The first time I really got in touch with Gregory Paul Raymer was two, maybe three years before he won the World Series of Poker. Both he and I were fairly active on an Internet poker forum back then; in fact, he was one of the leading posters there at that time. He had started two threads about a couple of pot-limit Omaha hands he had played against some famous players at World Series side games, claiming these games were great, but still hinting some more information on how he had played those hands.
Knowing that my favorite game was potlimit Omaha, Greg actually sent me a PM (personal message), asking me to read his post and maybe comment on it. I replied to him by stating that in contrast to what most people believe, the real money is not to be made at these big events — neither in the tournaments nor in the side games they have over there. I wrote that these events suffer from two major drawbacks: They last relatively little time, and they attract the very best players in the world.
So, a true pro should probably not focus on these types of events, but rather try to find good and high-stakes games in his own neighborhood, where the opposition may be a lot weaker, and the games won’t be over in a week or two, but will last. This way, one may actually win a bit less money in the short run, but in the long run, this is definitely the best course of action, I argued, especially from a risk/reward point of view.
It is almost impossible to explain how silly I felt when not much later, Greg won the 2004 World Series, the biggest and most prestigious poker event in the world — for a first prize of $5 million.
ABOUT GREG “FOSSILMAN” RAYMER, WORLD CHAMPION
It’s the spring of 2005 now when Greg and I get together for this interview. Actually, it’s the first time we have ever met iin person. Raymer has benefited from his win not just because of his $5 million first prize; he has also been able to obtain a great sponsorship deal with PokerStars. In fact, it was PokerStars that asked Greg to come over to the place where we are now, Monte Carlo
, for the Grand Final of the European Poker Tour.
In addition to this deal, the 40-year-old American (who has been married to Cheryl for 10 years now; they have an 8-year-old daughter, Sophie) is also taking on some new things. Knowing that most people around the world know him as FossilMan (both because he collects fossils and because he actually wore fossil glasses when he won his title), he is trying to profit from this by manufacturing special sunglasses and maybe coming up with a special game or DVD, all in line with his fossil image.
As I am writing this, some of these new things may or may not be ready yet; if they are, you can definitely obtain them through Greg’s own site at www.fossilmanpoker.com. While some have claimed that Greg Raymer’s 2004 win may have been a fluke, it needs to be said that way before this event, he was already making good money at poker, mostly by playing in cash games. He was not a full-time pro at that time yet, because even though he was making good money playing, he still didn’t want to give up the financial security of his job in the biotechnology industry. He could be found in limit cash games as large as $150-$300 at that time, and was not afraid to participate in some large and dangerous big bet games. Plus, he had been participating in the WSOP main event every year since 2001. So, by no means was he just taking a shot at the “big one” — he had proven himself as an experienced and somewhat accomplished player long before he actually captured the title. Of course, right after his win, he could afford to give up his job to focus on new things, thereby profiting from his popularity and the (business) opportunities that this win had given him.
When we sat down for this interview right after his elimination from the EPT Grand Final, I asked him why he was visiting
Europe so often. After all, he had recently been spotted in London (for the Inside Edge Awards), in Paris (for the Euro Finals of Poker), and in Dublin, Copenhagen, and now Monte Carlo to play in some EPT tounaments knowing that quite a few Americans are a little reluctant to come over to Europe, what was the reason for him to come over on such a regular basis? Was it in order to take advantage of the (in general) lower level of play in Europe, maybe? “No,” Greg answered. “If actually there is a difference in skill level, I have not yet noticed it. Also, it’s not like Americans don’t want to come over, it is merely a question of risk and reward. Not many events in Europe have buy-ins of, say, €5,000 or so. Now, coming over for just one €1,500 or €2,000 event is simply not worth the while. Even if you are good enough to make an expected profit of about €4,000, and please note that not many players are this good, it still may not be worth the while because of all the traveling, the costs, the jet lag, and so on.
