you've ever watched any poker on TV, downloaded
a poker podcast, or ever read one of the many
books out there, chance are Phil Gordon is not
a new name to you. This seasoned pro has taken
his fame and reach to new levels both within and
outside of the poker world. He's won two WPT titles,
hosted Celebrity Poker Showdown for many successful
seasons (before recently turning it over to Phil
#2 - Hellmuth), and tirelessly works to raise
money for his charity, "Bad Beat on Cancer".
We were lucky enough to get 30 minutes of Phil's
time and get his take on everything from epic
roadtrips, to poker legislation, to what's wrong
with the WPT, and finally to Roshambo.
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PL: So let's jump right into Celebrity
Poker Showdown and what's next for the show.
Phil: Yeah, I'm all done with hosting the show,
Hellmuth's taking over, and they've already taped
a few episodes – and good for them. I already
have some good opportunities coming up and have
some good traction broadcasting for some pros,
so should be a good time.
Dave Foley will still be on the show, and I think
the show will certainly be different…
PL: What would you say was your least favorite
episode? And your favorite?
Phil: Hmm, my favorite episode – Ray Romano
and Brad Garrett did some good stuff. My least
favorite episode…Fred Willard, Heather Graham
and Malcolm Jamal Warner.
No wait, let me take that back. My least favorite
episode by far was the Reality All-Stars.
PL: Yep, that would have been my guess…those
people were so irritating on that show.
Phil: Yes, they were terrible. And at the end
of the day, it was not a pleasant place to be.
But after 42 episodes, they all kind of run together.
It's been a year since I was on set, and believe
it or not, I don't sit around and watch every
episode [laughs]. We had some great shows, it
was a great fun time, but all good things must
come to an end.
PL: You've recently made the jump to radio with
ESPN's show “The
Phil: Yeah, it's a great fun time, an hour a
week every Monday on ESPNRadio.com
in the podcasting center. We pick a new topic
each week – so far we've covered the big
stack, image, and bluffing for the first 3 shows.
We also had Phil Hellmuth on for the first show,
then Mark Seif, and this week Greg Raymer So we
definitely get the right poker stars to come on
and talk. We basically discuss what's happening
in the world of poker and what's coming up on
the TV schedule. It's a real radio show that is
professionally produced by a top company.
PL: With this new show, your best-selling “Little
Green Book”, television shows, podcasts-
it almost seems as if you prefer broadcasting
about poker instead of playing it…
Phil: I enjoy teaching poker more than I do playing
poker for sure. One of the things about poker
that's a little disturbing is that it's one of
the only professions in the world that pays big
money to find the biggest morons you can find.
And a pro player's job is to separate the mentally
challenged from their well-earned money. But as
a teacher of poker, I get to surround myself with
intelligent people who are eager to learn –
and I enjoy that aspect a lot more. Certainly
I continue to play a lot of bigger tournaments,
but if I had the choice of teaching a seminar
to 200 people about how to play NL Holdem vs.
playing in a $10K buy-in tournament, I'd teach
the seminar every time.
PL: I noticed that you and Andy Bloch are holding
Vegas Academy, and the price is very unreasonably
Phil: You know, the other poker camps are good,
and I do teach at Howard Lederer's camp and believe
that players get their money's worth. Our camp
is different – it's only one day, so for
$199 at the early bird special and $299 regular,
you're going to get six hours of poker instructions.
I'll talk in-depth about NL Holdem for two and
a half hours, then Andy will talk for two and
a half hours about the world of card counting
and the MIT Blackjack team. Then you'll get an
hour of Q&A with both of us together. So look,
this is mostly for locals, but some are flying
in because they see the real value we're providing.
A similar level of instruction as the
WPT Boot Camp, except that will run you about
PL: On top of that, you have the FullTilt “Bad
Beat on Cancer” event coming up –
tell us a little about that.
Phil: It's going to be a lot of fun. This is
a different spin on the usual celebrities playing
poker in L.A. . This is a heads-up challenge where
the world's greatest players will play against
the highest bidders. For instance, Phil Ivey is
coming in to play, and the winner will get the
shirt right off Phil's back, signed and all. It's
sponsored by Bluff Magazine, HighRoller Fashions,
Sector Watches, and Pechanga Casinos, and Full
Tilt Poker, and I think we're going to raise a
lot of money for the fight against cancer.
PL: So which do you take more pride in: becoming
a well-known poker star, or finally getting Roshambo
Phil: [laughs] Well, you know, I probably have
won more money at Roshambo this year than I have
at poker. I'm up about $30K since January.
Last year at the World
Series we had 64 players at $200 a piece,
and this year I think I'm gonna go for 120 players
at $500 a piece. Should be good fun.
