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Gavin Griffin: A Matter of Pride and Necessity
Earlier this month Gavin Griffin wrote in his blog that he was dropping down in stakes, having gone through a year that, “shattered many of his dreams, and most of his ego.”
As far as poker pedigree goes, it doesn't get much higher than Griffin.
Griffin is a Triple Crown winner with over $4.6 million in career live tournament earnings and a former member of Team PokerStars Pro.
When he won a WSOP event in 2004, he was the youngest bracelet winner ever.
We spoke to him today to learn more about the events of the last few years that have changed his course in poker.
PokerListings: You said in your blog that “2011 shattered many of my dreams and most of my ego.” We were hoping to get a bit more detailed timeline of the last few years of your career.
Gavin Griffin: 2007 and 2008 were pretty good for me, winning EPT Monte Carlo and Borgata, and not long after that I signed up with PokerStars and that was going pretty well.
It was a really good deal for me. The second year I was with PokerStars it was a less lucrative deal but I was still really happy to be with them, because it was the biggest site in the world and the most trustworthy.
Then in 2010 PokerStars got some new management and they brought in some new people to run the Team Pros and we were all set to do some really cool stuff.
They were talking about how I was underutilized and they wanted to get me doing commentary more because I had shown a penchant for that. I auditioned to be the host of The Big Game and some other stuff like that they were developing.
Then about six weeks after auditioning for The Big Game and not getting it they called me up and told me they weren’t going to resign me.
My contract was up in May and I think the date had just come up. They basically said, “We’re not going to resign you and there isn’t a whole lot more we can do to promote you.” So there was this sort of switch.
And they essentially said they’d extend my contract until the end of the WSOP, but if I did well or had a big win they’d talk about extending it beyond that.
So that definitely put a large amount of pressure on me that summer. It’s hard to play your best when not only is the tournament riding on it, so is the relationship you’ve had with this site for a couple of years.
Obviously I wasn’t the highest sponsored player they had but it was a really good addition to what was going on with poker.
And I knew I hadn’t been performing very well but based on our discussions, I really didn’t expect it to go that way.
I guess that’s probably where my mindset sort of took a turn towards the negative.
Then I went through the whole World Series without any major win or anything.
PL: A lot of people are throwing around phrases like "Confirmed Busto". Is that accurate?
GG: I’ve received a lot of great feedback on my blog but there’s also a ton of people who basically just say, “Oh my god how can someone lose like $5 million.”
First of all it’s not really $5 million but regardless, they don’t always consider how much it actually costs to travel and play all these live tournaments in today’s climate.
And in Monte Carlo I was backed, so I got just less than half. So I got about $1.2 million instead of $2.4 million. And I live in the state of California so we pay higher taxes than a lot of people.
I paid about $1 million in taxes in 2007 and 2008 and what happened was that I had put pretty much all of the money I had won at Borgata into an investment account.
So that was 2008, and most of that money went away. That was a year that a lot of people got massively crushed in a lot of ways.
So basically it was like a convergence of all these bad situations all at once.
I lost a lot of money in the stock market and even though it’s rebounded since, unfortunately, when it was depressed, taxes came due so I had to pull out a large chunk of the money I still had to pay that.
So there was kind of a perfect storm of bad situations.
And people should realize I’m not broke by any means. I still have money in the bank and my wife makes good money.
She’s a very successful civil engineer and I couldn’t do any of this without her support.
But I decided, due to the fact that I was playing poorly and not managing my bankroll very well, I could either drop down to a more manageable level or borrow money and go further into debt, or I could go into our family’s savings account.
And it all came to a head at a time, maybe not coincidentally, that we were dealing with a lot of other stuff and trying to keep it together financially and as much as we can emotionally, because she and I have had a lot of health problems in the last year.
So I know it all came to a head because of all the added pressure from everything.
PL: If you’re comfortable talking about it, can you tell us about what you and your wife were going through, and how it played into the pressure you were feeling playing poker?
GG: Yeah, so Amy and I were married in July of 2010 and we had always sort of imagined we’d never get married, but we’d just live together for the rest of our lives, because we didn’t plan on having kids or anything.
But we decided that we wanted to have kids so we got married, and we were thinking in two or three years we’d start trying to start a family.
