.
PL: You followed that up with the big nation-wide sporting event road trip, culminating right here in Houston with the Super Bowl. That was no doubt your favorite event, right??
Phil: I think the NCAA Final Four would be my favorite. The Super Bowl is all hype, although that one in Houston was a great game. But for the most part that trip was more or less about the trip itself and not about any individual sporting event. We crossed the country in an RV and traveled over forty-three thousand miles and spent more on sports than I ever intend to spend again in my life. But also saw parts of the county I never intended to see and got to spend a year with my best friend getting to know each other better. There were challenges along the way, but most of the time it was pure, unadulterated debauchery and fun and by far the greatest sports trip in history.
When I look back on that year I think, “My God, what were you thinking.” And then I think, “My God, look what we did” We put the video tapes in a vault and they are not to be opened, especially with my pending wedding [laughs], until my future son, not daughter, turns 18 and Rafe and I get together and show him what life is all about.
PL: I watched that Final Table Poker from Expert Insight, and in my opinion, it is one of the most professionally-produced videos out there.
Phil: Yes, I’m lucky to be partnered with some world-class film makers. These guys produced a bunch of featured movies, like Agent Cody Banks, so they know what they’re doing. This is not an hour-long video of someone sitting at a poker table talking to the camera. This looks just like the WSOP or WPT, the only difference being that you can only see my hole cards. It’s a great experiential piece of instruction that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.
PL: And your company also has a Blackjack DVD coming out…
Phil: It’s out, and we also just filmed a video on short-game golf with Jim Furyk and Fred Funk as they’re competing around greens at Sawgrass TPC. Flop shots, bunker shots, wedge shots – all kinds of cool stuff, and hearing their thoughts as they compete against each other and set up over their ball. It’s a great way to improve your game…those guys really know what they’re doing.
PL: Sounds excellent. We’ll watch for that and your new book in the Fall. See you at the World Series!
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