Cardschat Exclusive Interview with Greg Raymer
A CardsChat Interview with Greg Raymer by Jennifer Newell
Jennifer Newell: Congratulations on your HPT successes. What is your HPT secret to crushing these tournaments?
Greg Raymer: There's no secret. It's really all about the odds. A real world example might be… let's say that there's some dangerous thing you like to do because you get a thrill out of it when you drive to work each day. I tell you that you're crazy because there's one chance in a million that you'll die if you do that. Most people say that one in a million isn't a big deal; that'll never happen. But let's say I tell you there's a one in a 10,000 chance that it would happen. People would still say it'll never happen, but if you do it every day about 250 days a year, you are quite likely to die in the car crash before you retire. So, my wins weren't highly unlikely, because they were, but it was less unlikely than if you picked out some random player at the first event I played and had that person play the same event I played. If someone is a slightly better player than me, they'd have a slightly better chance of pulling this off. I don't presume I'm the best player there is, so someone better could have done it. I think I'm very good, but I don't think I'm the best.
JN: Is there something about the HPT tournaments that really appeals to you or fits your style of play?
GR: The average skill level of players at an HPT event is quite a bit lower than the skill level of a field at a bracelet event at the World Series. I'm not trying to put down the HPT at all. But when I play a $1,500 No Limit Hold'em tournament at the World Series, which is essentially the same tournament as the HPT because they take the same amount of time to play and the structures aren't that far apart because both events take three days. In fact, the most recent HPT I played had under 300 players, and we spent three days to get a winner, but the World Series has thousands of players in the same time frame. If there was a way to track a player to measure their poker skills, we would find that the average skill level is higher in a bracelet event and lower at an HPT event. That means I'm much more likely to win four out of six HPT events than bracelet events. Plus, my chances go way up at HPT because it's a reentry event.
JN: Do you think this garners some recognition that you've been lacking since your 2004 WSOP Main Event win?
GR: It might make a difference for my reputation amongst all the really serious poker players. Like the last HPT final table for me was much tougher and more highly skilled than others, primarily because we had Jacob Bazely and Ken Hicks. I was very impressed by them both, and they played exceptionally well, pretty close to perfect as far as I could tell. And none of the other guys were really weak, whereas some of my other final tables had a player here and there who was highly unlikely to make another final table. I won't be slightly surprised if Jacob or Ken make more final tables. The reason that I won four and Jacob didn't is because he probably didn't play them all. But also, it's not that I'm that much better than he is, but I ran better. Heads-up, I had the chip lead and I was a favorite to win, but we didn't play that long because I had great hands almost every time.
I'm not trying to put down my accomplishments. I'm very proud of these results, and even more importantly, I'm proud of how I played. I think that I made very few mistakes during all four of those tournaments.
JN: You've also become a much better player over the last eight or ten years.
GR: I agree. I think I'm significantly better than when I won the Main Event, but the funny thing about that is that I've lost a lot of ground to the field because they've improved at a much faster pace. Tremendously so. I don't play a lot of NLHE cash games anymore, mostly because the competition is pretty tough. I really enjoy and prefer the other games, like Triple Draw and Baduci and Omaha Hi/Lo.
I'll be at a casino, and someone will suggest that I play a $5/$10 game because it's so good. They describe how juicy the game is, and I'll understand the point, but mistakes that are pointed out are just evidence that the players are so much better than they used to be. There are millions of hours played online to help them improve, access to training videos, and those are methods of learning for young people to learn more effectively than players like me. I don't play enough Hold'em to use those tools and do what they do. Even basic strategy for these new players is far superior to live-only players. Learning tells and the like only add to their skills.
You might see me in a cash game in Vegas at the World Series and wonder what I'm doing there with a ridiculously tough lineup, but we're playing No Limit Single Draw Deuce to Seven and Pot Limit Baduci and Limit Omaha Hi/Lo. The same guy who might be a NLHE champion might be the fish at the games we're playing. I'd rather play those games in tournaments as well, but for the most part, that's impossible. I'm not trying to put down NLHE, but that's not where the money's at for me. If I had to grind out a living every day, I'd have to play more NLHE because that would be the only game available at my local poker room, but I have a little more luxury to talk people into playing other games. The celebrity factor comes into it then, and I have more fun and I have a bigger edge.
JN: Now for some questions from the CardsChat forum members. Living in Raleigh, how does that affect your poker schedule?
