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The Poker Ace

For Greg Raymer, winning the world series of poker took knowledge, skill and a little luck
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

On a Saturday afternoon at a back table in Foxwoods Casino's sprawling poker room, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer steps up and sets down his blue nylon gym bag. He reaches inside the bag, past the fossils, "Tower of Terror" sunglasses and aspirin, and fishes out a wad of hundred-dollar bills rubber-banded into a tight roll. He drops his money upon the green felt and it lands with a satisfying thud. Raymer then announces that he needs chips so that he can play in the $75/$150 game of Omaha (a variation of Texas Hold'em, in which you get four down cards and must use two of them along with three of five community cards).

"Get some chips for me," one guy quips as he mucks his cards. Another player asks Raymer if he's bought himself a new car yet. Someone else remarks that he's waiting to see Raymer on TV. A fourth player jumps up from the table and waylays Raymer to tell him that he has a great idea in need of a patent. Raymer, a patent attorney by trade, listens politely, then informs him, "I'm no longer in that business."

Who could blame him? The day he won the 2004 World Series of Poker in May, beating out 2,575 players and pulling down $5 million, Greg Raymer instantly ceased being a lawyer and became a professional world champion poker player. These days the burly, bald, big-faced Raymer, who turned 40 in June, is traveling the world, entering poker tournaments in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dublin and Paris, getting backed by online site and loving his new life.

But here in rural Connecticut, Raymer is not exactly treated like high-stakes royalty. Since he has been competing with some of these guys for five years, he feels as comfortable here as in any home game (Foxwoods is located only six miles from Raymer's house). He gets his chips, takes his seat and plays poker. After losing a bunch of hands and dropping $1,000 or so, Raymer packs up his remaining chips so that he can grab some lunch. Then he playfully announces, "I'm out. You guys are too good for me."

The line gets a couple grunts of acknowledgment as Raymer reaches for a pocket-sized loose-leaf notebook and carefully jots down some information: the amount lost, the date, the place where he played.

Greg Raymer may be a World Series of Poker millionaire, but he has not lost the careful, calculating ways that got him there. "Maybe I pay more attention than other people," he says, trying to determine what makes him better than the average medium- to high-stakes player. "I don't go on tilt too easily. I take short stack factors into account, recognizing that people can make desperation calls without even looking at their cards and be big favorites. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people ignore that one."

Raymer estimates that he has played in 500 tournaments—live and online—and 2004 marked his third year competing in the World Series. Two years ago he lost $30,000 at the Binion's Horseshoe classic. "After that I was so sick of this game," admits Raymer. "I never wanted to play again. Then a few days passed and I went to Foxwoods."

He laughs and adds, "I wanted to win my money back."

Despite the financial hit and an 80th-place finish out of 600-some-odd players in 2002, he made an important discovery: "I was up against the best players and felt that I could control them to some degree," he says, adding that he went out of the tournament after correctly calling a stone-cold bluff from Tam "Tony D" Duong. "I was a three-to-one favorite; he had 10-4 offsuit and made a straight. He got to the final table that year and I got knocked out of the event. But with that hand, and with every one leading up to it, I felt like I had been making good decisions. I knew that I would have to play in every World Series tournament from then on. Clearly I was capable."

Raymer was hardly born with a deck of cards in his hand. His mother, a homemaker, frowned upon gambling and, as Raymer says, "My dad hates losing money. I'm cheap, but he makes me look frivolous."

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