Gavin Griffin gets 'er done: Q&A

Gavin Griffin

At 25, Gavin Griffin has ticked off two items on every pro poker player's 100-things-to-do-before-I-die list.

He has the World Series gold bracelet - Pot-Limit Hold'em in 2004 - and a (brief) record for being the youngest player ever to win the coveted bauble. He also has a major tournament win after taking down the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo April 2 for $2.4 million.

But the self-described laid-back guy from Darien, Ill. - now based out of Orange County, Calif. - has neither an ego or aspirations of Hellmuthian proportions.

After arriving back in the U.S. from Monte Carlo this week, Griffin took the time to answer some of's questions about his poker resume.

When and how did you learn to play poker?

I was home from college for summer break after my freshman year and called up a friend of mine to see what he was doing. He and some friends were playing poker and they invited me to come over and play. We played stupid games with crazy wild cards and other weird rules. We usually bought in for $20 and the most anyone would lose in a night was like $60. We played three to four times a week that whole summer and I was losing quite a bit for a broke college kid. I decided to start learning more about the game. I read some books, started reading online forums, and eventually became a decent player.

What year did you start working as a dealer? At what casino? Did this help your game?

I started working as a dealer when I was in my fourth year of college at a private poker room in Arlington, Texas. I would deal for five to six hours every night and then play, or I would play before dealing. Those games were probably the toughest low-limit games in the history of the poker world. The regulars in that game were me, Raja Kattamuri (a high-stakes online player and winner of several major tourneys on the tour), Dustin Sitar (also a high-stakes online player), Brian Fosbury (makes his living playing poker), and Derek Opitz (a former professional poker player). All of us currently make a living playing poker or did so for several years in Derek's case. This is where I really developed into a very good poker player.


What made you register for the World Series of Poker in 2004?

I was in Texas for a couple months after having moved back to Chicago and had some success in online tournaments so I decided to drive to Vegas and play a couple events. It was my first time in Vegas and the event I won was only the second WSOP event I had ever played.


What was it like to win the bracelet and earn the record for youngest gold bracelet winner?

It was overwhelming. I'm a very even-keel, laid-back person so I mostly took it in stride, but it was a great feeling. To do something so early in life that so many poker players spend much of their lives trying to do is incredibly exciting. At the same time, I realized that it was something that wouldn't be happening every week.

Were you hoping to hang on to it a little longer?

I was hoping to, but I wasn't expecting it. There are so many great young players that it's impossible to expect to hold onto a record like that for very long.

How would you define your style of play?

I would describe my style of play as adaptive. I'm capable of playing lots of different styles.

Do you compete much online?

I play pretty much every Sunday but that's really about it.

What are some of your career goals as a professional poker player?

My career goals as a poker player are to make a living at it. I have no illusions of grandeur; I'm not hoping to be considered the greatest player of all time; I'm not looking to win 35 bracelets. I want to live a comfortable life because I play poker and I'm good at it.

Do you hope to work as a professional poker player forever or do you have other aspirations?

I don't have any other aspirations but I also don't want to be a poker player forever. I'd like to make enough money so that I can be comfortable while still enjoying playing poker.

What do you like about poker?

I like the mental challenge. I like pitting my brains against other people's and seeing how it turns out. I like the exhilaration of making a great call and being right, making good laydowns, great value bets. I really just like playing and all that it entails.

It was your first time in Europe for the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo: Did you have any expectations for the event?

Not really. In fact, if I had any expectations they were bad ones. All day on Day 1 I kept thinking to myself that it was going to be a bad tournament. At some points I just didn't feel like being there. It was one of those days, and all poker players know these days, when it just seemed like nothing was going right.

You beat the best competition European poker has to offer. Could you feel a difference in play in Europe compared to what you're used to back home?

Not really. All poker tournaments these days have a mix of great players, good players, and not so good players. I felt like the distribution among those groups was pretty similar to stateside tournaments. At the end of the tournament, much like in any other tournament, the players were all very good. There was a lot of talent in the last three tables; it was quite impressive.


Although the money was obviously better in Monte Carlo, which did you enjoy more - winning the gold bracelet or taking down this tournament and why?

I think winning the bracelet was better because it was my first major tournament success and it came so early in my career.


Has the amount of money you won sunk in yet? Do you have any plans for it other than bumping up your bankroll?

I'm probably going to buy a house, but other than that no real plans for the money.

How does a big win like this change your image in the poker community? Do you think it will affect your game?

I don't really think it changes my image amongst other poker players. They've all played with me before; this isn't going to change their opinions of me or what they think of me as a player or person.

Do you have any plans of doing more self-promotion and marketing yourself as a poker player now?

I don't know. I'm a pretty low key guy. I'm not much of a self promoter. I would love to get more opportunities like the NBC Heads Up Championship or other special made-for-TV poker things like that. Besides that, I'm not really sure what will happen.

What do you do for fun outside of poker?

I spend a lot of time at home with my girlfriend, my dog, and my two cats. We love to watch my collection of DVDs and we go out on the weekends (my girlfriend and I, not my pets) on occasion. I'm also a big gamer. I love to play video games, board games, just about anything that involves competition.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Despite his early success, don't count on Griffin becoming a 25-year-old retiree. If the tournament structure and good value is there, expect to see him at the table.

Recognizing him might be an issue, though. Griffin is known for changing his looks from a grizzly man beard and buzz cut to shaggy brown locks to, most recently, pink spikes in honor of his girlfriend Kristen's triumph over breast cancer at age 21.

Check back tomorrow for the story about Griffin's efforts to raise money for breast cancer research in the news section.

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