GR: I never drive to casinos or play when I'm at home. There are home games in Raleigh, but they're illegal. If it's a small game, I'm just not interested, and if it's a big game, it's not safe. I'd have to worry about cheating or getting busted by police because they're private games, and the danger of getting robbed is too high. Living in Raleigh does have a negative impact on my game because I can't play as many hours as some of my peers who live in Vegas or L.A. I probably played more poker before the Main Event than I do now.
My wife and daughter wanted to live in Raleigh, and I was happy to move there. My wife wanted less winter than Connecticut, and neither of us wanted to live in Vegas, especially with a daughter to raise. We looked at L.A., but the nicer and safer parts are so expensive. For the price of a bungalow in Hollywood, you're getting a mansion in Raleigh. When it came to poker availability, we ignored that and made our decision. We might've ended up in Florida, but we moved in '05, and there were still low limits there in Florida, so I wouldn't have played poker there then anyway. For mixed games, those are mostly only available in L.A., Vegas, and Atlantic City.
Raleigh is a really nice place. One of the main reasons we picked it is that it has the highest percentage of advanced degrees of any metropolitan area in the world, per population size. City by city, Raleigh is nowhere near the top, but the metro area beats everywhere else in the world. Public schools are better because people are more willing to spend money on education. We're very happy with our choice.
JN: What's the story behind your lizard sunglasses and why you still wear them?
GR: I don't wear them that often. I didn't wear them at any HPT event until I was at the televised final table. The practical reason for that is the majority of poker rooms aren't brightly lit, and if I wear them, I could misread the board. The featured or final tables are well lit, though, and I can always see everything clearly with the glasses on.
They started as a one-time joke. The first time I played the Main Event was in 2002, still in the spring at Binions. I was on vacation the month before at Disney World with my family. My wife and daughter spend time in gift shops, which means I do, too. Killing time waiting for them, I saw the glasses, and I thought it would be funny to wear them in the middle of a hand at the poker table. Then at the World Series, I was in a pot where I raised preflop and my opponent in the blind reraised. He then bet the flop, and I raised, and he was in the tank thinking. He was busy counting his chips and doing math, ignoring me. I put on the glasses and stared at him. He finally looked up and completely freaked out. He jetted back in his chair and almost fell backwards. He was mumbling and irritated. He grabbed his cards and mucked. Every time I was in a hand after that, I put the glasses on. What I came to realize later was that people were annoyed when I stared at them with the glasses. They're slightly more likely to fold to avoid the glasses and the stare, usually on a subconscious level.
JN: What do you think of recent arguments about sunglasses at the table?
GR: I don't think it's a big enough issue to outlaw them. It's traditional, and a lot of players use them. The negatives that some argue are associated with sunglasses aren't that significant. So what if it's a crutch? Is it that different than when Phil Hellmuth pulls down his hood and puts his hand over his mouth? Joe Navarro teaches that the hat is much more valuable than sunglasses, so if we're going to eliminate things like that, hats and movements will be next. I think it's a non-issue.
JN: What were your biggest downswings and upswings in poker, and how did you overcome the downswings?
GR: The biggest upswing was obviously winning the Main Event. Every time I have a big result, it's an upswing. Since winning that Main Event, I haven't played cash games consistently enough to have an issue with downswings. I've had losing sessions but they balance out. I have had tournament downswings, though, where I just can't seem to win. They're just the opposite of what I'm experiencing with HPTs. One year at the World Series, I was taking what could be legitimately be called a bad beat at least once every hour in every tournament all summer long. I'd be all-in as a huge favorite, and my opponent would beat me every time. All I could do was keep trying to make perfect decisions and believe that's all there is. The results will average out in the long run. I know that and believe it, and I have to make sure that the emotions that set in don't cause me to play poorly. That's the big danger for players. There's no way to get out of a losing streak with a recipe for success. If you're playing good and on a losing streak, the only thing that can happen is that you stop playing well. Emotion can cause bad decisions, which increases the length of the losing sessions.
JN: That summer was a test for you, it seems. Was there a light bulb moment in your career that really changed your game for the better?
GR: I wouldn't say there was a Eureka moment. There were many times that I learned something new, but there was never one moment that made a huge difference. I'm a very math-based person, and I think of all my life decisions in a very mathematical way. That poker mindset was not that hard for me, but I had to keep it from overly affecting my emotions. Bill Chen is the best I've ever met at that; he gets a bad beat and quotes the odds and moves on. Mark Gregorich is awesome, too. If you walk up to him in a cash game, you can't tell if he's been winning or losing by his attitude. You have to go home from poker happy that you made good decisions, and the money won or lost has to be secondary to how you feel about things.
JN: Do you have close friends in poker?
