craps dealer back in the day, Blair Rodman decided
that over 20 years ago, he'd make gambling his
life. Poker, blackjack, craps, golf - he's done
it all. No stranger to a WPT final table, he's
recently co-authored "Kill Phil" with
Lee Nelson in an effort to give the inexperienced
player a greater edge in tournaments. Find out
what this seasoned pro and tournament expert thinks
about kids playing poker, the WSOP, and where
this game is (and should) be headed next.
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PL: So what's the quick history of Blair Rodman
in the poker world?
BR: Well, I've been doing this a long time. A
lot of the guys you see playing now are ones I
played with as a kid. The first time I came through
Vegas was in '76 and played a bit of 1-5 5-card
stud with a .10 ante. Then I came back in 1980,
and I spent a lot of time learning, reading, looking
for tough games where I could improve my play.
I'd stay up all night playing with the old props
at the Bengal Palace (sp?), and they were pretty
good, so I learned a lot doing that. Then if I
needed to make some money, I'd go find an easy
game. It's something I'd recommend to anyone with
aspirations of becoming a world-class player.
You need to get out there and play the tough games
to improve, but then you also need to survive
so I suggest you alternate between those and the
PL: It sounds like you've known for a long time
that this was the life for you…
BR: Yeah, pretty much [laughs]. I enjoy gambling
and the challenge. Since I've started with this
lifestyle, it's been pretty good to me. You know,
I tried a few other things, but I always knew
I'd end up back here.
PL: You mentioned that you read a lot of books
– which ones most influenced you?
BR: The first book I picked up was Theory of
Poker by David Sklansky, and I probably read it
twenty times before it finally sunk in and I had
that “aha!” moment. There are so many
concepts there, that once you get those and you
have the basics, then you can branch out from
that firm foundation. I recommend that everyone
read that book. It's the basics, and you don't
want to jump into high school without finishing
1 st grade.
From there, I just picked up some things here
and there. Every book has something of value.
Now, there are just so many books out there that
you have to be a lot more selective.
PL: You listed reading as one of your hobbies,
so did that influence your motivation to write
BR: I've had a few things in mind to write for
a few years, just a bunch of projects that got
sidetracked by Kill Phil. That book came about
when Lee Nelson went to Anthony Curtis, the publisher
for Huntington Press, well-known for its gambling
books. Anthony and I had been best friends for
25 years, so he came to be and said Lee wanted
to write a book and suggested I co-author it with
Lee. We got together to figure out what we were
going to write, and I wrote this great outline
about poker from a-z. Then when we started on
it, I realized just how long it was going to take,
and I didn't want it to get lost in this flood
of poker books that were about to come out.
So I came up with the Kill Phil idea, much like
Sklansky's idea, and we started talking about
it, and since the wave of the future is more and
more of these all-in type moves from players,
I said why don't we write about this? It'll be
something different, so we went from there.
David (Sklansky) came up with the idea originally,
and having played against players that use the
technique, it's easy to see how hard it can be
for a pro at times to handle it.
PL: Watching the WPT though, I notice you don't
use the Kill Phil technique yourself.
BR: No, I don't. I did learn a lot while writing
the book, though. I don't use it strictly –
early in tournaments, I'll play “small ball”,
chipping away at the other players' stacks through
small to medium pots. Those who use the Kill Phil
strategy fulltime will be relative newbies who
need a way to compete with the experienced players.
And if you really get into the book, there is
a lot of math behind the strategy that some of
the best players don't even get. They don't truly
understand the power of the all-in bet, especially
in the latter stages of tournaments. I've found
pieces of the strategy to incorporate into my
game. But if you're watching me and you say “he
doesn't play Kill Phil”, well no, I don't.
The better player you are, the more you want to
take advantage of your skill at the small ball
game against the newbies. Kill Phil is for those
newcomers looking for a way to compete against
PL: The reviewers seem to have a ‘love/hate'
relationship with the book…
BR: Well yes, they do. When the book first came
out, I expected a lot of opinions from both sides.
When it actually did release, we got a huge group
of supporters on our website's forum – people,
mostly newcomers, who said that this really helped
them improve their play and compete longer in
the tournaments. But we also heard from a lot
of experienced players who said that they finally
found something that clicked – that they've
been afraid to bust in tournaments, which hurts
their aggression and makes them scared to put
in their money…so this is what we needed
to get over that hump.
What Kill Phil really teaches is the value of
fearless aggression, which you absolutely need
to win tournaments. Just look at the WPT events.
They start slow, with lots of play, until you
make the final table when it becomes an all-in
crapfest. Which is ashame. I understand they need
to pay their camera crews and all that, but it
is ashame, because when it gets down to the big
money, you don't have really good poker any more.
I'm hoping the PPT's [professional poker tour]
structure will change that.
