Greg Raymer: The World Series of Poker and the Future of Professional Gambling

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Greg Raymer
2004 World Series of Poker Champion, Professional Poker Star
Wednesday, July 22, 2009; 11:30 AM

Greg Raymer, the champion of the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event and a professional poker star, was online Wednesday, July 22, at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss the recent 2009 World Series of Poker, his life in gambling, how the games are evolving and where he sees the sport going in the future.

Read more about Greg's career on his web site, Fossilman Poker.

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Washington, D.C.: Greg -- I saw you in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building yesterday morning. How would you characterize the meetings you had on Capitol Hill? I assume they were regarding internet gambling and UEIGA, right?

Greg Raymer: It is National Poker Week, and along with dozens of members of the PPA (Poker's Players Alliance) I am here in Washington talking to our members of Congress about changing the laws so as to protect instead of attempting to criminalize poker. So far I have personally met with nine members or their staff, and all seem to have gone quite well. We are very hopeful that we will get a resolution to these issues in the relatively near term. The best thing everybody can do is to support the Poker Players Alliance, and write to their members of Congress.

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washingtonpost.com: Poker Players Alliance

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Bethesda, Md.: You have always appeared to conduct yourself as a gentleman when playing poker, but you appear to be in the minority. The majority of players on TV act like jerks when either winning or losing. (And I am not just referring to "stars" such as Phil Helmuth or Mike Matasow.) Is it just that ESPN focuses on these idiots because it makes for good TV, or is that really the way it is in poker rooms these days? And if it is a way of life these days, why do you think that is?

Greg Raymer: As is true of most people in any walk of life, there are good guys and jerks in the poker world. As you suggest, sometimes the TV crews focus a bit too much on the jerks. The only real problem with this is that when new players watch this stuff on TV, they presume that this is acceptable behavior, and do the same when they visit a live cardroom. Fortunatley, most people are too nice to do this.

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Rockville, Md.: Greg,

First, I want to say that from what I've seen on TV, you have always played with class, whether you're winning or losing. That is one of the highest compliments I can give.

My question is this: You and Chris Moneymaker really brought the WSOP Main Event to the amateur poker player. In recent years, the top professional players have struggled to even make it to the final table, much less win it. I know that Phil Ivey is in the November 9 this year, so do you think he might be the first top pro to win in recent years? If not him, who do you think might be the next top pro (other than yourself, of course!)?

Greg Raymer: Actually, I was already a pro when I won the Main Event. I just wasn't a full-time pro, nor a pro you already knew from TV. Joe Hachem was also a pro, as was Peter Eastgate. So, if you just see the TV, you'd think that a long series of amateurs were winning, but actually most of us were pros. Only a small percentage of the pros out there are known from TV. Most of us play in anonymity, until that great day hits.

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Detroit, Mich: In online poker, do you play more cash tables, Multi Table Tournaments or Sit and Gos? And which ones do you find to be the most profitable?

Greg Raymer: I play a lot at PokerStars.com, and most of that time is spent on cash games, primarily triple draw lowball, stud hi-lo, badugi, and Omaha hi-lo. I do also play sngs (Sit and Gos) and tournaments, but not as often. Cash games, you can come and go when you please, but with a tournament, once you enter you're locked in to the end (hopefully). I travel so much that when I do get home, I don't like to tie up too much time away from my family. If I were single, I would probably play a lot more tournaments.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Greg

I've always wondered how folks who have been pro a long time feel about the spike in popularity this decade. Does having more amateur and relatively new poker players make it easier for long-time pros because the talent pool is diluted, or more difficult because the newer players play more erratically making more experienced players susceptible to bad beats?

Greg Raymer: I've been playing poker for 17 years, and I know that almost all of the old-time players like me love the spike in popularity. It does make it harder to finish first in the important tournaments, due to the large number of opponents you must get by. But, it also makes it much easier to beat the cash games, and even more important it makes it much easier to find a game, which is always the first step.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Greg:

I play in a regular 1/2 no limit hold 'em cash game, same cast of characters is there most weeks. Most are decent (or better) players. What's one bit of advice for succeeding at this sort of game that I will not find in poker books?

