What are you doing here today? You aren't playing.
I'm not playing until Day 3. I was up at the party in the Voodoo Lounge, and I decided to stop in and just get a vibe for what the room looks like, go to each table and see how many familiar faces I see. I was shocked a little bit to see that for most of the room there were comlete unknowns, people I've never seen or heard of. I think there were six people I recognized out of 900.
What do you think about that?
It's obviously great for the better players because there's a lot of dead money or new money that don't have that much experience. But at the same time, it's a little more difficult because the chance of me playing with anyone I've ever played before is very slim. I'm going to be at the table with guys I have never seen before, so I have to learn how they play really quickly. They watch me on TV and know how I play a little bit.
There will be a lot of online qualifiers playing.
Yes, thousands of them. The tougher part about that is that I don't even know which ones are good. In the old days, if you'd sit down at a table with eight people you've never seen before you would be like: "Mmm, it's a good game." These days you can sit down at a table and have three guys at your table that are fabulous online players, and have no idea.
You play on Sunday in the Main Event. Will you be watching the action tomorrow (Saturday) as well?
No, I think tomorrow I'm totally going to take the day of, relax, watch "Rocky" which is what I do, watch some poker on television, maybe golf a little bit. Just be a way from the scene here, I want to take a break.
Which "Rocky" movie are you going to watch?
All five. They're very motivating. "Rocky III" is my favorite one. There's something about the music in the films that inspires me. There is also the idea of the underdog you know, the fight, and the heart. To win in poker you need heart, when the chips are down, you don't quit. Rocky didn't quit, Rocky was always coming back, fighting and competing, and that's a great mindset to have when you go in to an event like this. I want to have that killer instinct - there is no quit, no fear, just go, go, go.
Do you adapt your strategy for the Main Event?
You have no choice but to adapt your strategy. Generally when I play poker, I'm playing with Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Phil Ivey, and Gus Hansen, and these are top players. The types of things that I'm going to be doing against them will be lost on players that are new to the game. With newer players I'm basically going to try to simplify my game, and just play the cards instead of trying to outplay them. Because trying to outplay someone who doesn't even know what they have is kind of silly.
Will that make the game more boring for you?
Yes, without question it's a lot more boring, because sophisticated play is, like I said, lost on them. So you have to revert back and almost dummy down and use rookie plays. Plays that would never work never work against Doyle or Phil might work. Like if it comes Q-Q-7 and the guy bets and I call. Doyle or Phil will know that I will probably have a queen, but against a rookie he might not know, and I might be able to set a trap. You can use a lot of tricks you forgot even worked.
Is it difficult to be disciplined and stick to your game plan against this type of player?
The biggest struggle for me will be knowing that I can outplay these players, but making sure that I have a legitimate hand, and not letting myself get to far out there and risk too many chips in situations where I don't need to. I'm going to be aggressive and active, but not to the point that I'm just giving away money.
You never considered not playing in the Main Event because of this?
Of course not. Without question I am one of the favorites to win this thing. You need a lot of luck, but this is free money. This tournament is worth a lot of money to me because I have more experience than all these other players, and if things go well and I get a big stack, I have shown consistently that when I do get big chips, I'm usually able to finish the deal. Ten million dollars - how would I dream of not playing this thing?
What do you think of your performance so far in the WSOP?
I'm happy with it. I came in second in the "Tournament of Champions," and then I had about four cashes, and I didn't play as many events as I normally do, because I wanted to rest up a little bit for the Main Event. I didn't do a Jeff Madsen, who is a great kid by the way, but I did the best I could. There are so many players now, it's really difficult to win a bracelet, so I'm not disappointed.
Do you have a goal for the Main Event?
Yes, winning. (Laughs) Frankly, my goal is to make sure that I am really playing my A-game, like I did last year. ESPN showed some of the hands that I played, and despite the fact that I was out early on Day 1, I played very well last year. If I do that again this year or next year, eventually I will crack through. The cards will come and things will work out, and as long as I have faith in that, and make sure that every decision I make in every hand is the right one or the best informed one, then I'm not worried about what happens. For example, I don't think anybody played better than me last year. I don't think Joe Hachem played better than me. I didn't play as long, but I was unlucky.