PL: It seems the Kill Phil style wouldn't work
as well online as it does in brick-and-mortar
casinos. Why do you think that is?
BR: You're right, and it's because people call
more online. It boggles my mind what they do!
People don't even bother to hesitate calling all-in
I actually talk a lot about this and the conclusion
I've come to is that online, you have to play
tighter, but play your bigger hands much stronger.
As far as Kill Phil goes, the strategy is constantly
changing – we update it on the website,
are coming up with a section called “Staying
Ahead of the Curve.” People are starting
to call more now, so the all-in move is losing
some of its power. And a lot of the tournaments
now are about getting your money in there and
winning a bunch of races.
PL: Do you think that the online style of play
can be attributed to people basically learning
BR: That is a lot of it, yes. They don't get
to see enough hands on TV, just the big ones.
Plus, online players just don't want to lay down
mediocre hands. The game is more of a trapping
game where you just wait to get paid off by your
I really only play online now when I'm bored
and feel like playing some poker. I write a lot,
update the website, and travel the tournament
circuit. I also gave up cash games about 4 years
ago, after 25 years of it. I made a decision to
focus on tournaments, and I'm happy I did, because
it's very difficult to do well in both. Different
strategies, plus as you get older, it's tough
to do them both.
PL: I noticed looking over your successes that
many are in the Pot Limit games. Do you think
it's a better game than NL?
BR: Oh absolutely. No-limit holdem takes some
skill, but not nearly the skill involved in PL,
since all of the real play happens after the flop.
Getting your money in pre-flop takes away so much
of the true game in both holdem and Omaha. As
a matter of fact, we recommend a structure of
pot-limit before the flop and no-limit after.
Only because I don't think TV will ever go for
a full pot-limit game. People love to see the
all-in move. It's taken over so much, that I call
it the “beast that's eaten poker”
because it's not really poker anymore, just no-limit
PL: We've heard many people call the WSOP the
“World Series of Holdem”…
BR: That's exactly right. I've been playing this
game for 25 years and I love the other games.
I NEVER played no-limit holdem. It just wasn't
spread until recent years when the big boom hit.
I think pot limit Omaha is about the best there
They've actually got it all backwards. At the
beginning of a tournament, when the stacks are
deep, that's great no-limit holdem. You can get
in there, make some moves, play deep after the
flop, etc. And it's fun! But when you get down
to the end, I think it would be better to play
Limit – there's a lot more strategy to think
about, the blinds are bigger, making things more
I don't really know where it's all going, but
I imagine NL is here to stay. Even though with
more and more players entering the game without
truly learning it, and just employing the ‘all-in'
move, the overall skill level is going down, which
is not a great thing.
PL: So are you excited about this year's first
$50K HORSE event at the WSOP?
BR: I am very excited about that one. I can't
wait for it, I think it's a great idea, but once
again, I think they've ruined it by making the
final table completely no-limit. Of course, they
figure no one wants to watch limit poker –
again, focusing too much on the TV angle. I think
it's terrible, no one's happy about it, but they
all understand why it's happening.
TV just doesn't understand. ESPN is worried because
rating have been going down lately, but maybe
they should stop to consider that the episodes
aren't as good. They're showing too much crap
like Jesus throwing cards into bananas…it's
just bullshit. People want to see poker.
It's very hard to figure out what drives good
TV. But I think what's happened is that people
started watching poker and loved anything they
could get. Then they started to play a little,
and watched a little less, and now are looking
for ways to improve their game – and not
just from watching final tables. They're not getting
any of that from television right now, and I think
the execs don't get that are afraid to change
anything that's worked in the past. So instead
of making smart adjustments, they just throw more
shows out there back-to-back-to-back to try and
keep people watching.
PL: Which do you prefer – the WPT or WSOP?
BR: You know, World Poker Tour events are very
fun to play. Making one of their final tables
is very exciting, and the production is better
than the WSOP – although the world series
bracelet holds a lot more prestige. I like the
WPT, I just wish they could slow it down some
at the end. They're all fun though – I'm
psyched up for the WSOP this year. I just spent
a week at a meditation/yoga retreat and am fully
charged for the run.
PL: Are you planning on playing every event?
BR: These long events are just grueling –
you really have to pace yourself, and I don't
have quite the stamina I used to. I played all
the events in 2004, made 3 final tables, got really
deep in the main event, and by the time I started
a late day with about 5-6 tables left, I was just
beat. You know, most everyone was in their 20's
and 30's and fired up. You really have to conserve
your energy and be careful.
PL: How do you feel about the WSOP of today vs.
days of old?
BR: Well it's nothing close to the same. When
I first started playing, there was one big event
a year- the world series. You showed up, everyone
knew you, they took care of you…it was great.