Thanks!

Greg Raymer: You will lots of great advice in some of the poker books out there. Hopefully I will finish my own book someday, but being pretty lazy, it is still a lot of work before it is done (if I do finish, it will be on tournament poker). There is no magic advice or secret I can share with you to beat this game. Do everything you can to learn and improve, and pay close attention to each of your opponents. Since you are all regulars, it is even more critical that you pick up on their tells, and hide your own.

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Irvine, Calif.: A bill has been submitted in California to allow intrastate online poker, which can be taxed.

Do you think that this bill will pass? Is it a good idea?

Greg Raymer: I don't follow California politics, so I have no idea how likely this is to pass. however, it should pass, as should any new legislation allowing American adults to play poker online or in a live casino. I am a Libertarian, and I believe that adults should be allowed to do anything they want with their own time and money unless they are directly harming another.

Let's hope all the politicians will learn that trying to enforce their personal morals on the rest of us is a huge mistake, and they stop trying.

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Austin, Tex.: Hi Greg,

In reading a lot of the updates from the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, I noticed a ton of pre-flop all-ins and calls, many times with mediocre hands, while the stack sizes were huge in comparison to blinds. Do you think this is because of a general lack of skill from amateur players? Or is there something else going on?

Greg Raymer: Of course, what you see get reported is a minority of the hands, and so the ones that get reported tend to be more newsworthy. Big pots played with mediocre cards are more interesting than small pots or ones played with good cards, so you're just seeing the crazy ones.

I actually believe that the skill level of the amateur players is going up tremendously nowadays. It is so much easier to learn how to play poker well than it used to be, and people are doing more to improve their game rather than just playing.

I myself work with the WSOP Academy teaching players in live poker camps around the country, as well as an online training site called ProPlayLive. These and other such resources just didn't exist five or more years ago, so the players are simply getting better.

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Madison, N.J.: Good morning. Thank you so much for all you are doing on behalf of the poker community.

Over the years I've heard many pro poker players complain that there is no way for a pro to win the World Series of Poker, now that the field has become so big and there are many amateurs who may be playing a poor game. I've even heard some suggest that there be a separate "Main Event" for pros only.

However, you were playing professional poker when you won, and now Phil Ivey and Jeff Schulman are at the final table (and the other players have some play behind them as well). What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that pros should play in a separate category? Do you think that having an open event is good or bad for the game?

Greg Raymer: I think it would be a horrible idea to try to separate pros from amateurs in any form of poker, tournament or cash games. The whole point of poker is that anybody with the buyin can step up to the table. We already have WSOP events with buyins so high that very few people will ever enter. These events will allow, and make it quite likely, that a "pro" player will win them. however, the Main Event, with its thousands of players, is still the one that crowns the World Champion. I don't think that should ever change.

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Baltimore, Md.: I am about to make the jump to playing poker as a profession and I'm wondering how you find yourself spending most of your time as a poker pro - playing cash games, playing in small or large tournaments, appeasing your sponsors, etc.? Do you have any advice you can offer me?

Greg Raymer: Best wishes in your career change. You are about to pursue a difficult path. Make sure you always guard your bankroll, it is your livelihood now.

There are all kinds of poker pros. Those who specialize in cash games, or tournaments, live or online, or a combination. Stick to what works best for you, but always be training to expand your repertoire. It is important that you be well rounded so you can always sit down and be a favorite in the softest game in the room, whatever type of game that may be.

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Virginia: Hi Greg,

Do you foresee any timetable for the repeal of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act?

Greg Raymer: Predicting this stuff is always tough, as politicians are difficult animals to deal with. Animal trainers have it much easier. But be sure that the Poker Players Alliance, its 51 State Directors, and its 1.2 million members are all working hard to make this happen. We are also working with many Members of Congress to get other legislation passed, bills that will specifically set up a scheme to license, regulate, and tax online poker. Visit theppa.org to learn more.

And be sure to write to your representatives in Congress, and inform them of your views, as this will go a long way to helping us win the fight.

