Phil Gordon explains he’s only in the poker business for the challenge – and the tutoring
Phil Gordon lives a life of superlatives. He’s the best-known poker presenter on American TV, having just announced his departure after fronting 42 editions of Celebrity Poker Showdown, was the richest pro before going into poker (an IT company he helped to found was sold for $96 million), and of the top 200 players is the one most dedicated to charity – he’s pledged to raise a million dollars this year alone for the organisation he founded, Bad Beat on Cancer (BBoC). Probably the tallest player at 6’9’, Gordon is also almost certainly the most-travelled, having toured the world in a four-year saga.
He’s also surely the most eligible bachelor in the game. The 42-year-old has never been married and still lives alone in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, where we meet at his local card-room, the Green Valley Ranch Station. ‘I’ve been dating the same girl for a couple of years now. I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about her moving in, but I hope she will,’ he confides. So with success like his, how come he’s still not settled down?
‘Being on the poker circuit is a very difficult life. It keeps you away from your friends and family and other people you care about. And even if you are a great player, when you enter a 500-person tournament you’re only going to win one time out of about 150. That can be very frustrating and lead to unresolved tensions.’
That sounds like a polite way of saying he hasn’t always been the easiest person to be around. But given the life he now leads, maybe that’s only too understandable. Gordon hit the poker limelight back in 2001 with a fourth-placed finish in the main event at the WSOP, and since then has taken home over $1m in tournament winnings, including the Bay 101 Shooting Stars title and four more final-table appearances at the WSOP. It could take some poker players a lifetime to achieve that kind of success. Then again, Gordon has always been something of a fast starter.
Fast-track to success
He graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in computer science aged just 20, after winning a scholarship at the tender age of 15. Two years after graduation he joined a start-up technology firm, Netsys. He was their first employee, and three years later when the firm was bought out for $95m he became a millionaire. Just how much he made from the deal has never been disclosed, but it was enough to fund him on a four-year, round-the-world trek taking him to 50 countries on six continents.
He returned home in 2001 but soon found himself getting itchy feet again, so in 2003 he embarked on another epic trek with his friend and fellow poker pro Rafe Furst. They toured the country in a mobile home, visiting 140 major sports events in a trip designed to raise money for a cancer charity, which his great aunt died of in 2002.
It’s an area Gordon spends a great deal of time on, and for a fee of $500 that goes to BBoC, he’ll give you a telephone tutorial on hold’em (if you want to contribute to his charity and learn at the same time, go to www.badbeatoncancer.org).
‘I advocate extreme aggression, but I temper that with common sense. Knowing when to fold is critical to success.’ A classic example of this was Gordon’s decision described in his Little Green Book to lay down pocket Kings pre-flop because he had a correct hunch that ‘Poker Brat’ Phil Hellmuth was holding pocket Aces. But Gordon’s game is all about aggression, as you’d expect for a man who says money isn’t an issue.
‘There are only two mistakes you can make at the poker table. The first is not putting chips in the pot when you have the best hand. And the second is putting chips in the pot when you have the worst hand. When you slowplay you’re making that first mistake. And you’re not giving your opponent the chance to make the second mistake.
‘Yes, it’s okay to slow-play ometimes, but you have to limit ow often you do to the number f times that you bet your really ad hands as well. If you check with your monsters you have to heck with your bad hands, too. et and make them guess whether you’ve got a good hand.’
Phil’s DVD, Final Table Poker, offers his running thoughts and assessments of a six-handed game with such luminaries as Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson. For a man advocating extreme aggression, I was struck by the caution he shows. Before watching this video, I’d have seen a raise when dealt 9-9 or A-10 suited, but he mucks both these hands and explains that this is bcause they are too easily dominated.
The ability to play with such seemingly casual aggression is perhaps a luxury that comes with wealth. Although Gordon makes a lot of money playing poker, cash is not among his priorities. ‘I have enough money: poker winnings are a bit like Monopoly money for me. The reason I play is that I like to challenge myself against the best in the world – and occasionally win.’
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