With all the big events in the U.S. nowadays, most Americans could probably find a much better and more profitable alternative at home. “For me, it’s a little different, though. Because PokerStars is a sponsor of the EPT, it is in their best interest to get me over here. And, of course, if it’s in their best interest, it is in my best interest, as well. Having said that, the strange thing is that ever since my World Series win, I have not booked any good tournament results at all. I still manage to hold my own in the cash games, for a large part making up the losses I have incurred in the tournaments, but it is nonetheless a rather strange phenomenon.
Every year since I started playing poker terpercaya , I have made good money, but it is strange that there’s always one aspect that is not going well, and right now it’s tournaments. Of course, with the swings and the large fields nowadays, this is normal, and, also, some people try to play me differently, knowing that I’m the world champion, but I still should be able to book some good tournament results sometime soon.
Immersed in conversation are (left to right) Padraig Parkinson,
Greg Raymer, Erik Sagstrom, Gus Hansen, and Xuyen Pham.
“Now, with regard to the fluke win, I have heard those comments, too. And, of course, for a large part, these comments are correct, as everyone needs to get lucky to win an event of this size — and it is entirely clear that I am not the best player in a field of more than 2,500 players, including the very best in the world. But I am definitely in the top 10 percent at almost any tournament I play, and with the massive field of the big one, I may even be in the top 2 percent or 3 percent. Don’t forget that I was doing well in poker way before my win, so it’s not like I had been nothing more than lucky. Also, just because I look funny at the table doesn’t mean my game is not at a very high level. For instance, I don’t wear my sunglasses just because I like fossils, or just because they look funny, but most of all because they make my opponents feel uncomfortable. Looking into my eyes when I’m wearing my glasses really makes some people physically ill, and this is of course a big edge for me.”
COPING WITH THE CHANGES
As we all know, poker has gone through some massive changes in recent years. Because of the growth of Internet poker and the popularity of poker on TV (especially in America, but more recently also in Europe), the fields at big events are much larger, and winning just one event is not just a major accomplishment, it may make a heck of a difference with regard to sponsorship, as well.
How has Greg coped with all the recent changes in his life? For instance, I was wondering, does the fact that one gets sponsored, with a large budget both to play and to travel, influence his general behavior, the pressure he feels, and perhaps his hunger? According to Greg, it all doesn’t make much difference. Whether you put up the tournament buy-ins all by yourself or have them paid for you is basically unimportant. It is all about equity; whoever makes the actual payment is irrelevant.
What has changed is that nowadays large groups of people tend to view him differently, and also play him differently. This often means they will try to avoid him because he’s the world champ, but just as often, it means people want to tangle with him, because they are basically in a win-win situation. If they win a big pot against him, they can say, “I busted the champ,” and if they lose a big one, they can say, “I got busted by the champ.” Either way looks pretty fine to some. But Greg’s hunger to perform has not been affected, he says, and with regard to the changes, most have been for the better, obviously. The only negative thing he can come up with is that his personal life may have suffered a little, because especially in the States, people tend to treat him as a Hollywood star, both at the tables as well as in his personal life — for instance, when he’s just walking down the street with his wife and kid.
Another recent change regarding actual play has occurred because most final tables nowadays are televised. Because most people want to look good on TV, they are reluctant to play any marginal hands, fearing they may look stupid in the eyes of those who are watching. Of course, the real superstars like Gus Hansen and Daniel Negreanu don’t care about that at all, and may in fact exploit this tendency of some of their opponents. But it is a significant change, nonetheless.
Anyway, when in this EPT Grand Final Greg busted out at the end of day one, I noticed that he seemed a little irritated, saying something along the lines of, “Hmm, putting in my money with the best hand, someone calling me as a big dog, yet still busting out — it’s not fair.”
