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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

(continued from page 1)

The elder Raymer marketed mainframe computers, and the family moved several times due to his job. Greg Raymer was born in Lansing, Michigan, attended middle school in Clearwater, Florida, and graduated from high school in Manchester, Missouri. While he was attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota, an aunt presented him with an unusual Christmas gift: The World's Greatest Blackjack Book, by Lance Humble and Carl Cooper. That title's veracity is up for debate, but it did teach Raymer the basics of card counting and led to him hitting the Indian casinos near his school where he won at blackjack. He had a small bankroll, which allowed him to spread only $5 to $25 per hand, but it provided him with a steady income of $7 per hour or so, and he was happy.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota law school in 1992, he worked as an attorney in Chicago, where he wandered from a blackjack table to the poker room. He was instantly hooked. "First I played poker for fun, then I decided to get into it," says Raymer, remembering that he went to a used bookstore where he unwittingly stumbled across David Sklansky's Theory of Poker, a tome many gamblers view as indispensable. "The book taught me what to think. It brings to light the concepts you need to consider when making decisions."

He played in a $3/$6 Omaha game and learned the beauty of competing against soft players. "Sometimes, for six hours, I would be the only one to fold before the flop," says Raymer. "The hand selection in that game was terrible."

It turned Raymer into a winning small-stakes poker player.

He moved from the law firm in Chicago to one in Milwaukee. There he found a $10/$20 Texas Hold'em home game, where there was a $500 buy-in and as many as 13 people crammed around the card table. By the time he took his next job at a law firm in San Diego, Raymer was a decent poker player and quickly became a regular at the Oceanside Card Club, where he won $2,500 playing in a $2/$5 blind pot limit Hold'em game.

He got married soon after and learned the complications that come with being a good, honest husband who gambles with an upside. "I won the $2,500 on a Saturday," Raymer recalls. "Then I went back on Sunday and lost $500. It was the most I had ever won and the most I had ever lost. And when I came home to tell my wife [Cheryl] what had happened, she became furious. She told me that 'we can't afford to lose that kind of money.' I said, 'What about the $2,500 I won?' She said, 'You brought that home. It's our money now.' I heard about guys who never tell their wives the real numbers. They always say they win less. That way they have extra money to compensate for the losses."

Did Raymer ever employ that tactic? He hesitates for a beat, then diplomatically says, "It was tempting."

What Raymer did do to appease his concerned wife was agree to put a cap on any potential gambling debits. "She was afraid that I would become addicted to gambling and lose all our money," he says. "So I made an agreement: I would have a bankroll of $1,000. If it's gone, then I'm done playing poker."

Fortunately for Raymer, it was plenty of money, and he supplemented the grand by selling fossils to poker players. Raymer, who first got turned on to fossils by his wife, promoted the products by using a long black fossil to guard his cards when he turned up their corners to look. Now Raymer never plays without fossils in front of him and often wears a lovebead-style string of semiprecious gemstone chips around his neck.

In late 1998, yet another job beckoned, this one with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and the Raymers made a final relocation to Connecticut. They wanted to buy a house but had only 5 percent of the required down payment. They needed twice that. "We were trying to figure out what to do," says Raymer, "when I won $22,000 in a tournament. Suddenly we had down-payment money. That was when my wife's opinion about poker began to change."

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