Poker Champ and Vice Presidential Candidate?: An Interview with Greg Raymer
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion. He overcame astronomical odds to win the most coveted of World Series bracelets by besting 2,576 other competitors, and is familiar to millions of Americans due to ESPN's coverage of the tourney. Although, perhaps nearly as big of an achievement was when he returned to Las Vegas the following year and finished 25th out of field of 5,619. His is often known by the nickname of "Fossilman" which came to him in response to his habit of using fossils as card protectors at the table.
Raymer is one of the most liked and admired of poker playing professionals. His fans are drawn to him for many reasons, not least of which is the skill he displays on the felt. Despite his fame, he is remarkably unpretentious. Greg regularly participates in online discussions about poker strategy with many players whose entire bankroll (and net worth) wouldn't enable them to even share a table with him in a casino. Raymer is magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat—traits which our society seemingly has all but condemned nowadays. On camera, he is never seen bragging or putting others down. He possesses a quiet, honorable dignity that novices would do well to emulate.
BC: First of all, congratulations on all your success. Even though it's been over two years since you've won the World Championship, has it been difficult for you to adjust? I know on one of your commercials you claim to be the same guy but with a nicer watch, but what effect has the avalanche of publicity had on you?
GR: I would like to think that the effect on me has been minimal in terms of who I am inside, and how I behave. It hasn't been difficult to adjust, maybe because I'm used to change. I have moved around a lot in my life, and changed my career plans several times, so change is something I am used to dealing with.
BC: Nowadays, do you consider yourself more a poker player than a lawyer?
GR: I don't really consider myself a lawyer at all right now. If the poker boom dies down completely, and I cannot make good income away from the table, then I will likely go back to work as an attorney, but not until then.
BC: The World Series of Poker Main Event attracted over 8,000 participants last summer. Do you think that this level of participation suggests that the entry fee should be increased to $25,000 or so?
GR: Not at all. Even though the current situation means that it is highly unlikely that any one great player will ever win the Main Event in their lifetime, this is better than turning people away who want to compete by pricing them out of it. Only if we get to the point where the Main Event is so huge it is simply unmanageable should they raise the entry fee.
BC: This year's winner, Jamie Gold, does not appear to have garnered the same level of respect from his peers as that received by you and Joe Hachem. Why might this be?
GR: Joe and I did not get respect from our peers with respect to our poker skills until we proved ourselves in later events. Jamie has not had time to do that yet. If he does, he will get that respect. However, Joe and I did get immediate respect from our peers with regard to how we handled ourselves while winning, and how we handled the situations we were in immediately afterwards. With all of the scandals (though that is probably too strong a word) surrounding Jamie so far, he has not gotten the latter type of respect yet.
BC: There's been a lot of talk about changing tournament structure in the hopes of making play more optimal. Do you like the idea of beginning with limit and progressing to no limit after the first few rounds of major hold 'em events? Wouldn't this inject more skill into contests and cut down on the donkament effect?
GR: I hate this idea. Playing limit poker with small blinds relative to the stack sizes for some period of time will accomplish very little except to insure that nobody can go broke for a few hours. It will do nothing to increase the skill factor. If the entire event were played with pot-limit betting, that would do a little something to increase the skill necessary to win, but not much. The only way you can really increase the skill factor is to lengthen the contest by keeping the blinds small for as long as possible. As it is, we now play the Main Event for two weeks, over a week longer than any other event. I don't see how we can reasonably lengthen it any more than that.
BC: Generally, I promise not to mention politics while interviewing someone outside that domain, but, since you gave me permission beforehand, allow me to ask you what your political inclinations are?
GR: My mindset is very libertarian. I believe in individual freedom, and that you should be allowed to do anything you wish that does not directly harm another person. I also believe that you are responsible for yourself, and that the government has no DUTY to help you (except to protect you from others). That does not mean I am against all government programs that help people, but such programs should not be undertaken merely because they help people, but only if they are economically beneficial to the majority.
BC: Also, are you thinking of becoming a politician? If so, what kind of office do you desire? What types of positions would you support?
GR: In many ways, I would not make a good politician, at least not the way the business of politics presently works in our country. I am not very good at compromising. If you convince me you are right, I will agree with you, but until you do, I will do what I think is the smartest thing to do. Having said that, I am currently talking to some people who run the Libertarian Party about the possibility of running to be the party's official candidate for Vice President of the United States. With a few exceptions, I would support the official planks of the Libertarian Party.
BC: I too am a Libertarian, and am frankly surprised that more poker players are not. Isn't personal freedom the major benefit to becoming a professional poker player in the first place? One comes and goes as they please, and avoids statist bureaucracies altogether. Even better, you're free from having to deposit your brain into the self-mutilating, anti-intellectual cauldron of political correctness.
GR: Every successful poker player is intelligent enough to succeed in almost any career, but many of them are much too independent in their attitude to do well in modern corporate America. In a team environment, it is sometimes more important to get along than it is to be right, but most of us poker players just want to be right. Having said that, my experience with large corporations makes me believe that getting along and being inclusive and such ideas are taking over to the point that there is not enough focus on getting the job done right. To work as a team, you need to not be selfish, but you shouldn't take it so far that you favor the mediocrity of the group over getting the job done as intelligently and perfectly as possible. Basically, in most modern American bureaucracies (and probably most of the rest of the world, though I wouldn't know first-hand) the balance is out of whack, and there is too much focus on the team, and not enough focus on the results.
BC: Back in April, you went to Washington D.C. along with Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, to protest the government's attempts to ban online poker. What impression did you have of Congress from your visit? What's your overall opinion of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA)? Did your visit to Capitol Hill have anything to do with your desire to become a lawmaker?
GR: My impression of the Congressmen we met was generally positive, but my impression of how business gets done in Congress was pretty negative. There is too much emphasis on getting elected or re-elected, and not enough emphasis on voting intelligently with respect to each bill in and of itself. My overall impression of UIGEA is that it is a load of BS. The bill accomplishes nothing much in reality, but it gives the impression that it does. It is a further example of politicians passing a law not because they are trying to do the right thing, but because they think it will help them get re-elected.
BC: What books or individuals had the most influence on your development and game? What players do you respect the most?
GR: The biggest influence on my game was David Sklansky's book "The Theory of Poker". It was one of the first books I bought, and it taught me all of the most important basic concepts applicable to any form of poker. I still consider it the most important single poker book anybody can read if they want to improve their game.
I respect all players who behave as ladies and gentlemen at the table, and who do their best to win within the rules. There are also many great players whom I respect for their talents, too many to mention them all. For the most part, they know who they are.
BC: Lastly, let me ask you about your own book. We're been hearing rumors about it for a couple of years now. Is it close to completion? Can you share with us what topics and issues it will address?
GR: I have a bad combination of being busy and lazy. I was approached by Two Plus Two Publishing about writing a book just after I won the Main Event, and was very excited by the idea. Two and a half years later, and I am still far from done. When finished, the book will be a tournament strategy book, not a life story type book. I doubt I will ever write a life story type book, as I don't consider my life to be that interesting. I could have finished this book a long time ago by getting a ghost-writer or co-author, but I wanted the book to be all mine. When it comes out, I am going to deserve all the credit, or all the blame.
BC: Spoken like a true Libertarian, and thanks so much for your insight, Mr. Raymer.
Ed Note: As you may have heard by now, Greg endorses Poker Stars.