Tom McEvoy Interview With Woo

Written by:
Jenny Woo
Published on:

I had the chance to sit down with a man that some consider a legend in the game of poker.  Tom McEvoy's start in poker happened shortly after guys like Doyle Brunson and "Amarillo Slim" Preston were making big names for themselves.  In our interview we discussed his love for the game and also what it would mean to him if he were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

JENNY:  What biggest changes have you seen over the many years that you've been playing poker?

TOM:  Well it's like night and day from my start in my professional career 30 years ago.  When I first started out, playing poker professionally wasn't exactly considered a proper profession. I moved here from Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is a very conservative city in the mid-west.  When I moved here from there, Las Vegas was much of a smaller city back then; poker was not considered mainstream at all by any stretch of the imagination and there were relatively a few poker rooms in Las Vegas.  In fact, when I first moved here not every casino had poker rooms like they do now.  The ones that did were very small and nothing like the mega rooms we got around town.  Los Angeles as a poker community didn't even exist except for draw games in Gardena.  It was a totally different era when I started as a professional.  I actually came on the scene several years after Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim.  People like "Sailor" Roberts and Johnny Moss were kind of banding together and beating up the game in the Southwest - places like Texas, Oklahoma, etc.  I was never a road gambler like these guys were.  I came after they did and I never really been any place else besides Grand Rapids, Michigan and Las Vegas, NV.  But the growth of poker has just been phenomenal (haha).  Never in my wildest imagination would I have dreamed that it turned out the way it did. 

JENNY:  Since you mentioned Doyle Brunson - I had the chance to interview him a while ago and he told me that he would have to carry a gun with him whenever he'd go to certain poker rooms for protection.  Things were a lot different back then.  Have you had any similar experiences?

TOM:  No.  Never.  (Haha)  I never played in the dingy, backbones, smoke filled rooms where people were carrying weapons.  No I never did that.  But that was one of the problems with the road gamblers back then - they had to worry about getting robbed.  Doyle Brunson himself saw people right next to him getting their brains blown out. 

JENNY:  Are you surprised that poker is now considered a sport?

TOM:  I always considered poker a mental sport not a physical sport.  Although, when you're playing excessively for long hours it can become physical.  That's why one of the reasons - I think - some of the younger players have done well in the last years of the World Series is that their stamina is a little better than some of the older players.  That doesn't mean that one of the older players cannot win again.  It's just that the stamina factor when they play in a tournament goes on and on and on.  Like the World Series main event, stamina definitely becomes a factor; it makes it a little tougher for the older guys.  I think that having the days off here and there help level the playing field in that area.  And of course, the older players have far more experience.

JENNY:  Do you think it's possible for someone to win consecutive WSOP's these days?

TOM:  I think that it's virtually impossible.  With this massive field, the luck factor is so high that it's virtually - to me - inconceivable for someone to win it twice; especially back-to-back years.  However, it does seem - what I've noticed - when a player wins one year that there are many times the very next year he seems to make a deep run at it.  It certainly was the case with Raymer.  It wasn't necessarily the case with Moneymaker but a few of the other players have done something similar on whether they made a serious run at it - even Joe Hachem this year.  The year that Jamie Gold won, I think he got Aces cracked; he made the money; he was in the top 250 players or so the very next year.  So he made a deep run at it.  And of course after the year that Raymer won, he wound up something like 25th.  But that just shows you something - how heavy that luck factor is in these games.  It's just extremely difficult to wade through that field even once.  To me, getting to the final table is like a once in a lifetime experience with these guy's fields.  To win it again - of course it's possible but don't hold your breath.  (Haha)

JENNY:  (Haha) Well you are a player that people have looked up to.  Do you see any players out there that people should keep their eye on?  Maybe even upcoming players that aren't necessarily in the spotlight just yet?

TOM:  There are all kinds of people out there that are kind of unsung heroes as far as the poker community goes that you haven't heard of and you may never hear of them.  There are others that will make a big breakthrough at some point and hear plenty about them.  It's kind of hard to say but there's plenty of talent out there especially all these internet players that have established themselves as topnotch competitors.  You're going to see people cracking through every year.  One thing that I'm pleasantly surprised at is Jeffrey Lisandro at the World Series because he's one of the older players.  He's been around a long time but his year was just phenomenal by winning three bracelets.  My God the chances of that happening for anybody are extremely remote.  There's plenty of talent out there in different age brackets and I wouldn't be surprised if a total unknown won the World Series again this year.  Although, I see Phil Ivey going into 3rd in the chip count; he's had a phenomenal World Series and he's a fantastic player.  So the odds against a known name professional are against that happening every year because the sheer size of it.  But you're going to see somebody you may not expect to make a serious run at it because of the sheer size of the field.  So I expect to see a professional winning it again at some point.  It could happen this year.  But most of the players that I've looked at - some of them are professional players but I don't know their names just because they're internet players or haven't had a lot of the tournament success.  People can be very successful in the cash games and not too many people know about it.  Whereas, everybody seems to know about it if you win a tournament because of the publicity and the write-ups with Card Player and other magazines.  That's the difference.