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Those Glasses: OK, gotta' ask: What's the deal with the glasses? Where did those come from? I think they've delved into it during World Series of Poker telecasts in the past, but I can't remember the story for the life of me ...

Greg Raymer: I bought the glasses just before my first attempt at the WSOP Main Event in 2002. they were intended as a one-time gag, but teh guy freaked out so much that I kept wearing them afterwards. Before I won the ME, people found the glasses annoying, and therefore didn't want to play pots against me. I think I got a few more folds back then because of the glasses. That impact doesn't seem to exist anymore, so now I just wear them as a trademark, not becuase they give me an edge. You can also learn more at my website.

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Arlington, Va.: What is the influence of brick and mortar (non-online) casinos in online poker legislation? It seems to me they would have a direct interest in stopping it simply because that removes a strong competitor. On the other hand, it also helps promote the game. Where do they stand on this? Thanks.

Greg Raymer: Some of the live casinos support the effort to specifically legalize and regulate online poker, while others oppose it. From my point of view, those who oppose are ignorant. History has shown that the more people play online poker, they more they want to play live poker as well. Live poker rooms have grown tremendously in the 5 years of the poker boom, and a lot of that growth is attributable to the presence of online poker to introduce new players to the game.

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Chicago: Thanks Greg for taking the time to chat with us.

Do you find it easier or harder to get through tournaments as a recognizable player? On the one hand I would think you would get the respect of many players and they would lay down good hands, but I would imagine that there are another group of players that would play any two cards just to take you down.

Greg Raymer: My pleasure.

You are right, it goes both ways. I occasionally run into an opponent who is too scared to play his best game against me, but more often there are players who do unexpected things because I am their opponent in the hand. Overall, I would say it is now a bit tougher to win than it was before.

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Washington, D.C.: How important do you think it is to trademark yourself as a celebrity within the game? Do you feel like poker celebrity is still evolving, whereas there's a more distinct route to achieving it in other sports?

Greg Raymer: If you're playing poker as a full-time job, then branding yourself as a celebrity is pretty important. A lot of my income results from my representation of PokerStars.com, and if I were not a recognizable poker player to the general public, then PokerStars would not be so interested in paying me to represent their site.

Celebrity related issues are definitely still evolving in the poker world. Things have changed a lot since I won the 2004, and I expect more change going forward. Being such a new phenomenon, I do assume that things are changing more for poker pros than for pros in other sports. but change is part of life in all respects, so you just have to change with it.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you find more difficult, playing online or playing in person? Why?

Greg Raymer: Both are easy, and both are difficult. Poker is an easy game to learn how to play, but a difficult game to learn to play well. This applies to live and online equally. While many of the skills that are needed for one are needed for the other, some skills are different, and some are more important in one or the other.

For me, my edge is probably larger in live games, because I tend to be better than most of my opponents are hiding my tells and reading their tells.

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Arlington, Va.: Not long ago, in the news, there was an article about how someone had managed to cheat on one of the big online poker sites (I forget which one). As I recall the report, the outfit ultimately corrected the situation. And it got caught only by vigilant users who got info themselves and made the web site deal with it.

That's scary, because who knows how much of that is going on elsewhere, and we don't know about it? What do you think about how fair online poker playing is, even if the people operating it don't mean to cheat you?

Greg Raymer: I think that the online poker games out there now are very fair, and very safe from cheating. however, this is one of the most important reasons that congress needs to pass some of the legislation the PPA is pushing to license and regulate online poker. The sites are regulated today, but I think most of us would feel safer is that regulation was being done by an agency of the U.S. government. This way we can go from safe to safer.

If you would like to help, please visit www.theppa.org and learn how to write your members of Congress, and get involved in other ways as well.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Greg,

Do you think internet poker can be more addictive than live poker? From my experience, it is much easier to not connect the chips on the monitor to actual money like in live play.

