Poker Pro Greg Raymer Interview With Jenny Woo

Written by:
Jenny Woo
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Greg Raymer's Jenny Woo had an opportunity to sit down with poker player extraordinaire, Mr. Greg Raymer, just prior to his appearance in this past weekend's NBC National Heads Up Poker Challenge, due to air Mid April through Mid May (check your local listings). 

Raymer didn't get far in that event, but before you consider shedding a tear for the man, consider that he's won over $6 million in career live tournaments and this amount does not include online poker play.

He has 12 money finishes and 1 bracelet in the World Series of Poker.  Minot, North Dakota's own is best known for winning the 2004 World Series of Poker main event and for the opaque holographic sunglasses that he sometimes wears when playing the game. 


JENNY:  What was it that made you want to quit your job as a patent attorney and start playing poker for a living?

GREG:  When I won the World Series in 2004.  It made it very easy to quit because Pokerstars was offering me more money than Phizer to be a representative of the company.  Do I want to work a half time job and make more money or work a full time job?

JENNY:  Well would you ever go back to it?

GREG:  Haha.  I hope I don't ever have to and I do well in the poker world.

JENNY:  You seem like a good family man - did any of your family have any objections when you decided to get into the poker world?

GREG:  Well in some senses my wife would rather that I had my old job because that has me at home every night.  You know, 49-50 weeks out of the year I'm gone during the day but I'm home at night and home every weekend.  But she loves that I'm much happier as a poker pro.

JENNY:  Has your daughter shown any interest in poker?

GREG:  She use to play Heads Up, No Limit, and Five-card Stud when she was four and five years old.  She's twelve now and has zero interest in poker. 

JENNY:  Is she a girly girl?

GREG:  Very much a girly girl.  She loves to shop.  Loves couture.  She's a total girly girl.

JENNY:  Well I'm sure your winnings have helped in her shopping sprees.

GREG:  It hasn't helped me.  It helps for my wife.  My wife will maybe say yes a little more often because money isn't an issue.  Everyone thinks that my daughter has me wrapped around her little finger and it's just the opposite.  I'm the hard ass. 

JENNY:  Is she the only child?

GREG:  Yes.

JENNY:  I would have honestly thought that she would have been daddy's little girl.

GREG:  Well I'm happy to have her be daddy's little girl but I'm not going to buy her every stuffed toy she wants.  I don't think spending money helps.  It's giving her time and attention that's going to help more.  It's hard to avoid because we have a very nice lifestyle but getting her to understand the difference between her life and most people's lives.

JENNY:  I think that's a very good thing to instill in a young person.

JENNY:  I've asked most of the players this - what's your opinion on the changes that were made in the 2008 WSOP?

GREG:  There are a lot of pluses and minuses.  I think the biggest plus would be if we can figure out a way to do a live final table.  I think that will grab a lot more attention and would excite people more to know that they're seeing it and that it's not a done deal.  Sadly, I can't think a good way to make that practical.  When I won the main event in 2004, we started early afternoon and we were done in time that I was able to view all the post wins stuff.  I was able to do the interviews, all the photo opportunities and get up to my room for the eleven o'clock news to see what kind of coverage they had on it.  I saw myself on a couple of the network newscasts of the local news in Vegas.  Joe Hashem started probably about the same time I did and he didn't win until like seven a.m.  Clearly you're really not going to keep your audience for 16 hours or whatever it turned out to be.  The other way to guarantee a reasonable time period though is to have a kind of a crap shoot final table which forces the action to finish in a few hours and I would never want them to do that.  But I would love to watch it live myself.

JENNY:  There were some mixed feelings with some of the players at the final table.  It gave them a break to de-stress and do what they needed to do.  However, they said that the time period of the break was so long that they wanted to get it over with.  They thought the final of the final - the winner goes through it and continues to go through it however long it may be.  Do you agree with the break being too long?