JENNY: You won the first ever WSOP Champions Invitational last month in which had to have been a great moment for you.  How was that experience?  And how was your experience at this year's WSOP overall?

TOM:  I love the World Series of Poker.  (Haha)  I look forward to it win or lose every year.  All together counting the main event - I played 12 events - not counting the invitational.  I didn't do as well as I wanted.  I went deep in one of them and I finished 53rd out of 1656 in one of the $2000 No-Limit.  I made the second day several times in some of the other events.  I actually had a lot of chips.  I played the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold'em event - I was something like 16th in the chip count going into day 2 and I didn't win a pot; literally did not win a hand on day 2.  I wound up getting the nuts cracked (haha) in a $200,000 pot and getting eliminated - of course on the river - naturally.  I was close but no cigar several times.  Which is always frustrating but what are you going to do. 

JENNY:  Of course.  But hey there's always next year.

TOM:  That's right.

JENNY: What is your opinion on the WSOP changes that were made last year with the delay of the final table?

TOM:  If I were one of the finalists, I would love it because you have plenty of time to make deals and arrangements.  Stuff like that.  Where you have a chance get some sponsorships; there are all kinds of good things that can happen to you if you're fortunate enough to make that last table.  Let's face it - if you've blasted your way through the crowd that long - you've got to be a little bit fatigued.  I would kind of welcome the break.  Plus, they're guaranteeing everybody at least a million dollars at the last table this year; which I think is a good thing.  I think whoever gets through that field deserves that much money.  They're not going away empty handed.  So I would love it.  To me, I think it would be a great opportunity.

JENNY: Not only are you a player but you're a successful poker author as well.  What key advice can you give someone who's just getting their start in poker?

TOM:  Don't quit your day job.  (haha)  I'll also say this much - if they're going to school - don't quit.  Get that degree; have something to fall back on because there are a lot of fluctuations in the game.  Time and again I see young players have one huge tournament success and maybe even win a million dollar score and then they're broke.  Six months later they're scratching their head wondering what the hell happened.  Well, what happened is that they overrated themselves as a player.  Results from one tournament do not indicate your overall abilities.  They may have just run well in that tournament.  So a lot of times they just don't use good money management or no money management.  One of the finalists from last year's World Series, I heard he basically blew all his money in cash games and is broke already.  Well that's ridiculous.  What are they thinking?  They're not thinking.  Nobody should be going through that kind of money that fast.  There's just no logic to it whatsoever but that's what happens.  When they're younger, they think they're bullet proof.  They're wrong.  I guess that's why some of the older players are a little more sensible and maybe even almost fearful.  We know how tough it is and we're not as reckless with money like some of these younger guys are.  (Haha)

JENNY:  Do you play a lot online?

TOM:  I do play everyday on PokerStars.

JENNY:  What's your game of choice online and in live tournaments?  And what do you consider is your style of play?

TOM:   I've always called my style of play selectively aggressive.  I jump around a lot with a lot of games.  My favorite game is Pot Limit Omaha Hi and 30/60 Razz.  I play a lot of both.  But I jump around and play a lot of different games.  I don't restrict myself to one or two different types of games. 

JENNY:  Do you see online gaming being legal in the U.S. in the not so distant future?  Do you see it being regulated?

TOM:  Of course I do.  I think the U.S. government is ridiculous trying to criminalize online poker.  It's stupid beyond belief.  They're looking for revenues and these online sites are literally begging the U.S. government - "Please tax us and regulate us" - so they can operate legally inside the country.  All this money is going elsewhere.  It's stupid.  There's no sense to it.  It's like prohibition where they try to legislate morality; it doesn't work.  People have the right to do what they want with their own money inside their own homes.  There are all kinds of stupid arguments, "Well what about underage kids?"  There are ways to regulate and to monitor that for one thing.  They'd (the kids) literally have to talk the parents into signing up for them an account and then go through all kinds of stuff to get their parents to let them play (haha).  I mean that's easier said than done.  I think it's stupid and absolutely ridiculous that people can't play online poker in the comfort of their home without going through all kinds of bullsh** and grief.  Tax and regulate it and make it legal.

JENNY:  What's next for you?  Are you in more tournaments?  Are you going take a little time off? 

TOM:  Time off.  I've been voted in as a candidate for the Hall of Fame.  Now there's a step two process, which means certain writers that cover the poker scene as well as living Hall of Fame members do a vote.  Then it goes to another further step after that.  It goes to a committee of Harrah's executives and they make that kind of final determination.  This is extremely important to me.  It would be - as I call it - the frosting on the cake of my poker career.  I have openly asked people to support me.  That's something that I've never really done before.  It's kind of a new experience for me to ask people to vote for me.  I take nothing for granted.  It's certainly what I want the most right now.  I can't think of a higher honor for me as a poker player to be inducted.  It really would be the ultimate for me as a professional player to actually win it and get the induction.  I certainly feel like I deserve it.  I've had a lifetime of accomplishments - I'm not talking about as a player.  In fact, some of my proudest accomplishments had nothing to do with being a player.  I helped get the World Series of Poker go non-smoking in 2002.  In 1999, I hosted the first non-smoking tournament in Nevada history.  I did things like that.  In fact, a guy came up to me during the tournament and shook my hand - this is when they were still balloting nominations for the Hall of Fame - and said, "I want to thank you for your proudest poker accomplishment.  Do you know what it is?"  And I said, "I sure do.  It was getting the World Series itself to go non-smoking."  (Haha)

JENNY:  Well it's great that people are noticing and go out of their way to shake your hand to thank you.