Greg Raymer: I don't think either form is more or less addictive. In fact, I don't think either is addictive at all. I think that some people are predisposed to addictive behavior, and that poker is just one of many, many things that these people might focus their addictive behavior upon.

the fact taht some people have addictions and might hurt themselves playing poker should not mean that poker is not available to the rest of us. If we're going to take the opposite view, then all forms of gaming, as well as shopping, eating, drinking, and hundreds of other activities, will also be necessary to remove to totally safeguard these individuals who lack control.

Personally, I don't believe it is the government's job to protect adults from themselves. It is their job to protect us from others who would seek to harm us, and to protect children. No more.

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Jumped the Shark: Less and less people ante up for the World Series of Poker.

The World Poker Tour is hardly on The Travel Channel anymore.

Is poker on the way down or has a correction occurred where casual players have tried poker and found how hard the game is to win?

Greg Raymer: Poker is not dying off at all, it is just growing at a slower pace than it was a few years ago. Poker on television is slowing down, with audiences not quite as high as they were in the peak years. However, poker on TV is still more popular than all but two or three of the major sports. You're not seeing the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel because they moved their shows to another network.

Saying that, it is hard to be a winning player, but that is because poker is a very complicated game, and the players are getting better and better.

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Los Angeles: Do you ever limp preflop? I don't like to, but in some of the games I play in (no-limit heads up, $50 buy in), if two or three people have limped in front of me, it is hard to resist, with almost any two cards. I'm a decent post-flop player and I figure my position will make this play work in the long run.

What do you think?

Greg Raymer: Your job when you play poker is to maximize your EV (expected value) on each hand you play. Often that means folding preflop. But sometimes it means limping in, and depending upon who your opponents are and how they play, it can often be correct to do so, especially after other players have already limped in front of you. If nobody has entered the pot, it is much less likely to be correct for you to limp, but it still is sometimes.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you remember the moment when it "clicked"; when you realized you could really compete against anyone in the world? Was it on a particular hand or did it come from winning a tournament?

Greg Raymer: Improving at poker is a gradual process, so there was no moment when all of a sudden I knew I had reached a certain level of skill where I was that good. I had slowly worked my way up from the smallest available games 17 years ago to some of the largest about 6 years ago. Along the way I won at cash games and tournaments, so I knew I had what it takes to be a pro. I just didn't quit my regular job as an attorney until I won the Main Event. While I knew I could make a living as a pro before then, I also knew I wasn't likely to make more moeny than my salary as an attorney.

After I won the WSOP, PokerStars offered me enough money to represent them that the decision to quit my regular job was very easy. And I'm glad I did, as poker is quite a bit more fun for me than lawyering.

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Carrollton, Texas: Are any poker shows on TV carried live? It seems that everything I can watch is years old and repeated continually.

Greg Raymer: Last question, so first let me thank everybody for coming here and asking such great questions. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Sadly, almost none of what you can see on TV about poker is live. Poker tournaments tend to take a long time, and just how long is very unpredictable. As such, they are tough to show live, as the producers don't know how long it will take.

I have done live poker, and it was great. In England, I did a show called the British Poker Open. I first won my qualifying heat on live TV, and played really well in doing so. For the finals, I played pretty horribly, but did record one of my greatest ever suckouts. A guy had just won a huge pot to become the chip leader in a five-handed game. He then raised the next pot first to act, and I decided he was bluffing. I also decided if the next two players both folded, I was going to re-raise all-in from the small blind, no matter what cards I was holding. They folded, I looked at Q-8 offsuit, and went all-in. All I was worried about was the guy in the big blind, as I knew that if he found a really strong hand, he would not fold. Well, he didn't fold, but went all-in himself, for a little more than I had in chips. I was very upset on the inside (but kept my poker face), as I knew there had been only about a five-percent chance he would find a strong enough hand to play.

Now, to make things worse, I was wrong about the chip leader. He wasn't immediately folding as I expected, but thinking about what to do. Finally, he said I can't fold, and called with two Queens!! I was in horrible shape, but the cards were dealt out with a Jack and Ten on the flop, and a 9 on the turn, giving me a straight to win a huge pot and take over the chip lead.

Sadly, I kept playing poorly, and failed to win.

Have a great day everybody!!

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