GR: There are literally hundreds of players who I'm friendly with and get along with. I chat and talk strategy with them, but there's no one who fits that definition of really close friend. There's no one that I spend that much time with. I live in Raleigh, and there are few poker pros here, and we're on different schedules. If I lived in Melbourne, Joe Hachem would be that guy, and we'd talk poker all the time. If I lived in Memphis, it would be Chris Moneymaker. If I lived in Vegas, it would be any of dozens of guys. I get along with the vast majority of players I interact with, and I respect all of them.
JN: How much poker do you talk at home?
GR: None. My wife has no interest in poker. She actually gets kind of annoyed when non-poker friends are at the house and asking poker questions. I always answer, but she gives me the look to quit talking poker. I don't want to be rude! I'd rather answer his questions than redirect the question to lawn care.
JN: Let's talk about the PPA. What's your current role?
GR: I'm still a member of the Board of Directors. I still do things with them and for them, going to events with members of Congress and trying to convince them to vote for legislation that the PPA supports. I still help as an expert witness at state level cases to testify that poker is a game of skill. We're still trying to do our best to represent the poker players themselves. Most of our focus is federal legislation. We believe that will be the preferred result, that Congress passes a federal bill that makes poker clearly legal and available nationwide. If that doesn't happen and states pass laws, we'll do our best to work with states to make player-friendly laws.
JN: What do you think might happen federally?
GR: We have a very good shot at passing a bill in the lame duck session. If it doesn't happen, the states will move forward, and in my opinion, it will become much harder to get anything passed federally at that point. For example, look at California, which is likely to have successful online poker within their borders. Many members of Congress in California would vote for something like Reid/Kyl except if their state depends on their state-level poker so as not to jeopardize that business.
JN: Was poker a primary factor in your November election voting?
GR: Well, I vote Libertarian all the time, and poker just goes along with that so well. I do things for the PPA like going to their booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., and that's the very conservative side of the Republican party. I talk to people about freedoms, and everyone conceptually agrees that people should be able to do what they want in their own homes. But as soon as they see something they think is personally wrong, they want the government to stop it. I try to tell them how hypocritical they're being. I find it completely inappropriate for the government to stop me from doing something they think might be harmful unless it harms a child or a non-consenting adult. That makes most political decisions very easy. For something like online poker, it's consenting adults playing with their own money. To me, it should be permissible and legal, and the only government involvement should be oversight to inspect the products to make sure it's safe for the consumer.
JN: And you believe that the federal government can do a better job than the states?
GR: It's not that they can do a better job, but the states' process will be very long and messy. It will be a long time before we can have player pools, and the liquidity is a real problem. If we go back before Black Friday for numbers and games available, only Stars and Tilt were big enough to offer those games. Even sites in the top ten in volume, game variations were only offered at low stakes because only a fraction of players in the world want to play those games. Players will go to states that offer bigger prize pools, but it's complicated when states want to agree to share players, but then other states are left out. It becomes something that could take decades to start with states and make a national system.
JN: Can you talk about Fossilman Poker Training?
GR: I've been teaching for the WSOP Academy for a long time, and I still do that. The academies are two days long and relatively pricey, and we've never had much success with those events outside Vegas. It doesn't work in other markets, the smaller ones. But I know that there are thousands of poker players who would want a seminar. I came up with a business model that deals with local poker rooms. By guaranteeing a certain number of seats, I can teach a seminar at their poker room. Now I try to schedule up to a couple a month. I do a seminar before a tournament, and then I stick around and play the tournament the next day.
JN: Where can people get information about seminars?
JN: Is it mostly for NLHE players?
GR: I talk to poker rooms about teaching on any poker topic, but in reality, the vast majority of customers want NLHE tournament strategy. That's what my seminars are about. If there's a poker room that wants something else, like Omaha, I'd be thrilled to do it. My seminars are one day long. We usually do several hours of lecture in the morning, take a lunch break, and then we do four hours of live hand exercises. I get co-instructors to sit in the dealer box, and people play as if they're in a real tournament only with play chips. They play their hands, and the instructor then looks at all of the cards and critiques their decisions. I do it, too, and I'll ask questions about why players made their moves and explain my thoughts. It's a one-day seminar for about $300.
JN: What are your personal tournament plans for 2013?
GR: As the HPT Player of the Year, I get six buy-ins or something like that, so I will be at lots of those. I'll be starting to talk to those rooms on the schedule and try to get them to work with me on a seminar at the same time. I'll be at a lot of HPTs, wherever I schedule seminars, and I'll still come out for a big chunk of the World Series in Vegas. Maybe Congress will pass a bill, and I'll make a deal with one of the new US online sites, and I'll represent them.