GREG:  Well for my own personal benefit - if I make the final table again - I think the break would hurt my chances.  I think I'll have an advantage over my likely eight opponents if I make the table because I've been there and I don't need time to figure things out and to readjust my strategy and all that.  So for my own selfish perspective, I would rather do it right away..  I think overall, it helps most of the people because I think we'll probably remember the names of the guys who finished nine eight seven six from this year.  We'll remember them longer than the guys who finished in those positions in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.  I think it's beneficial for the players who don't win.  I doubt it makes a big difference.  I don't think Peter Eastgate will be more or less famous because of the delay.  If they're going to delay it like that than I'd rather them set it up live.  Actually, if you happen to have it live then give yourself enough time to do a really good job with doing the show.  I had been following the action online to some extent because I couldn't go to Vegas.  I was disappointed.  They played for 100-200 games in Heads Up or something, it was huge number, and they showed 2 of them on the TV show.  I think this was something where you could give us more content.  You can turn it into a longer show.  I would much rather see less of the early stuff and more of the final table stuff and that's the compromise that has to get made.  During the rerun potential for this stuff - I mean they've shown me that main event on one of the ESPN channels probably at lease 300 times.  If it cost them more money to produce an extra couple of hours, I'm confident that they'll get all that money back.  I think it does a little bit of a disservice to the players.  I mean the Heads Up players - when they show two hands that basically been about loss unsuccessfully.  It kind of makes them look like an idiot to some extent.  And obviously, if it took that long he couldn't of played that poorly as it appeared on TV.  And from what I read - from the people who were watching it live - it was very tough and it looked like a skillfully and contested match of Heads Up poker.  So I'd rather ESPN try to show all those details and treat it a little bit more like a sporting event and less like a reality show.

JENNY:  Does it surprise you that poker is now considered a sport?

GREG:  My personal definition of sport only encompasses games that include some physical component.  Even something like darts, is still primarily a physical game.  It may not be an athletic game but it is a physical game.  So I'm not requiring athleticism for someone to be a sportsman.  But I personally don't consider poker a sport.  However, I do think the audience that seems to enjoy poker the most is also the audience that enjoys watching physical sports.  Therefore, things like ESPN and Fox and Sports Network, those are very good networks to carry poker programming.  But I don't consider it a sport.  I sure don't consider myself an athlete.  I think when you get rid of the physical aspects of what makes sports great, poker fits in just as good or better than almost any sport in terms of things like the "never say die" attitude and "fight, fight, fight until the end".  In fact, that's even more true because if we're watching a golf tournament - I can fight, fight, fight, until the end but if Tiger Woods is ten strokes ahead of me and I've only got three holes left to play - I can't win.  It's become impossible especially if he's in the clubhouse ten strokes ahead of me.  Even if I get a hole in one - I mean I can get a hole in one on a par 5 and a par 4 and a par 3 and that wouldn't be enough.

JENNY:  Well I'll take your word on that.  My brother tried teaching me the game of golf and he gave up on me a long time ago.

GREG:  Anyone would understand that a hole in one is a very rare event.  A hole in one on a par 5 is almost unheard of.  If it's ever happened it's been some really strange par 5.  Referencing to a football game, there's five minutes left and you're fifty points behind - you can't score seven touchdowns and a field goal in five minutes.  It might be theoretically possible.  But with poker, if you've got a chip left there's always a chance that you're going to win the tournament no matter how short your stack is.  I think some of those things - some of those emotional and intellectual aspects of sport - they're more prominent and maybe more pure in poker then they are in these physical sports.  Maybe that's why people like it.  Also, they like the fact that Chris Moneymaker, who's just a regular guy, won so they think I can win too.  Of course, Chris seems like a regular guy but I've played with him a lot and he's got more natural talent for poker than 99.9% of the poker players. 

JENNY:  Obviously players need skill to succeed in the world of poker.  However, do you think there's a lot of luck involved as well or do you think it's all skill?

