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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 2)

By the time he moved to Connecticut, Raymer was a fully formed poker player. He regularly posted on the player bulletin boards, and (a poker-oriented bulletin board monitored by the book publisher of the same name), where people would seek advice on how various hands could have or should have been played. Raymer became a star contributor, posting opinions on strategies and settling feuds. Ever the good student, participating on the boards allowed him to exercise his poker mind and develop various moves that came in handy at the tables.

On-screen, Raymer evolved into a successful Internet player without picking up any of the bad habits that betray online specialists when they play in live games. Raymer, a veteran of both worlds, sees Internet players showing a level of impatience at live tables, telegraphing that they will fold or bet before the action comes to them—probably because nobody can read your tells in cyberspace. And, he adds, "During no-limit Hold'em tournaments, I see poorly calculated bet sizes from Internet players. They make a lot of mini-bets. That's probably because online you can click a button real quickly for a standard bet rather than adjusting a sliding scale or typing in a number for a larger bet."

It's easier to make the small bet, and slowly, right or wrong, that becomes the ingrained thing to do. Conversely, says Raymer, "They also go all-in way more than they should. They get used to doing it during the low buy-in tournaments online."

In 1999, Raymer entered the New England Poker Classic, a no-limit Texas Hold'em tournament, and managed to increase his chip stack 15 times within the first couple hours of play. "We got a lot of weak players back then," he says, sounding a little nostalgic. "While playing in that tournament, I happened to run into a guy I had met the previous winter at the World Poker Finals. He was a decent player but not a winning player. About half an hour into it, he came over and whispered in my ear: 'Can you believe these guys we're playing against. They make me look like Johnny Chan.' I thought it was funny because he made me look like Johnny Chan."

Raymer's not kidding. The action at Foxwoods was so suitably soft that he'd win six out of 45 weekly no-limit tournaments over the course of a year. With up to 150 players and a first prize of $10,000 to $15,000, the money began to add up. It wasn't Chan-size money, but it was plenty for a straight-laced family man like Raymer (he and his wife have one daughter, Sophie). Poker evolved into a financial keystone for the Raymer family. Besides supplementing their down payment with poker winnings, he used the extra money to pay for landscaping, for a vacation and for an upgrade on his wife's engagement ring.

Even after those splurges, poker was so consistently profitable that Raymer was able to maintain a bankroll of $50,000 or so, which was critical for him since he's the kind of gunslinger who requires lots of bullets. "When I play cash games, I usually play deep money, meaning I have well over 100 times the big blind," explains Raymer. "I want to make significant decisions all through the hands."

Often that will necessitate throwing around lots of chips. "I'm most skillful with a big stack, meaning that I'm not afraid of risking some of that stack when I think it's appropriate."

It is an approach that can be extremely volatile, and Raymer experienced the downside a couple years ago when his bankroll dipped to $15,000 or so. Looking back, he doesn't think he played bad so much as he ran bad. Cards stopped coming his way, and moves that should have paid off suddenly didn't. "I wanted to keep playing in a $150/$300 game at Foxwoods, which was surprisingly easy, but with a $15,000 bankroll I couldn't do it," says Raymer. "I needed to raise money."

He turned to the online bulletin boards and offered to sell shares of himself for $500 apiece. He received plenty of flames—why should I invest in you if you've become a losing player?—but had built up enough of a reputation in the online communities that people were willing to take a shot. Many of the investors were friends, but a number of outsiders stepped up as well. "One investor contacted me from Poland," says Raymer. "[But] my biggest investor was a poker player from the Bay Area. He bought 10 shares for $5,000."

Raymer originally raised a total of about $30,000 from investors, put in about $13,000 of his own money and received an extra 35 percent for the time and effort of playing. Travel expenses came off the top, and he ended up with 57 percent of all profits. The deals were structured in six-month periods and the World Series of Poker's final day marked the end of the fiscal year.

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