So, when I sat down with him, I asked him if maybe he was agitated a little because of the person he lost the pot to, Tony G. — someone who is known to try to get his opponents off balance. But, according to Greg, this had nothing to do with it. He said: “Rolf, it may have seemed like I was agitated, but I was just a little disappointed, that’s all. The situation was this: With the blinds at €100-€200, Tony raised to €500 as the first one in. Despite the fact that he had been raising a lot, it seemed to me that he had a real hand now. I had €5,000 left, and because I had reason to believe that Tony could think I may have been steaming a little, I decided to move all in to €5,000 with my pocket kings, hoping and expecting to get called by a worse hand. And indeed he quickly called me with pocket tens, and by the way he acted, it was clear that he thought he had the best hand — until I showed him my kings, of course. Unfortunately, a 10 came to bust me out. So, yes, I was disappointed because it was a big event, and because I had set up Tony pretty well, but I was not irritated by him at all. He may have some sort of a reputation, but at my table, he was never out of line. Also, his table talk does serve a purpose: It is aimed at giving him an edge, and is nothing personal. “In fact, I appreciate the poker games in Europe a lot, and I like the way they are run. Usually, the structures are good and the facilities are great, as well. If there is a problem, it’s probably the venues. Often, there’s not much room for anyone, but, fortunately, most EPT events don’t have this problem.
“And with regard to the difference in skill level you mentioned, I honestly wouldn’t know. In tournaments, I think the level over here is pretty good. If there is a difference, it may be in the cash games — but I have not played enough of them to come up with a meaningful analysis.
I do remember one of the first hands I ever played in Europe, though, in a pot-limit Omaha game in Paris. The whole table limped, and I had simply checked from the big blind with four reasonably big cards. I then flopped top two pair plus a gutshotstraight draw. Everybody checked to the button, who bet the pot, and I decided to check-raise him the max, which made me almost all in. Anyway, it turned out that my opponent had quickly called my large check-raise while holding just top pair with three small kickers, for nothing more than one pair with no draw whatsoever — making him almost drawing dead!
Greg Raymer with Marcel Luske
(left) and Chris Ferguson (right)
While this was a pleasant introduction to poker in Europe (most of all because I won the hand), from what I’ve seen, this was clearly an exception, and the overall level of play seems rather decent to me. “You know, what a lot of people forget is that your own skill level doesn’t always matter that much. It is just as you have said yourself: It is your skill level relative to your opponents that counts. In limit hold’em at the higher limits, almost everybody plays fairly decently, while in $300-$600 high-low games, you will sometimes see some amazingly bad plays.
It is for this reason that limit hold’em and limit stud are possibly my least favorite games — simply because my opponents tend to play them better. At the same time, I know I have a good feel for games, and this has helped me a lot in my career. For instance, the first time I ever played triple-draw lowball, I immediately did very well, because I am able to quickly analyze what is needed to beat a game, and because some of my opponents played very poorly. “In poker, it is always important to realize how you compare to your opponents. This is also one of the recurring themes in my upcoming poker book.
Shortly after my World Series win, I was approached by Mason Malmuth to write a book about all the posts I have done over the years on his 2+2 forum. For some time, I was probably the leading poster on the tournament forums there, and I also did quite a bit of posting in the big-bet forum. These posts will now be compiled into one book that I hope will be a big success, and maybe serve the poker community as a whole.”
SOME FINAL WORDS
During our interview, three or four people had been waiting for us to finish, eager to get Greg’s autograph or to take some photos with him. In the meantime, Greg’s wife had called him on one or two occasions, and he had left some calls by others unanswered. In addition to that, he had another interview waiting and also had some sponsorship obligations to attend to. And this was just during an ordinary one-hour talk in Europe, where his fame is not yet the same as it is in the U.S. — and it was not after winning an event, but right after busting out. I guess I don’t even want to know how things are for him in the States, especially not immediately after winning a major title or after an appearance on one of the nationwide poker TV shows. Things must be truly hectic for him over there, now that everybody wants a piece of him, to talk to him, to approach him, and so on.
For just a few more months, Gregory Paul Raymer will remain the world’s best. After all, with an expected field of more than 5,000 entrants for the 2005 Series, the chances of him winning back-to-back are almost nonexistent, of course. Still, he will carry the title world champion with him for the rest of his life — and that is an accomplishment he can be very proud of.
Greg “FossilMan” Raymer was the winner of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event at the 2004 World Series of Poker. At Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas, there was a record field of 2,576 entrants, with Raymer coming out on top for a $5 million first prize. Greg can be contacted through his website, www.fossilmanpoker.com, where one can also get information regarding upcoming projects like his book and his special FossilMan glasses.