Who are the other favorites to win?
Phil Ivey is always a favorite because he is very focused. He has a presence about him and people are afraid of him. Despite being a top player he tries as hard as anyone in the game. He won't goof off and always tries extremely hard.
Are you afraid of him?
I'm not afraid of anybody. But I will tell you this: If I don't bring my A-game against Phil Ivey, I have no chance. If I bring my A-game, I could imagine an amazingly exciting final table with me and him heads-up going at it where we're both playing our best game. I feel like my best game is on par with anybody in the world. Of course I don't have an A-game all the time. Sometimes I play poorly, I make mistakes, as does everyone, but Phil does it less often than most people.
You have a reputation of being a nice guy. Do you feel the pressure of keeping that up even when you're having a bad day at the WSOP?
It can be tough sometimes, like right when you get knocked out of big pot and everybody expects you to be a certain way. Sometimes you just want to leave, but then you have all these people asking for autographs and pictures and things, and they don't want to see you pissed off or angry. So I will put on a brave face and fight through it. I wouldn't say pressure, but a responsibility to hold myself in a high regard, represent myself well, represent the game well. I don't want to be mean to people, and I don't want to be rude, losing or winning. Obviously it hurts to get knocked out of a big tournament, but I'll save home time for being depressed about it or being upset. I'm not going to do that in front of other people.
And in a tournament like the Main Event you might even be playing against some of your fans?
Without question. The Main Event is so big that generally I'm going to be at a table with nine players I've never seen before. A lot of them have qualified online, and they might want to have an autograph or take a picture. I think that's fine, I'm not going to let that hinder my play. If anything it will help me, because I know how to exploit it. I've been around, and I am ready for this.
Besides the Main Event there has been a lot of talk about the H.O.R.S.E. event this year.
It was my idea. I brought it to Jeffrey Pollack and promised him that we would see top names on the final table. And we got Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Dewey Tomko, Andy Bloch, all professionals. It was virtually no fluke at that table and the H.O.R.S.E. is a real test of your overall poker skill, and it really crowns, in my opinion, the real world champion. The real world champion has already been crowned.
You don't think a $50,000 No-Limit Hold'em tournament would be the same?
No, because No-Limit Hold'em lends itself towards luck. A lot more people can play it, and a lot more people can get lucky. Now, imagine somebody getting lucky in five different disciplines, especially the Hi-Lo games, it's not possible. It's not possible for a bad player to make the final table in the H.O.R.S.E. event. It is very possible for that to happen in No Limit. A guy goes all-in with sevens, he beat kings. A guy goes all-in with 8-6, he beats A-K. But in Omaha Hi-Lo, and Stud Hi-Lo, and Stud, to do that repeatedly in a Limit format, the odds are so much more heavily stacked against them. That is the reason why you saw the cream rise in that event.
What about the balance in H.O.R.S.E.? Now there are three stud games.
You know, the good news is that although there are three stud games, Hold'em and Omaha play a lot faster so there are more Hold'em hands. But, as far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier. When we play in the big game, which truly is what poker's about, we play twelve different forms of poker. The more the merrier. And I don't think taking out any games is necessary. If you can play Stud, you can play Razz, it's not that hard.
But if you add more games you would have to change the name?
H.O.R.S.E. and Triple Draw is what they should do. Triple draw is an interesting and fun form of poker that all the high-limit players play.
Do you think it ever will become the Main Event?
I think that the pros, the people to know in the poker world, they look at the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event and say: "This is already the World Championship." The public is going to look at the Main Event as the one that crowns the world champion, but frankly it's silly. Look at the last three. I won't take any credit away from the fact that Joe Hachem won, and Greg Raymer, and Chris Moneymaker. They all did great to win but these are not household names, they never were. And you will see that every year with that event. Look at who won the H.O.R.S.E. event, it was Chip Reese. That's going to be a closer indication to who the best player is, a lot like it used to be in the old days when there were smaller fields.
So for you the Main Event is more about the money than the honor?
The Main Event is the money, the big lottery. It's fun, it's exciting, but calling the winner of this event the World Champion of Poker, I think is a little bit silly.