As the oldest member of the celebrated "November Nine," the nine finalists in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event who will return this November to battle for the title, it's a bit surprising to learn that Dennis Phillips has only been playing poker for four years. Still, he'll be going into the final table of the biggest poker event of his life with the deepest chip stack at the table. Phillips will be starting with 26,295,000 chips, two million more than second-place Ivan Demidov and well above the table average of just over 15 million. Phillips came out of obscurity to the lead the November Nine, having won his seat to the big show in a $200 satellite at the St. Louis Harrah's in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He has had two prior cashes in WSOP circuit events in 2007, finishing in seventh place in Event #14 and ninth place in Event #11 at Tunica, Mississippi for a total of $4,578, a fraction of the $900,700 he has already been guaranteed for his final-table appearance. But with the lead, Phillips has his eyes on the first-place prize money of over $9.1 million, the coveted gold bracelet and the placing of his name alongside some of the greatest players in poker history.
Phillips may be the quintessential everyman. He was born in Quincy, Illinois, but raised on a dairy farm in Clayton, Illinois. He attended Central High School, where he was class president for two years, a member of the National Honor Society, and lettered in three sports. He then went on to Blackburn College, in Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science as well as a minor in Mathematics and Economics.
He has worked as a travel agent, a salesman for a book publisher, and even owned and operated his own dairy farm in Illinois. After the final table was set, he went right back to work as a commercial account manager for Broadway Truck Centers in St. Louis, Missouri, whose logo he proudly wore on his shirt throughout the Main Event. Of his job, Phillips explained to USA Today back in July, "I sell dump trucks, flatbeds, service bodies, pickups, whatever a contractor would need, basically." He has told reporters that he intends to go back to work after his final-table appearance.
In an era of the bad boys, Phillips appears to be a good guy. Like most everyone else nearing the Main Event final table, he added a poker website logo on his shirt. But before signing an agreement with PokerStars, he urged Stars to match the 1% of his winnings he has pledged to donate to Prevent Cancer Foundation's Bad Beat on Cancer, poker pro Phil Gordon's charity. But Phillips' head apparently wasn't for sale, as he continued to wear his St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap throughout the tournament.
As for his donation of a portion of his winnings, Phillips said, "Charity involvement has always been an important part of my life, and hopefully more poker players and final-table participants with follow suit in upcoming poker circuits."
Phillips has been giving back to his community, having appeared at two separate charity poker event sponsored by the insideSTL.com Poker Tournament, where he signed autographs and played poker. The first raised money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the second event was held to raise money for the family of a fallen firefighter. Phillips played at the WPT events at the Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, before Hurricane Gustav cut that trip short. Phillips will also be attending his first overseas poker tournament, having obtained his first passport so he could fly to England for the London leg of the European Poker Tour starting later this month.
Phillips is taking the final-table appearance very seriously. He recently announced that he had hired The Oracle Consulting Firm founded by Roy "The Oracle" Winston and Joe McGowan to coach him. Of the move, Phillips said at the time, "I'm confident in my game and don't intend to change it," said Phillips. "But I'm also smart enough to know that you can always learn more."
PokerNews caught up with a busy Phillips to ask just a few questions about the changes coming to his life:
PokerNews: How has your life changed since becoming a member of the November Nine? What has been the most unexpected development to date?
Dennis Phillips: Other than absolutely no free time, everything is positive. It seems as though everything is coming together nicely. I expected a lot more stress in my life. The friends that I had before this happened have rallied behind me and have my back. In many cases they act as a buffer to protect me. I had a chance to participate in a St. Louis baseball Cardinals game which was totally unbelievable. My whole family was down on the field, watching me throw out the first pitch, and then, Albert Pujols handed me an autographed bat — a feeling that can not be described.
PN: What were your thoughts on retaining Roy Winston and his Oracle Consulting and what do you see in the way of added benefits from the coaching agreement?
Phillips: I gave this a lot of thought. The old adage "if it is not broke don't fix it" came to mind. But look at the whole picture. Texas hold'em is a game of constant improvement. Everyone from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods uses coaches. How egotistical would it be of me to think I could not use a coach?
PN: You've retained a publicist, but have you also planned for any publicity coaching or training?
Phillips: I have had some professional media training, but somewhat limited. Also, in my job as a Commercial Account Manager, dealing with people and answering tough questions comes with the territory.
PN: Along with your new sponsor, <A href="https://www.pokernews.com/pokerstars">PokerStars</a>, you've dedicated a portion of your final-table winnings to a very important charitable cause, Prevent Cancer Foundation's Bad Beat on Cancer. Could you share your thoughts on this?
Phillips: In the middle of the tournament, all players were asked to donate 1% of their winning to this cause. How could you not? It is a great cause, backed by the WSOP, and you are only being asked to donate on your winnings. PokerStars really stepped up to the plate on this one. All it took was a simple request from me to match the contribution and they agreed without hesitation. Kind of makes you feel good. I challenge the other Final Nine participants to reconsider.
PN: You won your entry to the WSOP courtesy of a $200 satellite win in St. Louis. Did you tend to play a lot of satellites, and are you a casino or home-game regular in your region?
Phillips: I am a casino regular in the St. Louis area. I love the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and the challenge that the St. Louis area players give you. If you want an exciting and competitive Texas hold'em game, come to St Louis.
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While Phillips declined to comment on individual hands in his run leading up to the final, he did have this to offer: "I'm just not sure," went Phillips, "for me or for the audience, it's all that meaningful. When you are there and 'in the moment' there are so many other important things to assimilate and digest beyond just the card presentations. Things like trends, player emotion or lack of, tells, subtle clues and the like. What I can say is that in every hand, to me — it's not about the cards themselves or the luck of the draw — it's about understanding the lay of the land and making the right decisions on how to work my way to the best outcome."
Phillips has the inside track on the best outcome of all, that being the person who will be know as poker's reigning world champion for 2008. One thing's for sure: In a bit over two months, one of the November Nine will see that dream come true.