Phil Galfond talks exclusively to us about Isildur and ‘that slide’ in his house!

After taking some time off, Phil ‘OMGClayAiken’ Galfond is itching to get back into action…

You’ve been pretty quiet recently – what’s been happening?

I’ve been doing a lot of things away from poker and spending time with friends and family. I’ve also been getting involved behind the scenes with Bluefire Poker (Galfond’s online training site). I think the past six months have been pretty slow for me in terms of playing hands. I do think it will pick up in the next few months.

You had a slide constructed in your New York home. Is that as fun as it sounds?

People make fun of me but it’s a lot scarier than I expected it to be. It’s two storeys and it’s really fast! It lets you off in the living room in front of the TV. You have to be careful about how you land, though, because if you wear socks you slide, and there’s a counter not too far away. I’m pretty careful about it and I warn people not to go down with socks on. Tom Dwan actually came over and made so much fun of me for wanting to slow it down. The first time he went down he landed on his ass, hurt himself a lot, and said, ‘Okay, maybe you should slow it down.’

You’ve been railing the online nosebleed stakes tables – what’s it like watching from the sidelines?

The huge matches with Isildur have slowed down somewhat, but it does make me want to get involved!

(Editor’s note: since this interview took place, Galfond has won approximately $1.6m from Isildur in a series of heads-up matches)

What’s your take on Isildur? Did he come out of nowhere?

People seem to have theories about who he is, but no one I know seems to know for sure. As far as Full Tilt goes, he came out of nowhere. He was probably playing on other sites because you don’t just show up with $1m. I’ve played him a bit and watched him a lot. I think he’s a great player. I don’t think you can read too much into him winning $6m and then losing it all because of the stakes he was playing and the calibre of player he was up against. It’s going to make for huge swings.

Is it naive to suggest that he should have quit while he was ahead?

It depends on what he’s looking to get out of poker. If he really loves the swings and the competition of playing the best in the world, then he was doing exactly what he should have been doing – as long as he’s willing to accept that the swings of $6m either way are possible. A lot of people might say that when they got to $6m they would just take that and sit on it, but I think for him to get to that point in the first place is an indication that he didn’t have that kind of mentality.

When you rail these games, is it a popcorn moment for you?

Usually no, but I did enjoying sitting back and watching the matches between Isildur and Tom Dwan. When I watch the games it’s usually to study. It’s fun, but I’m normally paying attention to what people are doing, especially when I’m railing the 7-Game tables. It’s useful to learn what the best players are doing, why they’re doing something, and why I should be doing it.

Is there anything that stands out when you watch Isildur vs durrrr-type games?

There were rarely times where I would see hands at showdown and think, ‘What were they thinking?’ For the most part their plays made sense to me in terms of what their motivations were and what they were trying to do. As far as an overall game plan goes, there were a lot of things they were doing that a lot of people don’t do – that I don’t do.

Isildur had been overbetting a lot more on all streets – more than most people. It was interesting to see them adjust to each other’s preflop strategies. I think they varied a lot as their stacks got deeper – 300 big blinds as opposed to 100. Also, durrrr started checking back a ton of flops, way more than I’d ever seen, and he already checks back more than most people. I’m not even sure what his motivation to do that was. I’m sure that he thinks it was causing Isildur to make mistakes. I’m still trying to work out why he was doing that.

Could you have won a similar amount from Isildur that Brian Hastings did?

Yeah, I definitely think so. That’s not to say that Brian Hastings isn’t an excellent player but I think that with the stakes of the match, a lot of people could have done that. As a poker player you learn to look at things in terms of expected value and be less results-oriented, but it’s a little disappointing to know that’s a situation I could have been in.

On your blog you said you felt a tad jealous…

Yeah, I think it’s natural, but at the same time I’m friends with Brian Hastings and genuinely happy for him. He’ll probably remember that session for the rest of his life.

What’s your take on Hastings, Cole South and Brian Townsend sharing some of Isildur’s hand histories?

I don’t think they were doing anything wrong and I don’t think ethically there’s any difference between that and talking strategy. You can talk about strategy without giving someone a hand history. I think that it’s unfortunate that people are stuck on a couple of words of fine print. I don’t know Full Tilt’s motivations for that rule – I’m sure the site has a good reason for it. Sharing hand histories probably puts the casual player at a disadvantage. I think as long as the guy’s money doesn’t get taken away, it’s not a big deal.

You’re playing at relatively low stakes at the moment aren’t you?

Yeah, mostly $25/$50 through $100/$200, for a few reasons. First of all I went on a bit of a downswing, and when that happens you’re probably not going to be playing your best.
In addition to that, there haven’t been a lot of games running. If I wanted to play high stakes right now, I’d probably be playing $2,000/$4,000 7-Game, which is not a game I’m that good at. 

Would you be happy playing at the [$25/$50 to $100/$200 levels] for the rest of your poker career?

Financially, yes. But I think at some point there’d be some ego and pride involved, especially given that I’ve played the biggest games against all the big names out there. It’s something I want to do but I don’t want to rush. It takes a lot of confidence to play high stakes, and among the [top] players I have less ego than most, but not less than everyone. Hac ‘trex313’ Dang probably has the least ego of anyone I know in poker.

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