GREG:  It's really a question of the time frame.  In the short run it is all about luck.  In the long run it's all about skill.  The way I've talked about this is that I've developed some stuff for testimony in court proceedings and talking to Congress and the way I want to explain it to them is with a graph.  If you were to look at a graph, imagine that on the one axis, the bottom axis we have time in seconds, minutes, hours, months and years.  You've got time going out and then going up our graph only goes from zero to a hundred and it's the percent chance that the better player is ahead.  If we're looking at zero time then it's going to be fifty fifty because no time has past which means the contestants are still tied; whatever the contest is.  So your graph is always going to start at fifty percent and then as you play longer and longer whatever the game or sport it's going to get more and more close to a hundred percent certain that the better player is winning.  Now if we drew that graph for golf and you put me against a tour pro, it would curve up from fifty and it would hit and it would almost touch the infinite request to a hundred percent in a very short period of time.  And if I played one hole of golf against Tiger Woods there is a chance that I could beat him.  I'm not a great golfer - I'm a 16 handicap but when I play a round of golf I typically get one birdie per round.  Certainly I can birdie the hole just as long as he doesn't birdie every hole that he plays.  So even after we play one hole of golf which is about 15 minutes - he's not a hundred percent certain to be ahead.  After two holes I could get a birdie and a par and still be ahead of him.  But by the time we get out there to an hour or two hours it's gone from almost a hundred percent to completely a hundred percent certain that he's going to win.  The same thing is true in poker - it's going to go from zero to a hundred but instead of it being an hour or two - between me and a pro - if I played poker against Tiger Woods and I'm assuming that he's not good enough to be a pro at poker - it still may take several hours or even a day or two for it to be a hundred percent certain that I'm beating him.  But it's just as certain, it just may take a little longer to get there. In that sense, poker is as much of a game of skill as golf or football or basketball or any other sport or game you want to pick.  

JENNY:  Do you ever see yourself getting out of the poker circuit and trying your hand at something else?  Maybe golf?  Haha I know you said that you weren't that good but practice make perfect.  Right?  Haha

GREG:  (Haha) Well I'm 44 - I'd have to improve from a 16 handicap to a minus 3 or 4 to compete on the champion's tour.  So I'd have 6 years to improve about 20 strokes, which would be phenomenal..  Going from a 40 handicap to a 20 handicap is easily doable, but going from a 16 to a plus 4 is almost unheard of.  It's not that I'm not a long hitter but if I were a 16 handicap with a 300-yard drive I would have some chance.  However, a 16 handicap with a 230-yard drive has little chance.

JENNY:  Well at least you're honest about it.  (Haha)

GREG:  Yeah, I mean I could become a good golfer but nowhere near tour pro.  I know some tour pros, I've played golf with them and I've played with guys that are really really good.  You look at a guy who's a scratch golfer, who's really one of the best players in his club, maybe even the club champion and he's so much better than me that I've got no chance of ever beating him without the handicap; without me being given strokes.  Even for nine holes it would be almost impossible - one in a ten thousand chance - and that would be me playing the best nine holes of my life and him playing nine of his worst at the same time.  The difference between him and a tour pro is almost as good. 

JENNY:  Are you an emotional person on the golf course?  I never understood those guys that threw their golf club in the woods after a bad swing, etc.

GREG:  I have been.  (Haha)  I'm not so much anymore.

JENNY:  That's good to know.

GREG:  I can have a temper but my temper tends to be reserved for my mistake.  I only get made when I do something really stupid or if you do something that clearly is an intentional effort to harm me.  So when these guys tried to rob me at the Bellagio - I got mad - yes I got very mad.

JENNY:  I read about that.

GREG:  I had refused to go quietly into my room where they would have tied me up and then possibly killed me.  I figured once I was tied up and I've seen their faces already - if they decide to kill me then I'm a 100% dead.  There's really little chance that they're going to mess that up to the point where I could survive.  As I'm out here in the hallway - even if that guy uses that gun to shoot me, most gun shot victims will survive.  So unless this guy is going to shoot me and then stand over me and pump some bullets into my head vs he shoots me once, puts me down and runs away; that obviously sucks but I'm going to live at least some significant percentage of the time.  I decided staying in the hall and yelling for help and not cooperating was a higher chance of survival than cooperating with them.  And that was really all it came down to.  It was not that I was trying to protect the money I had on me.  I'm more likely to live out here even if this guy shoots me than I am to survive if I go into the room.

JENNY:  So you went into survival mode.

GREG:  That was my intention.  Now when they started running away - that's where the adrenaline and anger kicked in because I started chasing them for about three or four steps.


JENNY:  (Haha) I know it wasn't funny at the time.


