Phil Gordon - A Life Well Spent
Every week on Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown," Phil Gordon can be seen giving the expert commentary. He is well qualified for such a position; a final table appearance at the 2001 World Series of Poker's Main Event propelled him to take up the game full-time. He has since gone on to perform well in the World Poker Tour, winning last season's Bay 101 tournament. Above all else, however, he has taken the time to stop and enjoy the fruits of his labors, circling the globe and remembering the plight of those less fortunate. I had the opportunity to talk to Phil regarding poker and life and his views on both.
PN: "Celebrity Poker Showdown" looks like it is great fun. Which of the celebrity players has surprised you? Do you like the less-serious aspect of the celebrity game or do they actually have a competitive drive against each other?
Phil: Mena Suvari was the most surprising player. She's very intense and takes the game very seriously, which is not at all what I would have expected. Some of the celebrities are very serious about the game (Affleck, James Woods, Hank Azaria, Mimi Rogers, Curt Shilling, Jerome Bettis, Michael Ian Black, Norm MacDonald, Matthew Perry, Jon Favreau) while others have never played or are very inexperienced and are in Vegas to have a good time (too many to list).
PN: It seems you enjoy your time with Dave Foley on the show. Is he a poker player himself? How often does he just "break you up" during the filming of the show?
Phil: Dave is definitely not a poker player. But, he is one of the most generous guys I've ever met. And, he's ridiculously funny. During one show, we 'stopped tape' six times to fix my make-up because he had me laughing so hard.
PN: "Celebrity Poker Showdown" is getting ready to start the fourth season. How long do you see yourself involved with it?
Phil: We've filmed 30 shows so far, and it looks like we'll be filming 24 more in 2005. I love my job - it's absolutely the best job in poker and I am very fortunate to work for Bravo. Let's hope the ratings stay strong. The new season premiere is Tuesday, January 25th, 8pm (7 central). Celebs this time around include Ray Romano, Curt Shilling, Jason Alexander, Heather Graham, and more. It is, in my opinion, the best season to date.
PN: Charities are an important part of the celebrity game. What philanthropic causes do you support?
Phil: I am a spokesman and board member for the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation. Almost everything I do in poker involves them. A portion of the proceeds from my book, "Poker: The Real Deal" is donated to CRPF. Also, I have donated a book of tips to CRPF that is available exclusively online at www.preventcancer.org where all proceeds go to CRPF. Additionally, I've worked with the Matt Light Foundation, The Phoenix Children's Hospital, ALS Foundation, the World Rehabilitation Fund, Red Cross, and many others.
PN: "The Real Deal" has been quite a success for you. What drove you to get into the poker book field?
Phil: I love teaching the game. I truly believe that almost everyone can be a champion poker player given enough time, motivation, energy, patience, and courage. My book filled a niche. I received literally thousands of emails from people across the country after Celebrity Poker Showdown started airing that asked questions like: "I'm scared to play in a casino... what can you tell me about that?" and "What's it like playing on the World Poker Tour?" and "How do you know you're ready to enter a tournament?" and "What can I read and what do I need to know to be a professional?" My book attempted to answer all those questions and more.
PN: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Phil: Launching nationwide in February, I helped create a product called "NTN Texas Hold'em". It will be in bars across the country and allow you to play our favorite game on the same platform that you currently play trivia. Your hole cards are displayed on a wireless "Playmaker" while common cards are displayed on screens across the bar.
In June, I'm launching a brand new instructional video series that will raise the bar and give viewer real expert insight into the minds of professional poker players.
I have another book coming out in early September called "The Little Green Book of No-Limit Hold'em" It is, essentially, my attempt at a definitive guide to the game of No-Limit. No fluff, nothing extraneous, just No-Limit Hold'em strategy the best I can possibly communicate.
PN: You have had remarkable success in both the World Series and on the WPT. What is the most challenging aspect of tournament play?
Phil: Having the patience to wait out the bad cards. I have had big chip leads and massive stacks in many tournaments recently, but I've found that I've been bluffing too much. I need to reign in those bluffs to make more final tables. There are plenty of players out there that are completely unbluffable and will call no matter what.
PN: Which would be more important to you...the World Series Main Event Championship or the WPT Championship?
Phil: Hands down, no question, the World Series of Poker. With my guess that 5000 people will play this year, though, chances are slim. I had my chance in 2001 to win the whole thing and be crowned World Champion, but I blew it. Believe me when I tell you that I have nightmares on an almost daily basis about my final hand in 2001.
PN: With the advent of the WSOP Circuit, is there going to be conflict with the WPT?
Phil: Harrah's and ESPN's WSOP Circuit is a real blessing for all the players in poker. First, they are allowing the players to wear logos. This will inevitably lead to corporate sponsorship of the best players and new income potential for them. And I'm not just talking online sites, but real mainstream brands as well. Second, they are giving money back to the players in the form of a $2,000,000 freeroll to the players that prove themselves on the circuit.
PN: It seems that organizations are coming from everywhere (including the WPPA and the PPT)? Is there a possibility that there could be "too much" of a good thing for poker?
