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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Greg Raymer

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Greg "Fossilman" Raymer followed Chris Moneymaker to stardom, beating Dan Harrington, Josh Arieh and David Williams to take the 2004 WSOP Main Event. Since his victory, he has become one of the greatest ambassadors that poker has seen. He sets the benchmark for public figures in the graciousness he shows fans of poker. Since his victory, he's cashed nine times at the WSOP including four more Final Tables and a 14th place in the 2007 WSOP $50k HORSE event. He truly belongs as one of the great people of poker.

CC: Thank you again for taking the time to sit down with me. First, tell me about growing up. You moved around a lot.

Greg:
A lot is a relative term. I moved around a few times as a kid. The first move hardly counts; I was born in North Dakota and was only a few months old when my Dad got out of the Air Force and went back to Michigan where he was from, in Lansing. I wouldn't count that move, when you aren't old enough to know anything about your life. When I was ten, we moved to Clearwater, Florida where I did my middle school years. Then we moved to a suburb of St. Louis where I went to high school.

CC: Was that a tough move for you?

Greg:
No. First move was a little tough because I'd never moved before, I'd always lived in the same place, so I was ten years old and I was moving away from all the friends I'd ever known in my life. I hated that move, but then I made friends in Florida quickly and all was good. When we moved to St. Louis in high school, it wasn't a problem at all. Then I went to college, so I moved several more times with graduate school, had three different jobs as an attorney. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina now, and I think it is the 12th place I've lived in my life not counting summer jobs. It's good news/bad news when you move as a kid. The bad news is that maybe you miss out on having those life-long friendships. It's not like I'm hanging out with that same guy that I played Horse with in his driveway when we were six years old. The good news is that you learn how to make friends better, so you're more effective at those kinds of skills than someone who has lived in the same place their whole life.

CC: And you majored in Chemistry in school?

Greg:
As an undergraduate, I majored in Chemistry at the University of Missouri -Rolla, and then I went to Graduate School to get a Ph.D. to be a bio-tech professor, that was the plan. Get a job as a professor, do Biotechnology, cure cancer or something like that. I got my Master's degree, but by the time I got that, I decided I really don't like working in the lab. I like science, but I don't like being the hands-on guy in the lab. It's fairly repetitive, relatively boring. The interesting breakthrough moments are months at a time before you see those. The mundane nature of it was too much for the really good moments. And I thought, "Well, how do use this science background, which I still like the science, and make a good living?" I was looking at things like chemical sales or pharmaceutical sales, stuff like that. Then a friend asked, "Did you ever think of being a patent attorney?"

I didn't really know what it was. I went to Law School; they hooked me up with one of the alumni in town, took that guy out to lunch, and asked him what it was like to be a patent attorney. It seemed like the perfect job; I did have to go to Law School to do it, but you're essentially a scientist with a pencil when you're a patent attorney. The client comes to you after they have the breakthrough moments, and then you get to learn about all this exciting stuff, then you have to write it up as a patent application, and then you have to argue with the examiner about the breadth of the claims that should be allowed for the case.

It's interesting work, and you're always on the cutting edge of the science, and you don't have to do any of the bench work. That was the plan, go to Law School, be a patent attorney, I did that for twelve years, first in a couple of different law firms and then for Pfizer. Then I won the Main Event three years ago, and then I decided it was a lot more fun to be a poker pro than be a patent attorney.

CC: How was corporate life for you at Pfizer?

Greg:
Well, it was a lot better than a law firm. In a law firm, no matter how hard you work, they pester you to bill more hours. As patent attorneys, we had a hard time billing long hours. The nature of our job just wasn't conducive to that, because the kind of work we do you could say is more mentally taxing than some of the work done by other types of attorneys. They have to be smart, a lot of their work is mentally taxing, but it's not taxing at the same, consistent level. It's not the same amount of focused concentration all day long, so they can sit there and bill twelve hours and still go home and not be completely wiped out.

We have a hard time billing eight hours and not being wiped out. I was one of the top billers at one of my firms among the patent attorneys, and they're bugging me to bill more hours. I'm like, "How many do you want?" And they said, "Look, we're not saying you have to bill this number; there is no number. We just want you to show us what you can do; you're getting close to being up for partnership. Show us what you can do."

And I was like, "Look, just give me a number. I want you to give me a number where you're never going to say a word about how many hours I'm going to bill except for ‘Good job.' Now, if you want to talk about the quality of my work, that's fine. That's completely unrelated to how many hours I bill."