Now it's like the mom & pop store that grew
up to be Walmart. It's a total factory: get you
in, get you out, take all the money they can from
you, use you on TV. The players get absolutely
nothing from it all, and are probably getting
tired of it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited about the
world series of poker. What I'm not excited about
is how players are being treated. I just read
where ESPN is going to put the Main Event final
table on pay-per-view. That's great, but they're
still taking out millions from the prize pools
that players are all putting up. The food situation
is ridiculous, and what I really hate is playing
10-handed now. It's an insult. It's insane, and
just wears you down – it's crowded doing
that for 6 weeks, it changes the game by tightening
it up, and it's a different game now. Most player
hate it, but again, the players have no rights.
Do you know about the WPA? I support it full-heartily.
Jesse Jones is a great guy who's really looking
out for tournament players everywhere, so anyone
who hasn't joined, really needs to. The WPA is
working to create tournaments where the players
and casinos work together to come up with the
best structures for everyone. It's only $50 a
year, I think it's what we all need, and if this
doesn't work…then we're all in trouble.
PL: A lot of other pros talk about the old days
at the World Series, how it used to be a great
get-together, almost like a family reunion. Now
it's just all business…
BR: It's true, they've changed the nature of
everything. I said to Doyle, you know, we're all
ready to retire, enjoying poker and loving life,
and then boom – now we have to work hard,
make business deals, etc. It's really changed.
PL: Maybe the PPT will fix some of that…
BR: I'm excited about the PPT! I think it has
a chance to usher in a new era in the poker world,
and we're gonna find out if it works or not. People
love the high stakes poker and other shows, so
maybe this will take off.
A lot of the big name players who will be on
this are boycotting the WPT right now, but only
for their own good, not for the good of the game.
The WPA will address these sorts of issues.
PL: In your spare time, you're an avid golfer.
Who are the regulars in your group and what's
it like out there with the gamblers?
BR: Yes, I'd rather gamble on golf than play
poker. It's a great game and a lot of fun to gamble
on. If you sit around late night games, you'll
usually hear the talk turn mostly to golf and
setting up games for the next day. Mike Sexton
and Doyle are the regulars, plus Daniel, Ivey,
and E-dog are out there, but they usually don't
know what they're getting into (Mike and Doyle
are not great players, but they know how to setup
the bets). They're really into it.
Poker gets boring and tiresome being inside that
long. Golf is a way to get out and refresh away
from the table.
PL: How about other books – do you have
anything else in the works?
BR: I've wanted to write a golf novel for some
time now, so would like to get to that. I still
think there's room for other good poker books.
I've been writing tournament trip reports on our
forum and people really get into them, so I might
do something with that.
But you have limited amounts of time and energy,
so you have to have fun and take time for yourself…so
who knows what I'll get to next.
The other thing that I'm involved in and is about
to take a lot more of my time is the new Ultimate
Blackjack Tour. It's going to be a great thing
– we've had lots of poker players get involved.
I've played blackjack tournaments since the 80's
when I used to travel the circuit. Now they're
coming back in a big way and it's going to be
on CBS on Sundays right before NFL football. It's
going to be great and a lot of people are going
to want to get involved in that.
PL: How is that different from some of the GSN
BR: It's a different format. GSN's just isn't
that exciting. We filmed ours on a sound stage
and it's much more exciting in terms of structure.
There are elimination hands, secret hands, and
a lot of other things that should sway people
to watch it.
PL: Sounds interesting. Speaking of television,
what is your take on kids watching these shows
and getting ideas on becoming poker pros?
BR: I liken it to pro sports. A lot of kids and
young people have designs on going pro like the
ones on TV. Poker is not physical, but it does
take a lot of mental work, as well as a rare blend
of various attributes for one to become truly
great: discipline, math, the ability to handle
the swings, natural talent, creativity, and imagination.
If you can't think more than 2 levels deep into
the game, you're just not going to make it over
the long haul.
The problem with TV is that it doesn't show everything.
On the way to the final table, there is a lot
of luck and a lot of traps you have to get through.
Most of the real poker is played before the final
table, but all you see on TV are those huge all-in
hands at the end.
Making it big in poker today is tough. The sponsorships
are drying up, and without those, life on the
tournament circuit can get very expensive real
quickly. The rake is higher, the food is pricier,
making is harder to come out ahead at the end
of the year. So overall, I don't recommend anyone
go into it full time anymore. Have fun, learn
the game, and play some here and there.
PL: So by now, you're probably familiar with
our stock question: If you were Matt Damon in
BR: Oh, I think Damon didn't get with Famke because
he saw that episode of Nip and Tuck and knew she
was really a dude. Seriously though, as a poker
player, or any other profession, you must have
a supportive spouse/partner. So Matt's girlfriend
wouldn't have lasted long at all.
PL: Thanks for the time Blair, and best of luck
at the World Series!
You can get the latest on the Kill Phil strategy
and check out Blair's Blog at KillPhilPoker.com.
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