TOM:  See a lot of these younger players don't even know that in the not too distant past that people could smoke at the table.  It was awful.  Players used to go to the Horseshoe and would have to choose to not play or to put up with it.  People were getting sick all the time.  In fact, they would have a name for it because they would have sore throats - they'd call it the horseshoe crud.  (Haha)  That's how bad it was.  We laugh at it now but it wasn't so funny back then.  I quit four games because of people smoking - especially when I was in the middle of two smokers.  It was just awful.  Even the smokers admitted they preferred the cleaner air because that's how bad it was.  We're not talking accent history here.  Players have it very good these days compared to the way it was.  But poker is out of the back room now.  This is a whole different age and era.  It's not considered unrespectable anymore.  It's just the opposite.  People love the idea of potentially being a professional poker player.  However, it's not as easy as people like to think it is.  It's not all it's cracked up to be.  (Haha)  I call it a tough way to make an easy living - that's for darn sure.  But it's got a lot of rewards.  There's a lot of personal freedom and I wouldn't have it any other way.  I love it!  After all these years, I've been a professional player for 30 years and I still love it.  I wouldn't want to really do anything else.  Especially during tournament time - I love tournaments.

JENNY:  Okay.  Well let me ask you this.  If you ever get to that point where it's just not as fun as it is now - will you call it quits?  Or would you wait, hope for your second wind, and stay in it?

TOM:  Let me put it this way, one time in the early 1990's I was only married one time in my life and I went through a divorce.  I was broke at the time; it was like one of worst times of my life, I couldn't do much at the poker table and I was trying to figure out what should I do next.  I actually considered leaving poker and doing something else with my life.  And then I realized that this was not what I wanted.  I just basically knuckled down and rededicated myself to poker.  I don't have to play anymore.  I hate to admit it but I'm going to be collecting social security in November (haha).  I'm sixty-five in November.  I haven't applied for it yet but I will.  (Haha)  So I'll have some money coming in.  I don't have any debts.  I've been very careful with my money; it wasn't always that way but it is now.  I own two houses out right, no mortgages.  So I'm pretty okay financially.  I'm not - what do you call it?

JENNY:  Rollin in the dough.  (haha)

TOM:  Yeah. (Haha)  But I'm okay.  With that being said, I don't have as much pressure on me as these young guys and I don't miss going broke.  Never.  Ever.  I'll never take the kind of risks that some of these guys take and think nothing of it.  I spent a lot of my life without any money and it's not much fun (haha).  I don't ever want to go through that again. 

JENNY:  I wouldn't either.  There are a lot of people out there struggling right now in the economy.  It's something you learn and hopefully never have to experience again.

TOM:  No.  Even with the bad economy I thought I had what was safe investments with Citibank, Bank of America (haha) Goldman Sachs, some bonds and stuff that I could possibly ever lose money on.  I use to say, "Well if these companies ever tank then I know the whole country is in trouble."  And guess what?  (Haha)  The whole country is in trouble.  That's one prophecy that I didn't want to see fulfilled - I assure you.  So I sold what I had in the market and just got out with fully intending to never ever buy another stock or bond for the rest of my life.  It's not like I had all my money tied up in it.  Of course, when I bought my second house the real estate market was much higher.  So I bought at the top of the market and of course right after that everything tumbled.  But I wasn't in it for the short run.  I wanted a long-term investment.  I've been more careful with my money and I can weather the storm better than a lot of the poker players.  A lot of them have had these big scores - like I said - that I have not had.  I haven't had a million dollar score.  I've had several in the six figure range over the coarse of my career but nothing like what people make nowadays when they win the World Series event and you get instant fame and fortune.  Even back in the day when I won, I knew it was going to change my life forever and it did more so than I could imagine.  But that was a totally different era than it is now.  It changed my life back then.  Now when these guys are fortunate enough to even just hit the last table, it will dramatically change their life forever.  I laugh when Chris Moneymaker won in 2003.  He went back to his accounting job and he realized that things were never going to go back to the way they were. (Haha)  And why would you want them to.

JENNY:  I thank you for taking the time to sit down with me.  I really enjoyed our conversation.  I look forward in hopefully seeing your induction into the Hall of Fame.

TOM:  No problem at all.  Thank you.  I enjoy these interviews.  I don't take anything for granted.  If I were fortunate enough to be inducted it would certainly be really the highlight of my poker career other than winning the main event itself.  It's that important to me. 

Jenny Woo, Gambling911.com Senior Correspondent


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