Exclusive: Casino City Talks to Greg Fossilman Raymer

3 August 2005

By Anakana Schofield

Casino City Times

Greg 'Fossilman' Raymer, as he is affectionately known by legions of poker fans, is as philosophical about defeat as he is about triumph. Raymer, 40, a married former patent-attorney from Connecticut played nickel-dime poker in college and was a card-counter blackjack player through grad and law school. His poker appetite did not diminish once he became a fully-fledged footstamping lawyer. In the 2004 World Series of Poker he was unstoppable, when he translated his $160 entry fee and toppled 2,576 players to win the title and the $5 million dollar prize which was, until recently, the largest single cash prize for a poker tournament. In the process, he also got a wee bit busier. Gone are the days of him worrying about the ramifications and minutiae of patents; nowadays he's more likely to be trying to find his way out of some international airport en route to a tournament or appearance, struggling to control his jet lag.

Unlike the Tour de France or the British Golf Open, where we expect a Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods to steam or plop to the finish, in poker you never can say who'll be laying down the cards. It could easily be an unknown plumber with a passion or a world class player of repute or a cardiac nurse on her two week vacation. Raymer willingly acknowledges the luck and chance factor when I asked him what, if any, were the similarities between being a lawyer and poker player.

"Both involve the same essential activity, making smart decisions.  And both involve an element of chance, though poker has a much larger helping of this factor.  In fact, all things in life are just like poker in this respect.  You cannot guarantee perfection, or even success, in anything you strive to do.  All you can do is make the best possible decisions and let what happens happen as it will.  This is not to say that I believe in fate or anything like it.  The better the decisions you make, the more likely it is that you will achieve success.  However, no matter how well you make decisions, sometimes things go wrong anyway.  Since this happens so much in poker, it can teach you to live with these mistakes, and to move past them and continue to work your hardest at making the next decision as perfectly as possible.

Never before in recent history has there been so much opportunity for poker players and fans to consume their game either as a participant or spectator. It is now easier to find a set of poker chips in your local store than it is to lay your hands on a watering can. Poker took to technology with the same rapid zeal as humans did laying their hands on the steering wheels of cars. The two became instantly comfortable and content with each other. To what does Greg attribute the current resurgence in the popularity of poker and will it endure?

The current huge rush of popularity for our game is due to the presence of Internet poker sites in conjunction with the popularity of poker on TV and its introduction to everybody in the country.  This same pattern is also emerging overseas with the growth of televised poker in Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world.

Unlike previous "fads" such as the Rubik's Cube, poker will endure.  Once you learn something like Rubik's, you are done.  There is really no more to learn or achieve.  Maybe you can teach your hands to move faster, but that's about it.  Poker, on the other hand, never fails to reveal more to you as you progress.  I thought I knew a lot about poker several years ago, but I know now that I knew nothing then.  I suspect (and hope) that when I look back at today from 5-10 years in the future, I will feel the same way again.  It is fun to play poker, and fun to learn more about it.  You can now do this from the convenience of your own home by playing on the internet, and by reading the best books out there.  In years past, even if you were introduced to poker, unless you happened to live near Las Vegas or one of a few other places where there were legal cardrooms, there was not that great of a chance that you would really get into the game.  Now, once people learn about poker, they can all play as much as they wish, anytime they wish, and this brings them deeper into our great game.  

The timely release of the second series of the complete 2004 World Series of Poker's Main Event DVD series, featuring Greg's marathon ascent to victory, testifies and celebrates this new accessibility. One can now sit back, enjoy and most importantly learn and then rush across the room to practice at the kitchen table. So what's his favorite moment on the DVD?

Of course, winning is the greatest.  However, once we move beyond the obvious, I really liked a hand that I actually lost to Al Krux at the final table.  Al raises with a pair of 6s in the pocket, and I reraise with AK.  Al decides to go for it, and we are all-in preflop, a classic coin-toss situation.  Al is actually a small favorite, but it is pretty close to 50:50.  The flop is good for Al, but I catch the As on the turn to make a higher pair.  However, this card puts three spades on board, giving Al a flush draw.  Thus, he can win with any of 9 spades, as well as either of the remaining sixes.  The river is a spade, and when I look at myself, my immediate reaction is to smile and extend my hand to Al for a handshake.  I was very proud of how I handled that river card, and that instead of getting upset with my own bad luck on that card, I was happy for Al and his success in winning that pot.  I thought that we both played our hands correctly, and that it was merely a matter of luck that he won.  As such, there were no feelings of anger or regret to deal with anyway.

With great success in any venture comes new demands on a person's time. Sparing a thought for his wife and young daughter, I asked how he combines poker and especially all the traveling with family life?

Combining my new career as a world champion poker player and representative of PokerStars.com along with my existing life as a husband and father has been difficult.  In fact, the time I have spent away from my family is almost the only downside to my new career path.  What I do is try to be efficient in my trip planning and scheduling so as to maximize time with my family.  Unfortunately, no amount of efficiency will completely fill the gap when you're gone about ¾ of the time.  Thus, I will not be traveling anywhere near as much in the upcoming year.

Raymer has acknowledged some assistance in digesting poker literature early in his career, so once fans are finished consuming the three part DVD of his great triumph and are determined to hit the tables virtual or otherwise, what is his poker bible?

The greatest poker book yet written is The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky.  It teaches you all of the fundamental concepts that guide all of your poker decisions.  However, there is a long way to go from learning these fundamental concepts and learning how to apply them to your game in particular, so it is useful to read many of the other great books out there as well.  I will be adding to this library myself in a few months when I put out my own book on poker tournament strategy.

Finally I asked Greg to share any recent highlights of tournaments with us:

My recent good finishes include 3rd place in the British Poker Open, 33rd in the World Poker Tour Championship, 6th in the $1500 buyin No-Limit Holdem tournament at the WSOP, and 25th in the Main Event of the WSOP a week ago.  While this was a great accomplishment, to finish 25th out of 5,616, it was so disappointing to get crippled in a 4.4 million chip pot when the money went in while I was a 9:2 favorite.  For good and bad, however, that's poker."


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