And they just wouldn't give me a number. They said, "We want you to promise us that you're going to give us your all and show us what you can do next year," and I said, "I'm not promising you shit unless you promise me something."

And of course, that didn't go over very well, and that's when I started looking for a corporate job.

Pfizer was a lot better, because you didn't have that kind of crap. If you got the work done and did it well, they didn't really care how many hours you worked. If your clients are happy, you're getting the work done, and it looks like good work, then they're pleased with that. The problem with the big company is they have all these policies and procedures about how they want you to do things. Of course, there is a good reason for policy and procedure. In my opinion, you let your employees violate policy and procedure when it's the intelligent thing to do.

I would do something smart, save them a bunch of money, and then be given grief because I didn't follow policy. Was I wrong? I had to make a choice in the moment, because if I went up the ladder to get permission from everybody, the moment was going to be gone, and the chance to save $100,000 was going to be gone. They would say, "Yes, you were right. You saved $100,000 for the company, there was no downside at all to your decision, and there was no risk. But don't do it again."

I always thought it was strange. So I had been looking for something at a small company, because if you save a small company $100,000, they are grateful. They're not going to be pissed because you took one chance in a million for something bad to happen. I had actually interviewed with a small company in Tucson. Everything went great; they told me that the job was basically mine, except that the CEO needs to meet me. He was going to meet me the day I interviewed, but he got called out of town at the last minute. So they wanted me to come back out and meet him, and unless I really screwed it up, they told me I'd be offered the job.

That meeting was scheduled the day I won the Main Event. Of course, I'd already cancelled it because I was too deep in the tournament, and I knew I wasn't going to make it. Then I called them back the next week, and told them, "You know what, I'm not going to reschedule, because I won." They told me they'd seen it on the news, and they thought I might not meet with them. They said, "Thanks for calling us and letting us know, though." They did appreciate that I told them.

CC: What was Foxwoods like when you started playing there?

Greg:
Foxwoods was already a very big room. They were one of the bigger rooms at the time, maybe forty or fifty tables when I moved to Connecticut in 1998. At that point in time, it was way before the poker boom. The poker boom really didn't happen until Chris Moneymaker won on TV, so this was five years prior to that. Probably 2/3 or ¾ of the games were Seven Card Stud, high only. That was actually the thing that disappointed me the most. I actually really loved the game of Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Eight or Better, and I thought that would be the nice thing about moving to Foxwoods was that it was a Stud room and not a Hold-Em room, but I'll just play the Hi/Lo games.

When I got there, they didn't have Hi/Lo games. All the Stud games were high only, and I thought, "Well, that sucks." But they had a really good tournament. Every Tuesday night, they had a NLH tournament. When I moved there, they would get maybe forty people or so. The first time I ever played at Foxwoods, I heard about this tournament, I came on a Tuesday night to play in it; it was the first time I'd been in the room, and I won the tournament. Then I won it again a few weeks later.

So when I moved to Foxwoods, I'd gotten to the point where I was playing $10/20 limit poker, or sometimes $20/40. I'd played some PLH in Oceanside when I lived in San Diego, and basically very quickly moved up over three years from playing $10/20 to playing $150/300. My tournament results were going through the roof, and I was winning $20,000, which back then was a big number. Nowadays, that sounds like a small tournament, but back then that was a $500 buy-in NLH in the World Poker Finals in 1998. We made a deal three-handed for all the money and played it out for the trophy, but the deal we made was for almost first place money.

That was huge for my bankroll at the time, but it was actually huge in my personal life because my wife had never really been in favor of me playing poker. She would ask, "Why are you going to play poker on a Saturday afternoon? Whey don't you play golf instead?" And I would say, "Well, because if I play poker, I'm probably going to win money. If I play golf, I know I'm $60 out."

She still was never convinced. Even though I'd been winning for several years, she would say, "You're just getting lucky, and this is gambling. Everyone who gambles loses."

In that tournament, I got that $22,000. We had come to Connecticut, and of course we wanted to buy a house, but we'd saved up a 5% down payment. In San Diego, that was plenty, you could get a loan that was a little bit worse then a loan where you had 10% down. In Connecticut, it turned out no one would lend you money with 5% down, and the one person I found who would said, "Well, it's a two loan thing, and the second loan was 22% interest for the 15% of the loan." The 80% was market rate, and the 15% second mortgage was horrible. So suddenly after that cash, we had a down payment for the house she wanted, so then she was a lot more favorable for me playing poker. Then I would be hanging around the house on Saturday, and she would say, "Sophie's at her friend's on a play date, why don't you go play poker?"

Continued in Part II

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