PL: You're following up your excellent Little
Green Book with “Little Green Book in Practice”
in the Fall…
Phil: Yes, I just turned it in Monday and I think
it's really good. It'll be out October 1. It's
75 hands fully annotated selected from hands I've
seen on TV to ones I've played on the internet.
It's sort of a “choose your own adventure”
kind of thing. You'll get to a point in the hand
where you'll have to decide what you would do.
I really want you to think about what you're doing,
and then I go in and describe what I did and why
I did it – sometimes it works out, sometimes
it doesn't. I think you can learn a lot about
the game by just listening to the decision process
that a lot of the top people have in the game.
And while I'm certainly not the best player in
the game, I've had my share of success at the
table and getting inside my mind could be a good
PL: Looking forward to that next book –
just finished ‘Little Green Book' and it's
loaded with great info. So let's change gears
now and talk about the industry as a whole. What
are your thoughts regarding the recent attempts
to legislate and ban online gambling?
Phil: I'm not worried about that at all. That
legislation comes up every single year and every
year it doesn't pass…and this year will
be no different. There are more than 25 million
Americans playing online poker right now, and
the masses speak. They [the government] should
tax it and make it legal instead of being…well,
I don't know how to describe the current government,
but it's not good.
PL: It's kind of a double-edged sword for a site
like FullTilt, isn't it? If it becomes legal,
you might have to worry about the big American
sites coming online – the Bellagio.com,
etc…and if it's illegal, well then you lose
a huge market.
Phil: America is all about competition, and even
if it hurt our business, which I don't think it
would, a) we have a 3-year head start on them,
b) it's not as easy an engineering problem as
people think it is, and c) bring it on! I'd love
to see the Bellagio and the Mirage open online
poker rooms and I think they would enjoy the challenge
Competition is a good thing and you know, from
my perspective, a ban would be a bad thing. Legalize
it, tax it, and take the 2 billion dollars of
revenue and start paying down some of the national
PL: We're based in Texas, so we couldn't agree
with you more…
Phil: That's right, you can't even play Texas
Hold'em in Texas , right??
PL: Right, and even the charity events get scrutinized
down here. We're all about driving to Louisiana
to find games.
Phil: There's no reason you should have to drive
to Louisiana. Richard Nixon financed his first
presidential campaign with his poker winnings.
The Supreme Court justices have a weekly game.
This is not something that should be illegal.
It's social poker and the government doesn't need
to protect us from the ‘evils' of the game.
PL: OK, so on to the WSOP.
Were you part of the group of players that lobbied
to get the new $50K buy-in HORSE tourney installed?
Phil: No, I would not lobby for that because
I'm pretty much dead money at 7-stud. I'm going
to wait and see how I do this year, and if I'm
having a good series and am up at least $50K,
I'll probably play. If not, then I won't.
PL: Will you be producing your podcast from the
Rio again this year?
Phil: I'm going to be doing some sort of podcast
and I'm hoping it'll be video. I'll continue to
do the ESPN
radio show, but it's unclear because Bluff
Magazine has exclusive radio rights at the WSOP
this year and they're going to be doing like 47
days of live radio from the Rio on Sirius Satellite.
They've asked me to host a couple hours a day
on their show, so I might do that. But I'm trying
to limit my professional obligations this year
away from the table because I haven't played a
lot of poker lately and the more you pile on your
schedule, the harder it is to concentrate on the
PL: How about the WPT – do you even play
those events anymore?
Phil: No, I'm one of those guys who refuses to
play on the World Poker Tour until they fix their
[legal] release. Along with Andy Bloch, Greg Raymer,
Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, we're all in the same
boat. What we're asking for is very reasonable
and no different from what we've asked for from
ESPN and Fox Sports Net…but the WPT, and
Steve Lipscomb in particular, have decided to
continue their arrogant ways. What can I say,
except for we would love to play at this point.
I have two WPT championships and I'd like to add
a few more, especially with the purses being as
high as they are these days. But I can't play.
It's not that I don't WANT to play, I simply CAN'T
play because the release they force me to sign
is illegal and if I sign it and play in the event,
all of my endorsees can pull their endorsement
money and sue me. So it's completely unreasonable
that the WPT asked us to sign that release.
I'm hoping they figure it out so we can come
back to the table and compete again.
PL: It'd be nice to see you guys back on the
show again, get some fresh faces…
Phil: Howard and I were just speaking the other
day about this and it's simply a case of legality.
We all have lawyers have looking at these things,
and it's sad, but we just can't play. We're sick
that we can't compete for these 6-7 million dollar
There was one instance in particular where Andy
Bloch sat down to play in a WPT event, was handed
the release, crossed out a lot of stuff that was
offensive, and they came and said you have to
get up and leave. He said, “No”, and
they said sign the release or we'll have you escorted
out by security. They strong-armed him into signing
I'm not playing until they fix the damn release
and give us one that's reasonable.