GREG:  When I realized that they were running away, I immediately took about three or four steps while yelling "I'm going to kill you mother f**kers."  And then all of sudden I was like, "Wait! That guy has a gun, I might not want to catch up." But I guess the fight or flight kicked in and for me it was more fight.

JENNY:  Well people are amazed of what they can do when they have enough adrenaline pumping through their veins.

GREG:  If in that moment in time - the one guy went down and the guy with the gun kept running - I might have caught up with the guy that was on the ground and literally pummeled him to death.  You do what you have to in that situation and hopefully you make the decision that increases your likelihood of survival.  If I thought that I could hand them whatever money I had on me and then they would just walk down the hall and leave me and that was a 100% "save my life" decision - I would of given up the cash to insure my survival.  But that didn't appear to be an option.  Even if I said, "Here this is what I've got.  Take it."  I think they still would have been trying to put me in my room and tie me up.

JENNY:  What's next for you?  What's going on right now in your life?  Traveling, family time?

GREG:  My poker tournament schedule is pretty light at the moment but I'm still working with to figure out which of the various EPT, PPT and LAPT events they want me to play in.  So I'm still working that out but I'll be going to several tournaments.  I know I'm going to Monte Carlo - the EPT finals in Monte Carlo coming up in a couple of months.  But as for what else I'm going to play between now and then it's not very certain.  The NBC Heads-Up - I guess I haven't gotten my official invitation but I'll probably get invited back to that.  Right now my family was with me and we were over in the Miami area at a charity golf event.  I'm outside of Tampa at the moment.  But I was in Palm Beach Gardens to do an event for the Buble/Aiken Foundation ( that is a charity that my wife is very active in.  They have a charity golf tournament.  And tomorrow I'm playing in the Seth Joyner charity golf tournament.  So I have a golf tournament tomorrow starting in the morning and then a poker tournament in the evening.  Then Saturday I'm playing the Nick Lachey and Jimmy Johnson Super Skins charity celebrity golf tournament. 

JENNY:  There seems to be a lot of charity there and I've noticed that a lot of players have been very active in what they can do for charity.  Do you make it a point to stay active in the charity circuit and give back what you can?

GREG:  Well I think what happens and it's not just poker players - I think a lot of people - once they have a very successful life they have a desire to help out other people in whatever form it comes in; whether it's helping the homeless, whether it's helping with a certain illness.  Most of us also have had something that has touched our lives.  You have a parent, grandparent, sibling or a cousin who's died of a cancer or some other disease.  So then you would really like to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other people.  That kind of thing - I think goes on with a lot of us where something like that happens.  Things like grandma died early from diabetes so I would love to help the organizations out that are trying to treat and cure this disease.  I don't think poker players are necessarily unique.  I'm certainly glad that there are a lot of us that are doing things for charity.  I don't think that we're necessarily better at it than the general public.  It's just that the well known poker players are doing well financially for the most part. 

JENNY:  But being able to use your celebrity status for a good cause helps as well.  Right?

GREG:  Yeah it's a lot easier.  I mean when you're well known it's a lot easier.  At one point I was trying to put together a good charity event at Foxwoods (Resort and Casino) when I still lived in Connecticut and the main thing that stopped us was the fact that Foxwoods had their contract with the World Poker Tour that said they couldn't do anything involving poker that was televised.  So we were going to try to set up a really big event with lots of poker pros and lots of celebrities and set up a deal to film it for one of the TV networks.  But Foxwoods said, "We're sorry but we can't host it.  If you're filming it then we would be breaching our contract with the WPT."  That's why you'll never see NBC Heads-up at the Bellagio because that would have Bellagio violating their contract.

Once that was the case then I would have had to go do it in Vegas or L.A. which is not my home turf and it would involve so much more travel and other efforts to pull it off.  You try to organize a big thing like that; you need to be there in person the whole time.  So I would have had to move to Vegas or L.A. for a month leading up to this event if we really wanted to pull it off.  With a daughter in school it wasn't going to be very easy. 

JENNY:  You need to be there for your little girl.

GREG:  Well that's why I didn't run for Vice President.

JENNY:  Haha.  The Libertarian.

GREG:  Exactly.  Everything said "do it" except for the fact that that would have been about six months of politicking where I would have been home almost zero.  Four years from now my daughter will be sixteen.  However, I'm forty four years old and eight years from now if I were valuable to the Libertarian Party then I would give it very serious consideration because my daughter will be in college and I'm presumable not seeing her that much anyway.