But Amy got pregnant in October and we lost that baby in January. And she was pregnant in May again and we lost that baby in June and she was pregnant again in October, and we lost that baby.
So going through three miscarriages and the uncertainty that comes with that, and everything else, was a lot to deal with. Trying to figure out how we’re going to move forward and find a solution to the problems we’re having is basically always on my mind all the time.
It’s obviously caused troubles with us relationship-wise just because it’s really hard to deal with.
So it sort of turns out to be this perfect storm of shitty things that I’m trying to deal with but there’s not really a playbook for Amy and I in this situation.
PL: So this is what you’re going through personally, while feeling a lot of pressure professionally at the same time?
GG: Yeah, and it’s just gotten harder to earn a living playing poker professionally in the last three years or so. People are getting a lot better and now the effects of Black Friday.
I’m lucky enough to live in the LA area so the games are still good but they’re nothing like they used to be.
The economy seems to play into it too. People just have less money to be bad at poker.
This is starting to sound like a “Woe is me” kind of thing and that’s not how I want it to sound.
PL: It seems like there’s a lot of ego involved in dropping down stakes, and smoke and mirrors in poker as far as pros purporting to be mega-rich and everything, so it’s refreshing to hear you be so open about it.
Can you tell us about your feelings about the decisions you’ve made, and the plan you have going forward?
GG: It’s true that there’s a lot of ego amongst poker players that’s sort of like, if you’ve made it to a certain height in the poker world, and you go below that you’re a failure.
It’s like you can’t go lower once you’ve passed a certain threshold.
But just like in any other career, there are times when you’re really successful and there are times when things don’t really break your way.
If you look at the trends in this country in the last four or five years, things have gotten pretty bad for a lot of people in a lot of different industries. And why should poker be any different?
There’s less money coming into the poker industry so there are sort of demotions that are going to happen.
There are people who had great corporate jobs who are forced to work as a gardener, or whatever.
They’re doing whatever they can do to keep their family together and keep their house. And that’s essentially what I’m doing.
And I think it’s harder even in the poker world because basically poker is this merit-based platform, where if you’re better than everyone else you’re going to win the money and that’s it.
So I need to figure out a way to get better.
Another thing is that because of my tournament successes I haven’t had to build a bankroll in any real way since when I first started.
Back in the beginning I had to grind pretty hard. I worked as a dealer Saturday to Tuesday and playing all the other days at a different casino. And when I quit that job I was playing a lot. I played a lot of online poker and had to work hard.
And when I won the WSOP event and had this big windfall and could cut back on playing and had plenty of money for the next few years. And then I won Monte Carlo.
So after 2004 I really haven’t had the need to build a bankroll and that’s what I’m doing right now as a matter of pride and a matter of necessity. And I can do that and I’m proud of that.
I’m proud that I don’t have too much trouble playing at lower stakes. There were a few times at Commerce when I was playing $8/$16 and someone asked me if they had seen me on TV and I was like, “No.”
I was there playing $8/$16 and in the past I’ve played $200/$400 on a regular basis and played as high as $1,000/$2,000 Limit. So to be there during the LAPC, the best time to play at the Commerce, and I’m playing $8/$16 and all these people I know are milling around, I found myself ducking my head a bit and avoiding people and stuff.
So I felt like I was disguising myself a bit, at least until the article came out I guess.
PL: You said as much but is there pride in how you're dealing with the adversity, in your professional life and in your personal life?
GG: Yeah definitely. I feel a lot of pride. I’m proud I can be honest with myself.
I’m writing for CardPlayer now and I’m teaching at WSOP Academy and I’m trying to do everything I can to improve things. I’m in school again now.
But really it’s a testament to my wife, and her support and the strength of our relationship. That we’re still together at this point is contrary to what usually happens to people in our situation.
Some people might disagree but as soon as we found out about each of our children they were life-changing moments and we loved each of the children we lost as our children. And those losses have had a big impact on our lives and our relationship.
Even though it’s really tough not knowing whether we’ll have kids or what’s going to happen, just the fact that we’re still here, and still supporting each other and doing whatever we can to keep moving forward is a pretty strong testament to our relationship and the love we have for each other.
That’s the thing that I’m most proud of, more than anything that’s going on poker-wise.
That’s the thing that we struggle with but the struggle makes it more precious.