name: Poker Player Spotlight
Paul Phillips: Another poker millionaire
Paul’s Shining Memory
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.
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
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
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