JENNY:  I think that's great.  You're thinking of your daughter's sake and trying to be there for her in her younger years.

GREG:  I don't have any amazing desire to be the Vice President but I do wish the Libertarian Party would become a much more powerful force in American politics because I think they would do things a lot better than the Republicans or the Democrats would.  I think they would be better for all of us - economically, socially, intellectually and all of that.  I mean I'm very much a believer in people having responsibility for themselves and their own lives.  It's good to do things charitably and help others out but I don't like the government being in charge of it and the government forcing charity upon us whether it's a charity of our choice or not.  I don't want the government taking care of us and being a nanny.  I want people to know that they need to be able to take care of themselves and that they can't expect help from others.  You'll get help if you need it but I think that there are too many people that just rely on the government as a crutch and don't have any responsibility. 

JENNY:  Well while we're on the subject of politics - what did you thing about this election year?  And do you think Obama will be able to bring some change to economy?  To the United States?  To what's going on in the war?

GREG:  I think Obama has enough political clout right now with the degree of his success in the presidential election with the Democrats controlling Congress relatively effectively at the moment.  Actually they have two thirds of the Senators and two thirds of the Representatives so it's not like they can make everything they want happen but they have a ton of power right now.  However, I think the Democratic vision sucks.  He'll be able to make things change but I'm not expecting those changes to be of long-term value.  The decisions that he's likely to make, that the Democrats are likely to make are not the decisions that I think are the right decisions. 

JENNY:  Versus McCain - do you think he's a better candidate for the United States.

GREG:  I don't know.  When you're talking about the difference between a Republican and a Democrat they are pretty different in some respects.  I don't think Republicans and Democrats - at least in recent times have made any really good decisions on how to run things.  And the thing is Libertarians might not end up being a whole lot better if they got to be a major party because unfortunately I think a lot of the problems drive from the fact that - when you think of politics in evolutionary terms - who survives -the person who survives is the one that focuses on getting reelected and nothing else.

JENNY:  Do you think Ron Paul is a good spokesperson and candidate to represent the Libertarian Party?

GREG:  I think that he would make far superior decisions than any of the other presidential candidates.  I think he's vastly superior to all of his competition in terms of the quality of decisions he would make as President.  But the other thing that Ron Paul seems to lack from my point of view is charisma.

JENNY:  Really?

GREG:  Well he shares a charisma about him but he doesn't appeal to the masses.  I think you have to actually be either intelligent enough or involved enough that you're going to spend the effort to get into it but I don't think I understand his charisma.  He's not like the way that people would just love Reagan or Clinton and it didn't matter what they were saying - people just loved them.  Ron doesn't have that kind of personality.  If he were giving a State of the Union Address, the American public wouldn't be loving him no matter what he said.  So that's what I mean.  In other words, he's not someone who's just going to walk into a room and everyone's going to go "Wow who's that."  Some of our major politicians have that ability even if they make horrible decisions.  In their office they still have that ability to win over people immediately.  I don't think Ron had that power.  Obviously, the Libertarians would love to have a candidate who had that power to win people over for life as soon as we said hi to him or shook his hand or even giving a speech on TV.  He's looking at the camera and the people feel like he's looking at them and they love him.  Some people have that power.  I don't have that power either.  But I'm not trying to "diss" Ron Paul.  We're talking about something that one person in a million has or if it's not one in a million it's some other huge number. Not very many people have that power and that's the kind of candidate that every party would like to have - not just the Libertarians..  I'm not putting him down at all just because he's not Superman.

JENNY:  For the record - should you take running for Vice President with the Libertarian Party seriously in the future, can I get an interview?

GREG:  Yeah, I'll be trying to interview everyone who'll have me.

JENNY:  Haha.  But I'm at the top of the list okay?

GREG:  You'll be at the top but I'm not going to say no to hardly anybody.  If I say no to somebody it would be because NBC wants me at the same time or something like that.

JENNY:  Thank you so much for sitting down with me.

GREG:  I had fun.  Thank you.


Jenny Woo, Senior International Correspondent