OMGClayAiken, or Phil Galfond, is one of the most successful online players of all time. With over $7.8M of winnings (at just Full Tilt Poker) he is most likely among the top 3 online poker winners of all time. HighstakesDB had the opportunity to have a short interview with this respected poker pro where he tells us how he got into poker, the opponents he respects the most and also about the coaching site he just co-founded.
When did you start playing poker, and how did you do to build your bank roll? Did you play very disciplined from the start or did you take a shot on the higher limits?
- I was careful at first. I played SNGs only and moved up slowly. When I started playing cash, I took more shots. I took some shots that were way over my head, but I always was able to step back down and grind if things didn't go well.
What has been the main concerns during your poker career so far, is there something you had to struggle extra for?
- I have always been a passive player, by nature. It's been tough for me to add the aggression I need to my game. I've been able to mostly by forcing myself to think about the best possible play at all points in the hand, rather than just playing on autopilot.
Which players do you think are the hardest to play against and are you trying to avoid these players, or run against them anyway to enable yourself to develop more?
- Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan are the two I try to avoid most. Patrik, LarsLuzak, Urindanger, Trex... there are a lot of tough guys out there. I've played all of them HU from time to time, besides my good friends Tom, Z and Hac (durrrr, urindanger, trex). I do like to challenge myself and play tough players, but with the stakes getting so high these days, it's too much of a risk.
Do you think the games on Full Tilt Poker has become unreasonably high the last few months? Is it good or bad for the online poker in general?
- It's both good and bad I think. It's great for the short term action. Lots of people want to play and lots of people rail the games, which brings more people to Full Tilt (so it helps the smaller games too). That said, I think it'll cause people to go broke faster, which hurts the game in the long run.
What bank roll do you need to play actively at $500/1000 tables, and do you think there are many people who play on these tables underolled?
- You should have 5m+ in my opinion, and be willing to possibly lose it. I'm sure many people play underrolled, but most of them have the discipline to step down and play lower if their shots don't go well.
Do you think beeing a more of a math based player can beat the nosebleed-stakes at FTP, playing a well balanced game, considering that the agression is furious and the swings are high on these limits?
- I think that math is very important to poker, but psychology, logic, and quick thinking are at least as important. Being a math based player can mean something good or bad. Some people are called math based players because they are very good at math. Some are called math based players because they are very bad at the other aspects of the game. If math is all you have, you won't do very well. If it's one of your many skills, it's definitely helpful.
Have poker influenced your mood much over the years or do you have the ability to completely suppress for ex. large losses and just see everything in the long run?
- I do pretty well with keeping my mood steady. It is tough at times, and I definitely have let it effect my non poker life somewhat. If it's going really badly, I usually will skip activities with friends and things like that to play more poker or watch tv. I usually just like to be alone when I'm losing, though it probably helps me feel better to be around people.
- Like I said though, I usually handle it pretty well. I can sleep off a bad night pretty easily. If you stay in a bad mood when you lose, it makes it really hard to fight back.
Something which is very popular among poker players are different bets, do you have a funny bet or any bet that you feel extra proud to have won, or do you just simply stay away from these kind of actions?
- I actually haven't taken part in too many funny bets. Most of the prop bets I make are simple ones, like on video games or sports.
- I spent one night, maybe 8 hours, playing Tom (durrrr) heads up in a few poker games that we'd just invented. I ended up winning by a lot. I was most proud of that. He had to do a lot of different things to pay off the bet. He did pushups in the middle of an IHOP restuarant, and he got a best buy employee to high five him after "pump faking" him 4 times... A pump fake is when you ask for a high five, then pull your hand away when the other guy goes for it and say "pump fake"
You won your first bracelet earlier this summer, what key factors play a role in this gain and will you focus more on live tournaments in the future?
- I think I was just a much stronger PLO player than the field. That, and I ran good.
- I plan on playing a lot of WSOP events this summer, but I still will mostly be focused on cash games.
You have also started your own coaching site, how will it work and what is your goal with this site?
- My goal is to grow this site into the biggest, and most respected training site out there. I think we have the ability to do that too.
- Bluefirepoker.com is a subscription based training site that teaches mostly through videos. I'll personally be making 4-6 videos every month teaching our members how I think about poker, and how to play certain situations. I also have a team put in place of really good players and teachers who span small stakes NL all the way up to, well, me.
- I've actually cited highstakesdb.com many times when explaining why people should sign up for bluefirepoker... If you look at the list of the biggest winners from last year, how many are making videos besides me? None. It'd cost over $2,000 for 1 hour of coaching from me, but you can watch a year's worth of my videos for just $400.
When we are on the coaching, if you would like to give our readers three valuable tips on how to improve their game, what would it be?
1) Always ask yourself why you are making the play you are making, and why it's better than your alternatives.
2) Find a group of friends that play around your level. Talk to them about poker nonstop. Live with one of them. Watch each other play. It will do wonders for your game.
3) Get a coach, and/or join training sites... lots of them...bluefirepoker.com especially :)
After an incredibly good year we want to end the poker questions with your ultimate goal for 2009?
- I'd like to top my results from last year. Nothing crazy, just slightly more. I'd be satisfied with that. I'd like to win another bracelet, though that's a tall order for sure. I'll need some luck to help.
Now, let's skip the poker, what are your other ambitions and interests in life?
- I'm honestly not sure yet. I'm having fun working on the new site, building a business. I think I just want to keep doing well in poker until I have the financial freedom to do whatever I want. Then I'll figure out what exactly that is.
What is the most expensive you bought last year?
- My new condo. 2 condos actually... one on top of the other. I'll be combining them into one soon. I'd rather not say how much it was, but it was by far the largest purchase I've ever made. Actually, before this, I think my largest purchase ever was a $5k TV.
If you would choose a different job than a professional players, what would you choose and why?
- I'd probably be a teacher. That's what I think I would've ended up being. Doesn't pay quite as well as poker, but it's something I love doing, and think I'm very good at.
If you would describe yourself with five simple words, what would those be?
- Hmm, that's hard.
- Analytical, introverted, caring, lazy, obsessive