Kevin MacPhee on GPL: "It Seems Like There's a Very High Ceiling"

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Kevin MacPhee

Bahamas, Los Angeles, Australia, New Zealand, Dublin, Tallinn. Back to LA.

Poker pro Kevin MacPhee has been on the poker circuit for the past eight years and done his fair share of traveling. So the intense schedule of the cities above over a six-week period is nothing new for the American globetrotter.

Last week MacPhee and his girlfriend Marie-Pier Simard arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, to play the increasingly popular Kings of Tallinn Poker Festival.

The Kings of Tallinn festival featured a €1,000 Main Event, and although the buy-in might sound a bit low for an EPT and WSOPE champion, it didn't damper his enthusiasm for the Estonian capital.

PokerListings Denmark editor Thomas Hviid grabbed a few minutes to chat with MacPhee about his life on the road and his expectations for the upcoming Global Poker League, where he can look forward to some more traveling alongside his teammates on the New York Rounders.

PokerListings: Firstly, why did you choose to come to Tallinn to play a €1,000 buy-in tournament?

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Soft spot for Tallinn from back in 2010.

Kevin MacPhee: I won the EPT Player’s Choice award in 2010, which was a free package to the EPT Tallinn that year in August. I'd always wanted to come here anyway and pretty much fell in love with the city right away.

The weather was pretty different in August compared to what it is now (laughs; at the time of the interview it was snowing heavily) but it is still a really nice city.

I really like it here and the tournament is great and I've always been looking for an opportunity to come back so when Teresa (Nousiainen, co-organiser of Kings of Tallinn and former EPT tournament director) invited me and my girlfriend to come here to play the tournament we thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the city again.

One of my first students in poker was from Estonia, Liina Värk, a chess player. She was married to one of my good friends, Eric Hicks, so we hung out in San Francisco where she would teach me chess in exchange for poker lessons.

She always talked about how nice Estonia was so when I finally got the chance to come up here I was pretty stoked about it.

PL: Last year you cashed in seven different countries and you have been traveling the poker circuit for years. Is this a paradise for you to travel around the world to play poker?

KM: It certainly seems very glamorous from an outside perspective and my followers on Facebook and Twitter probably have that impression. I have been doing it for seven or eight years now and it has its pluses and minuses.

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Life of traveling pro has pros and cons (Photo: Kings of Tallinn)

It's great to see new places, have new adventures, meet new people, try new food, but it's a double-edged sword as you also lack stability. I haven’t really had a permanent residence.

I can’t have a dog, for example. And there are a lot of sacrifices you make for the lifestyle. But it's not something I want to change, I really enjoy it and that's why I keep doing it.

PL: You've been in so many countries now; what has been your favorite place to play?

KM: My favorite place to play poker would probably be Barcelona. That was where I played my first EPT in 2008.

I cashed in it, fell in love with the city, fell in love with the EPT. Actually after Barcelona I made it as my mission to play every EPT that year as I didn't really have anything tying me down at that time.

For me Barcelona is just the best. That stop just keeps expanding, the field sizes just get bigger and bigger and it's always in August so for me that's a really nice to play.

And then I also like Las Vegas. I know a lot of poker players don't like Vegas very much, but I do. Las Vegas for America and Barcelona for Europe are probably my two favorite spots.

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Berlin has been good to him.

PL: And Berlin?

KM: Obviously Berlin has been where my major amount of successes has been. Berlin is a really fun 24-hour city.

I've been there on other trips where it has not been going so well poker-wise but then Berlin is a really fun city to unwind in. There are a lot of clubs and cool things to do.

It's kind of crazy the amount of success I have had there. To win just one live major tournament in your career is amazing, let alone two in the same city, is pretty crazy.

PL: Being a globetrotter like you should be a perfect fit for the Global Poker League. What are your expectations for it?

KM: I would say I'm not going in with too many expectations although I definitely have a commitment to Alex Dreyfus’ vision.

I very much like my team and think I was very fortunate to get picked up by a very good team. I knew going in that Bryn Kenney was the captain, we're very good friends, so I was very likely to get picked up by the New York Rounders.

I really like the way the rest of our team rounded out. We got Tom Marchese, who is a bit more of a homebody since he is based in Las Vegas, but Jason Mercier and Jason Wheeler both travel all over the world so I'm sure we're going to have a very good, experienced team.

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With Kenney at helm it's all big hitters.

It should be pretty interesting. I'm on board to see how it goes. I'm not trying to have too high expectations but at the same time it seems like there's a very high ceiling for this venture.

If he completes his vision all the way to the end we can go pretty far with it.

PL: We put together some statistics showing that the New York Rounders are the team with the best average GPI ranking and the team that has the highest live earnings. Does that make you small favorites to win it?

KM: I think a lot of the teams are bound by how productive their captain has been.

As far as the captains go Bryn is probably one of the highest-earning captains I would assume compared to the others. And then Jason Mercier is super accomplished and Jason Wheeler as well. That probably gives us a pretty big advantage.

Our team is probably a little bit different from some of the other teams. We're kind of the American traveling guys with the exception of Marchese; he hasn’t traveled so much, he's more of an Aria regular.

Yeah I didn't know that our team is the highest, that's pretty cool. I think a lot of the other teams are going with a more regional marketing strategy.

With Bryn at the helm of a New York-based team it's going to be like the Yankees -- it's gonna be all all the big hitters, all the biggest and best, all of the people he respects, and coming from a super high roller background the people he respects are often people with a lot of lifetime earnings.

PL: What do you think is going to be most important for being successful in the GPL? Will it be the teamwork, the individual qualities of the players or something else?

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Plan A: Winning

KM: Winning, I guess (laughs)! It is always the most important thing. Start with that and everything else kind of works itself out. That is basically my strategy in poker, to win.

It should be very interesting. I know they are going to do a lot of online heads-up where I wouldn’t necessarily say we are going to be a huge favorite compared to the other teams.

A team like LA has Olivier Busquet and Chance Kornuth, those guys are really good online heads-up players.

So I don’t know if that will necessarily be our strength but we have a wealth of experience and I think everybody in our team is a pretty accomplished online player.

Maybe not necessarily in a heads-up format but in other formats. I just think that when it comes down to it like in any other poker game it comes down to your critical decision making in the moment.

Just making the right decision, being aggressive and, you know, just trying to win, basically.

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