PL: So last year, you were on stage for the WSOP
press conference with legends like Crandall Arrington,
Jack Binion, and Doyle Brunson. How flattering
was it to be up there with those guys?
Phil: It was tremendously flattering. I've been
partners with Harrah's for a few years now and
they've been big supporters of my charity, the
Bad Beat on Cancer. Harrah's is very player-friendly,
they're very supportive of our program, and this
year's event is going to be bigger and better
PL: Now that you're pretty well-known in the
poker world, do you miss getting to go to Vegas
with the Tiltboys and having a good time without
Phil: Actually, since we haven't filmed shows
in awhile, it's not as bad to go out. When we
were in the middle of the Celebrity Poker Showdown
episodes it was tougher, but that's the price
you pay. I chose to go on TV and I knew that would
happen. You know, it's a flattering thing…it's
not something that ever becomes a bother. It's
not like I'm Ben Affleck walking through the casino
getting mobbed. Most of the people who come up
are very respectful, wish me well, and move on.
The explosion in poker over the last few years
has been incredible. Now instead of one $10K buy-in
tournament a year, there are 40. And that's a
very good thing for the professionals, so I don't
mind a little extra attention.
PL: So tell me it isn't true – Phil Gordon
Phil: Yes! I got engaged a week and a half ago,
and it's a great thing. I'm thrilled about it.
PL: Great, so who am I going to live vicariously
Phil: [laughs] Yeah, you're gonna have to move
all those thoughts over to Rafe [Furst]. You know,
actually, I need to send you over to Antonio [Esfandiari]
– he's the man. When I would hang out with
Antonio and see what kind of work he does, I realized
that at 35, I wasn't worthy anymore and it was
time to slow time. I found the exactly right perfect
girl – she's amazing. The only real downside
is that she's smarter than me [laughs]. I couldn't
be more thrilled.
PL: You basically traveled the world for 5 years,
seeing multiple countries – what did you
learn about yourself during that time, and what
was the most interesting place you visited?
Phil: Well, I try not to compare different places
to each other because they start to lose their
individual flare and what they have to offer.
But probably one of the more interesting months
was the time in Ethiopia. I went to a lot of places
there where the kids hadn't seen white people
before and it was a very interesting experience
that I'll never forget.
What I learned from a poker perspective on my
travels was patience – dealing with border
crossings, immigration, not being able to speak
the language. It's a very trying, arduous process
and I learned so much about cultures, interacting
with all types of people in all class levels and
learning what they do on a daily basis. If you
have a chance, it's something everyone should
PL: You followed that up with the big nation-wide
sporting event road trip, culminating right here
in Houston with the Super Bowl. That was no doubt
your favorite event, right??
Phil: I think the NCAA Final Four would be my
favorite. The Super Bowl is all hype, although
that one in Houston was a great game. But for
the most part that trip was more or less about
the trip itself and not about any individual sporting
event. We crossed the country in an RV and traveled
over forty-three thousand miles and spent more
on sports than I ever intend to spend again in
my life. But also saw parts of the county I never
intended to see and got to spend a year with my
best friend getting to know each other better.
There were challenges along the way, but most
of the time it was pure, unadulterated debauchery
and fun and by far the greatest sports trip in
When I look back on that year I think, “My
God, what were you thinking.” And then I
think, “My God, look what we did”
We put the video tapes in a vault and they are
not to be opened, especially with my pending wedding
[laughs], until my future son, not daughter, turns
18 and Rafe and I get together and show him what
life is all about.
PL: I watched that Final
Table Poker from Expert Insight, and in my
opinion, it is one of the most professionally-produced
videos out there.
Phil: Yes, I'm lucky to be partnered with some
world-class film makers. These guys produced a
bunch of featured movies, like Agent Cody Banks,
so they know what they're doing. This is not an
hour-long video of someone sitting at a poker
table talking to the camera. This looks just like
the WSOP or WPT, the only difference being that
you can only see my hole cards. It's a great experiential
piece of instruction that you can't get anywhere
else in the world.
PL: And your company also has a Blackjack DVD
Phil: It's out, and we also just filmed a video
on short-game golf with Jim Furyk and Fred Funk
as they're competing around greens at Sawgrass
TPC. Flop shots, bunker shots, wedge shots –
all kinds of cool stuff, and hearing their thoughts
as they compete against each other and set up
over their ball. It's a great way to improve your
game…those guys really know what they're
PL: Sounds excellent. We'll watch for that and
your new book in the Fall. See you at the World
You can play and learn from Phil at Full
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