James Woods: Online Poker is Good for America

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"I think online poker is worth fighting for because it’s good for the country."

James Woods has been playing poker seriously for almost a decade and he’s got a few ideas about what the poker industry should be doing to move online poker in the right direction in the US.

Woods has taken a few years off from playing at the World Series of Poker but he registered for his second event of 2012 this afternoon.

We had the chance to interview him back in 2006 and he’s as passionate about poker now as he was then.

Read on for an extended Q&A with James Woods covering the state of online poker in the US, why he loves playing mixed games and the fond memories he has of playing the WSOP with his late brother Michael.

PokerListings.com: It’s been a few years since we’ve seen you at the WSOP. What have you been up to?

James Woods: I was actually back in New England, taking care of my elderly mother. She was very ill so I sort of stepped out of life as we know it but now I’m back and playing and it’s a nice relief to come back and enjoy it.

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"I’m very modest about my very limited abilities."

Before, I was always sort of double-parked in my mind with other responsibilities. I was very happy to be able to do it all but poker certainly wasn’t the first thing on my mind for the last few years.

PL: Was there a period of shaking the rust off so to speak now that you’re back at the table?

JW: You know, honestly I might be a little rusty but in a way you pay more attention when you’re just coming back.

Because I don’t feel like I know everything, which I think is every poker player’s biggest leak, I’m very modest about my very limited abilities.

So I’m a little more careful, which isn’t always a bad thing. It keeps you in the tournaments longer.

PLO is an aggravating game but I love it because it helps my Hold’em game immensely.

My biggest leak is playing too loose when I get tired, and I start talking myself into making bad calls. You know, I’m telling myself that I’m making some great call for value but really it’s just a donkey call.

Of course in PLO it’s so much more important to play and draw to the nuts so it helps build discipline that’s handy in other games.

I’ve always found playing HORSE or 8-game or whatever online to be really helpful.

If you don’t know the game very well you’re forced to really think things through. So much of the time in Hold’em you assume you know the right answer automatically so you tend to put a lot less thought into your decisions.

PL: Speaking of online poker, what’s it been like for you since Black Friday?

JW: Well, I was talking to Tobey Maguire about this, it’s really hard for us to play in a venue like this because everyone wants to have a story to tell and they’re all sitting there waiting to tweet that they beat one of us.

So they make horrible calls and they beat you and it can get pretty frustrating.

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Ray Davis was the only player who knew James Woods' secret online identity.

But when I played online no one knew who I was. Actually one player on the planet knew who I was, Ray Davis.

And I’d be at the final table of some online tournament and he’d be telling me, “Aw mother****er  you got to tell people who you are if you win this thing so they’ll know.” And I was like no, no, it’s fine.

I actually won two tournaments one time in the same hour on Full Tilt, a $109 and a really big field $22 one. I took a picture of both the winner popups and it was great.

PL: Do you feel like the US government has handled the online poker situation poorly?

JW: No, honestly not really. I was a spokesperson for Hollywood Poker and the day they announced it, even though we had six months or something, we closed down that minute.

We said listen, we don’t want to break the law. We don’t want to go to jail. Our lawyers told us the law was very clear and we said that’s fine. We’re not going to break the law.

I don’t think challenging the Justice Department is a very prudent move. And I put my money where my mouth is. We were in the middle of an enormous deal but it was against the law so that was it.

You know, I’ve always been a pretty decent guy, a law-abiding citizen. I’ve always been a big believer in lobbying for what you believe in and educating the legislators about things like this.

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"What we need to do is really organize and lobby. Big lobbyists run this country."

I thought Annie Duke had a very clear and cogent argument when she spoke to congress about poker being a game of skill. It was very succinct and very well presented and I think it would have been better for all of us if we had that tack from the beginning.

Everyone could have been a little less greedy and tried to lay the right foundation and try to get it clear in the minds of the people who make the decisions about what an enormous opportunity this is for the government and for the players.

PL: What needs to be done to move online poker in the right direction here in the US?

JW: What we need to do is really organize and lobby. Big lobbyists run this country. The president is by and large a puppet of big lobbyists.

Right now George Soros is the president of the United States. Let’s not kid ourselves.

I think online poker is worth fighting for because it’s good for the country. Whereas I think casinos are not such a good thing.

There are no professional roulette players but there are many pro poker players. That’s not a coincidence. It’s a profession to a lot of people and a hobby to a lot more.

And like anything else there are people who take it too far. Alcohol is a great thing for lots of people who like to have a few drinks, but some people become alcoholics.

I’m so glad for poker because if it wasn’t for poker I’d be a degenerate gambler. A lot of us would.

Now if I walk into the pit I just think, “Why am I here? I’m a complete underdog in these games.”

Once you start thinking like a professional poker player you start to really want to get your money in good. By definition your money isn’t going in good at the dice table.

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Woods playing a pot against WPT winner Mike "SirWatts" Watson.

I used to come here and gamble all the time but I haven’t been to the dice tables in 10 years. Once I really got into poker I’d think, “Wow, I can go to Vegas and have a great time playing poker and I might actually win.”

I play Words with Friends every day so I obviously like using my brain. So if I’m willing to play that every day and never make any money, how great is it to be able to play poker where you can use your brain and actually make money?

What a nice idea.

PL: The last time we spoke was in 2006 and I had the chance to interview you and take a few pictures of you and your brother Michael. We were so sad to hear that he passed away shortly after that WSOP. What kind of memories of your brother come back to you when you’re here?

JW: Honestly that was one of the best weeks of our lives. We were as close as two brothers can be. He was my best friend and I loved him with all my heart.

We loved to play poker together and we had a phenomenal time here at the WSOP.

James and Michael Woods at the 2006 WSOP.

It’s funny, I was playing against Josh Arieh the other day in the Omaha-8 tournament and I forgot to tell him that the last thing my brother did in poker was knock Josh out of a tournament with a set against a flush draw or something.

So I would tell Michael, “That’s pretty good, knocking Josh Arieh out of a World Series tournament.”

But it was very sweet. And we took the last picture we ever had together right over there, about a hundred feet from where we’re standing.

It was a very sudden thing but I’m so happy we had the week here together as brothers. We had a blast playing poker, and he was a winner that week.

PL: So, taking away all the big business and the legislation, and all the professionals and everything else, do you see poker as a game that fosters that kind of social relationship?

JW: Yeah absolutely. For two guys, whether it’s brothers like us or two friends, when you want to take a trip together you might go skiing or golfing, but if you’re a poker player can you imagine a better time than coming to Las Vegas together to play in the World Series?

Apart from the time we spent together with our families, the happiest memories I have of being with Michael are on the golf course and playing poker. We just loved it.

Honestly, outside of family, golf and work I’ve had more fun playing poker than anything else I’ve ever done.

For all the action from the WSOP in Las Vegas click through to our 2012 World Series of Poker Live Coverage section.

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