April 2004's Feature Article

Column name: Poker Player Spotlight
Title: Paul Phillips: Another poker millionaire
By Alan Hunter

Paul’s Shining Memory

Reflect for a moment on your poker accomplishments. There is probably something in your poker past that you feel proud of. Maybe you always clean up Uncle Phil’s game at Christmas. Perhaps you have even won a major Canadian tournament for a payday of $30,000 or more. There is probably one moment, or one memory, that you cherish as the highlight of your poker career. You are, of course, hopeful for bigger and even more exciting things to come but for now you can look to that single shining memory and hold it up as the moment you felt like a poker player. That moment – as I once heard a Minnesota player who goes by “Big Bucks” describe it – at which you feel like you should be signing autographs.

Let me introduce you to Paul Phillips. On February 25, 2001 at the age of twenty-nine, Paul cashed in the Commerce Casino’s L.A. Poker Classic $5,000 No-Limit Championship. That tournament was – to that point – Paul’s “shining memory.” Enjoying a day like Paul enjoyed, many would be happy to crow about their poker prowess. Many would be very happy to boast of a “shining memory” featuring a $95,950 payday. Not Paul. He felt dissatisfied. In fact, in 2002 he “semi-retired” from poker feeling like he had left some things undone. By his own account he had flirted with bigger paydays but a combination of bad luck coupled with the occasional erroneous play had kept him from really big success. Imagine that for a moment… feeling disappointed after winning $95,950.

You see, the money is not that important to Paul. In 1996, fresh out of college, Paul became the Chief Technical Officer of www.Go2Net.com. Part of his compensation was shares in the company and when Go2Net went public Paul was set for life. Now at age thirty-one, Paul dislikes the word “retired” because he feels it implies that he is slowing down – something he is not doing. On the other hand, when I asked him if he would ever again trade his labor for a salary he was clear: “No. Never.”

Is he a professional poker player? I offered the definition of a pro as someone who earns the bulk of their income from poker. By that definition, even in 2001 – despite not working at a traditional job and cashing for $95,950 at the Commerce Casino L.A. Poker Classic – the bulk of his income came from investments, not poker. Even in 2001 he was not a professional player. The money is not the most important thing about poker to Paul because he has enough to live out his dreams even if he never makes the final table of a major poker tournament again. He can afford to be disappointed by $95,950.

The reason that Paul Phillips was disappointed at the Commerce Casino in 2001 is because he did not win. His “shining memory” was for second place. That is why he was disappointed. Paul wants to win. And, in truth, it is not quite fair to claim that money in poker does not matter to Paul. It does matter. In Paul’s own words: “In poker you have to mention the dollar amounts because that’s how we keep score. There isn’t any way to quantify a poker achievement without talking about money.”

Driven by a nagging desire to win, coupled with growing tournament fields and massive prize pools, Paul was drawn back into tournament poker in 2003. Good thing too. The fall of 2003 can now stand as Paul’s “shining memory.” To understate the obvious – September to December of 2003 was a pretty big few months for Paul Phillips.

A pretty good run

Starting in September, 2003 Paul placed second at the Bicycle Casino’s Legends of Poker $5,000 No-limit Championship. As reported by Sports Illustrated and subsequently confirmed by Paul, he made a money deal with Mel Judah, the eventual winner. Officially Paul won $293,550. His actual payday was $453,000. He was still disappointed though, after all, it was another second place finish.

Things picked up two weeks later though. On September 19, 2003 Paul won the Borgata Open. A small one though – official result – $64,010. Again Paul made a deal, this time with Jonathon Gordon the second place finisher and his actual result was $56,900.

Then there was a brief break from poker during which Paul married Kathleen – they knew of each other in college but did not date until 2000. Paul would, I am sure, describe his wedding as his “shining memory.” Indeed, when I asked him to describe his hobbies away from the poker table he answered: “My wife Kathleen is my passionate interest and hobby.” Returning from his honeymoon in the Dominican Republic Paul attended the Bellagio’s Five Diamond World Poker Classic December 1 to 18, 2003. An appetizer was served in the $2500 Limit Hold’em event – Paul placed 5th and pocketed $17,569 (no deals). Then, the main course – the four day long Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic $10,000 No-limit Hold’em Championship. A World Poker Tour event, Paul’s victory was seen on the U.S. Travel Channel on March 17, 2004. It will be seen in Canada on CityTV when the second season of the World Poker Tour airs here.

No more second place. No more deals. No more regrets. Paul collected $1,101,980. Hearken back to my definition of a professional poker player: someone who earns the bulk of their income from poker. For the year 2003, Paul was forced to consider himself a pro. Although no serious fan of poker would have ever doubted his skills – now even the casual fan would know of his skill. Paul Phillips – one of a very small group of players to cash over $1 million in a single poker tournament.

Improving your game

Who are the best no-limit hold’em tournament players in the world? Who are the players that Paul emulates? Although the difference in skill between the top players is smaller than most people realize, Paul cites Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Howard Lederer, and Phil Hellmuth. The last name on his list is something of a surprise. Paul has had more than one verbal run-in with Hellmuth because in Paul’s words: “Although I appreciate where Phil’s heart is and I know he is working on improving himself, he insists on frequently behaving in a totally inappropriate way. I have self-appointed myself as Phil’s watchdog.” Disdain the behavior – respect the play.

I asked Paul for just one tip. One piece of advice that a new player could adopt that would start him or her down the road of poker success. His answer: “Accept total responsibility for your results. Everything else will follow.” Good advice.

Paul points out that the only people who actually keep track of their wins and losses are the winning players. The losers always forget to enter their losses in the ledger or start keeping track immediately after a big win in order to get a head start. No good. If, as Paul says, you actually keep track of all your wins and losses then you will be forced to get better.

What’s next for Phillips?

April and May will be busy months. As a World Poker Tour event winner, Paul is automatically entered in the World Poker Tour Championship April 19-23 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Non-winners have to find the $25,000 entry fee – the most expensive tournament in the world today. Immediately following the WPT Championship the World Series of Poker will get underway. You will find Paul in several WSOP events ending, of course, with the $10,000 WSOP No-limit Championship.

If there is one thing that Paul would like to accomplish (who wouldn’t?) it is to win the WSOP Championship. At the 2001 WSOP Paul got down to the last sixty players. He had lots of chips compared to average and was in good position for a push to the final table. It was not to be. Paul’s A-A was beaten by 9-9 and then in the very next hand he was again dealt A-A and was again beaten – this time by J-J. Ugh. If everyone has a “shining memory” then everyone can also boast a low point…

Children are also in the future for Paul and Kathleen. Although Paul will encourage them to play poker as a hobby: “Any kids of mine that eyed poker as a career would swiftly be locked in the closet until they repented.” Of course, for Paul, other than 2003 poker is just a hobby.

Alan Hunter is a freelance writer and poker enthusiast.

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