Phil Galfond Opens Up About His Mental Battles, Fear of Failure, and Getting Back into Poker

4 min read

Phil Galfond may be one of the most measured pros in the game, but even he isn’t immune to the volatility of life. The high-stakes pro has opened up about his mental battles and how resolving childhood issues has made him a better poker player and person.

Phil Galfond
Phil Galfond has opened up about his mental battles, his return to high-stakes poker, and overcoming a fear of failure. (Image: farah_galfond/Instagram)

Galfond has climbed to the top of poker, built his own business with Run It Once, and become a father over the last two decades. While all of that may have seemed easy from the outside, it wasn’t.

Galfond’s latest Twitter thread provided a glimpse into his mindset and how performance coach Elliot Roe helped him understand why he’s made certain moves in life.

Galfond talks retirement and return to poker

The American pro published his lengthy Twitter post last night. The thread focuses on his decision to “semi-retire” from poker, but encompasses all aspects of life.

Anyone who was around during the initial poker boom will have seen Galfond’s rise to prominence. He was a regular in the biggest games online, he won WSOP bracelets, and he appeared on various shows, including High Stakes Poker.

However, as time wore on and the game evolved, Galfond stepped away from the spotlight in an effort to launch his own poker site, Run It Once. Or so he thought.

With that ambition realized, he reappeared in late 2019 with a challenge. Although he never really went away, the American decided he wanted to test himself at the highest stakes again.

The “Galfond Challenge” was born and a veritable murderer’s row of talent lined up for a shot at the online icon. A series of ups and downs followed but, overall, Galfond showed that form is temporary and class is permanent.

What’s more, he proved to the poker community and to himself that he can still mix it up with the best. The latter point is the crux of his recent epiphany.

Fear of failure affects the best

As described in his Twitter thread, a fear of failure, not the desire to launch Run It Once, was the reason for his hiatus. Galfond admits that he was fearful of the “post-solver” era and whether he could beat today’s top pros.

However, he’d convinced himself that his decision to stop playing was because he was moving on to “bigger and better things.”

While there was some truth in that, the real reason for his reluctance to play for high stakes was an unresolved issue from his childhood.

Galfond’s realization came after working with mindset and performance coach Elliot Roe. Through various exercises and one-to-one sessions, they discovered Galfond suffered from what Roe calls “too smart to try” thinking.

“A child with above-average intelligence is told how smart they are. As things continue to come easily to them, the child wraps a lot of their self-worth up in being naturally smart,” Galfond explained on Twitter.

This mindset eventually leads to avoidant tendencies when things become difficult. “When they encounter something difficult enough that they can’t excel without hard work, they avoid it,” Galfond continued.

Learning to read yourself is +EV

This pattern of thinking causes the child, and subsequently the adult, to avoid anything that doesn’t come naturally, even if they could be good at it with a little bit of hard work.

For Galfond, this led to “34 years avoiding or quitting everything [he] wasn’t naturally good at.” Moving away from poker and focusing on other things was “an excuse” he used to mask his unconscious fear of failing.

The story ends well, however, as Galfond found a way to win in the post-solver era. His real victory, however, was understanding his own mind.

In a game that’s often held up as a metaphor for life, Galfond’s personal revelations are a testament to that. He’s not only shown that everyone, even the best, have doubts, but that anyone can get inside their own mind and become a better version of themselves.

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