Philipp Gruissem: “I’m Most Useful to the World as a Poker Player”

Philipp Gruissem has been at the forefront of the sudden German dominance of the super high-roller poker scene, but he’s in it for more than just money.

Or rather Gruissem wants to do more with his money than just playing higher stakes or buying more extravagant cars or houses.

Gruissem is a believer in the philosophy of effective altruism, which motivates him to earn more playing poker so he can make a difference in other people’s lives.

Effective Altruism is an Attitude to Life

PokerZeit’s Dirk Oetzmann caught up with Gruissem at EPT Vienna and discussed philosphy, poker strategy and more.

PL: You are playing the high roller event here. Is that compatible with the concept of “effective altruism”?

PG: “Effective altruism” is an attitude to life. It roughly means I am making money to give to others.

I make the decisions that are most beneficial for other people. The best way I can do that is to play poker.

I would never be as useful as a gardener or a nurse. [laughs]

PL: You seemed to be lacking motivation to keep on playing not too long ago.

gruissem uganda
Philipp Gruissem in Uganda

PG: In the beginning, poker is just fun, but then it turns into a job. A job that is about money, and money only.

In the long run this just isn’t enough for me, as I don’t consider money as very important anyway. I was missing a second motivating factor.

PL: Sounds a little Buddhist…

PG: Yes. Buddhism says giving will make you happy. I agree with that a lot.

PL: Are you a Buddhist?

PG: I don’t like to be categorized. There are some basic characteristics of all the great religions in everyone’s lifestyle. I just happen to incorporate more Buddhist principles.

Your personality is the sum of the different influences you experience in your life.

PL: What does “effective altruism” mean in practice?

PG: You try to make as much money as possible, to invest in charitable projects. My bes- case scenario is to put enough money in the bank to be financially independent and then take the other money to invest in profitable projects.

PL: So, where did the first batch of money go?

PG: We gave $60,000 dollars to the “Schistosomiasis Control Initiative” (SCI), which fights bilharzia and worm infestations.

They operate in Uganda and I have recently visited them. At the same time, Igor [Kurganov] went to the Swiss headquarters of “Effective Altruism” to hand over $90,000.

PL: So you watch where your money goes.

Philipp Gruissem
Philipp Gruissem

PG: Yes. We want to use it to utmost efficiency.

In Germany I can’t do much with 2,000 dollars. In Uganda, I can help a thousand people. I think people have the same value everywhere, so I put my money where it helps most.

PL: What does the poker community think about this?

PG: Actually, charity is very uncool. Many poker players like to show off their new cars or watches. It’s completely absurd, when you think about it.

PL: Have you quit private high stakes then?

PG: On the contrary. These are even more interesting, now that I can put the winnings to a good use.

PL: Wouldn’t that mean a sponsorship would be just the right thing for you? Gus Hansen mentioned your name as a potential successor of Tom Dwan for “The Professionals”.

PG: That is interesting, in general. However, nobody has approached me or made me an offer.

PL: Sam Trickett has described your game as “extremely creative post-flop and regardless of any pot control”.

PG: I think he summed that up pretty well. I change my style a lot and I take high risks.

PL: And how would you characterize Trickett’s game?

PG: Rather solid, but extremely efficient.

PL: Are there players you can learn from?

PG: You can learn from every single player you play with. I do. Sam is one of them.

PL: What is the secret master plan behind the success of German players in high roller and super high roller events?

Igor Kurganov
Fellow German high roller Igor Kurganov

PG: You wouldn’t think it, but we never planned anything like this. At some point we had enough money to afford them, and as we very successful early on we could afford to play more of them.

Also, we are all friends with each other so we know about each others’ poker skills.

PL: Have you never been accused of soft-playing or cheating?

PG: Not directly. The only guy who ever insinuated anything was Tony G. I gave him a proper answer and he never said anything again.

If Tony G. shuts up that’s a sure sign you are right.

Aside from that, no one has ever suspected me of anything. And you know that the guys are very attentive and speak out if they suspect anything.

PL: How does a think tank like your group work? Are you scheduling a two-hour discussion on Omaha Monday morning 8 AM, and then there is a 2-7 workshop Thursday afternoon?

PG: (laughs) I wish. In reality there are more spontaneous, unplanned discussions, like on Skype or between just two of us.

It is true, though, that we speak about 2-7 more often than other games.

PL: Macau is the home of the big games now. Are you thinking of taking them on?

PG: Actually, I’ve been there several times. But the truth is it didn’t go well for me at all, so I need to recover first before I go back.

PL: You travel all the time. Do you ever get homesick?

PG: I don’t get anywhere-sick anymore. I’m not longing to be somewhere at any time. I want my friends and my family around me, but it doesn’t matter where that happens. Wherever I am, I feel at home.

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