Phil: The players really need to organize and form a union, much like the PGA. But, this is going to cost some money, and the players themselves are going to have to really want to invest in this. My feeling is that someone will come around and do it right. If that someone is out there and reading this, please call me — I'd love to help in any way I can.
PN: There seems to be a battle of ages in poker nowadays. Does youth have an edge at the table, or does experience eventually win out?
Phil: There are no barriers to winning at poker. Doyle Brunson can win at 74 and Scott Fishman can win at a little over 21. I always say this: "There is more than one way to win."
PN: You are a part of FullTilt Poker. How is the site doing and what drew you to it?
Phil: FullTilt Poker is doing remarkably well. I am so happy to be associated with the best players in the industry: Lederer. Ferguson. Ivey. Juanda. Bloch. Seidel. Lindgren. Harman. Gowen. My partners and I are dedicated to making the online poker experience the best it can possibly be. Look for some great things from FullTilt Poker this year. While the other sites have an enormous lead, I feel like we can be a big player in this game. We have the best software. We have the best support. And, we have the biggest names in the game.
PN: The list of people with you on FullTilt reads like a Who's Who in the poker world. What is the competition like between all of you?
Phil: In all honesty, I think you'd have to be a fool to play against the pros we have at FullTilt. If I sat down at a table with those guys, I'd be dead money. Very dead money.
PN: The recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean has affected millions. FullTilt is running a benefit tournament on January 9th as well as taking donations. What else could people do to help?
Phil: Donate as much money as possible to the relief effort. And while that area of the world will not be tourist-ready for quite some time, realize that this was a freak occurrence and make sure to visit there as soon as they are ready. They will definitely need tourism dollars if they are ever to make a full recovery. I've been all over Thailand and Indonesia, and I can tell you that they are fantastically friendly people that deserve our support and generosity.
PN: You have traveled the world. What are some of the most amazing things you have seen and what areas draw you back?
Phil: Africa is a very special place. I've spent nearly a year there in the last five years. I can't wait to get back.
I have been to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (nearly 20,000 feet), I've hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. I've been all over the Australian Outback. All told, I've been to more than 50 countries on six continents. Antarctica is next... I'm planning a nice trans-Antarctic trip for next December.
PN: Sounds like a great trip. Thought we would get away without the one big question, but do you believe your size is an intimidating factor at the table?
Phil: Definitely not. I may be 6'9", but I've never worked out a day in my life. I have a hard time lifting more than 2 stacks of chips at a time.
PN: You have been seen playing No-Limit primarily, but are there other games that you feel you are stronger at? Is there a game you would rather not play at all?
Phil: My best game is No-Limit, I think. I have no interest at all in seven stud. I like playing Omaha Hi/Lo and Pot Limit. I've had some success playing Limit Hold'em as well. But, let's face it, No-Limit is the game to play.
PN: What are three things you would do to ensure the current poker boom continues?
Phil: (1) Be the best representative of the game that I can be. I'm constantly doing media interviews and extolling the virtues of what I believe to be the most exciting, best game on the planet.
(2) Convince Corporate America that poker is here to stay. I don't think they realize that more than 80,000,000 Americans are playing this game on a regular basis.
(3) Help with the formation of a powerful players group.
PN: What advise do you have for someone just starting out with the game? And what advise would you have for the person who feels they are ready to step up to the big time?
Phil: Read the books, play the game, play online. Online is absolutely the best way to learn - you can always get a game, you can download the hand histories and analyze your mistakes, and you can play 3-4 times the number of hands an hour than you can in a casino. To go "big time", I would say make sure that you have the bankroll to adequately prepare you for what is a very expensive pursuit. To play every $10,000 event in the world right now, you'll need a bankroll well over $1,000,000 to make sure you don't go broke while long-term expectation kicks in.
PN: You have been a great success in life, from your dot.com days to now. Is it luck or is it something you set out to do from the start?
Phil: I've been extremely lucky. Look at it this way: In my poker career, if you change just 4-5 river cards, you've never heard of me, I'm a lifetime poker loser, and I'm not hosting the most popular poker show on television. That is humbling.
PN: What do you do to get away from the game? How do you relax from it?
Phil: Third world travel and charity work take up most of my time away from the game. But, in all honesty, I've never in my life been busier than I am right now. Poker is an almost all-consuming activity for me now. If I'm not at the tables, I'm writing, creating videos, working on Celebrity Poker, touring the country doing speaking engagements, hosting corporate poker parties, or playing online.
PN: What are your main tenets of life? How do you remain happy?
Phil: Do the best I can possibly do. Live each day like it's the last. Be a good friend and business partner. Always be fair. Realize that I've been extremely lucky. Give back whenever possible.
PN: Finally, what were your New Year's resolutions?
Phil: Work hard and have as much fun as possible.
PN: Thanks for your time, Phil.
Phil: Thank you.
Our thanks to Phil for taking the time to speak with us. If you're lucky, you may find him now playing online at www.fulltiltpoker.com!