Exclusive Interview With Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond

Poker legend, business owner, and new husband Phil Galfond answers our questions in our exclusive interview

We recently caught up with one of the biggest names in online poker and founder of training site “Run It Once”, Phil “ OMGClayAiken / MrSweets28 ” Galfond to talk about the state of the games, how to deal with downswings, and his plans for the future.

Hey Phil, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. How are things these days?

Things are good, thanks! Very busy. Balancing running a business and making weekly training videos with playing poker was already a challenge. But lately I've also been travelling, overseeing a home being built, and planning a wedding [Phil married his wife, Farah Fath a month ago]. All of which are good things, but I worry about not getting enough hands in, and not having enough time to work on my game in the way I'd like to.


With the WSOP now in full swing, are you looking forward to any events in particular? Or is there anything that you would change about the schedule this year? 

I likes the idea of the “Colossus” event being played early. A $5m guarantee at a low buyin will get a ton of players out to Vegas earlier than normal, which hopefully will increase field sizes and prize pools throughout. It should be good for the cash games too!

I'm happy about the $25k PLO of course, though I wish all PLO tournaments were 6-handed.  It's a much less skillful game when 8-9 handed in a tournament format.  Less fun too as well.

All-in-all, I think the WSOP does a great job of updating tournament structures and event types. It's no small task to balance the wants of every type of player while still trying to run a successful business.

A while ago you tweeted about how you no longer own your slide! It seemed like a lot of the poker community were kind of sad on your behalf about it. How was it selling your old place, and how is your new one?

Hah yeah, I appreciate it, I was sad too. I obviously had made the decision to sell my place, but yeah I really did love it. I put a lot of time into it and I was there for three years. The entire first year was planning and construction so I didn't really live it out or get as much use out of all the work that went into it as I would have liked, but the sale was just a product of circumstance. It didn't really make sense to hold onto it and I'm happy with my Vancouver place and my new house.

How are the games going for you these days? And do you plan to just continue playing in the same games as you have been?

Games and swings have been a little crazy for me lately. At the moment, I'm on a bit of a downswing. I had been having a pretty good year, mostly at $25/50 and $50/100 PLO. I decided to play a little more 2-7, since that's where bigger action is available, and though I've had some good days, it hasn't gone well overall. I'm currently on a $600k or so downswing there, but I hope to change that shortly!

I play 8-game a good amount, but I haven't in a while. The problem with all of the mixed games, other than the fact that you have specialists in them, is that you can't play that many tables, because they take a lot of focus. I could potentially 14-table PLO, but I could only 2 or 3 table 8-game. So as long as there is action elsewhere, I could never see it being the best way to maximise my hourly, even if I did work on my game a lot. I don't think my 8-game is very strong, specifically my O8 game is pretty weak, so I probably won't be stepping in there much. When I do it would be because I think the game looks very good and because I'm bored. Even in a very good game, I’m not quite sure I will be able to compete. I just haven't put in the work on my O8 game and I know it's not good enough at the moment. My triple-draw game I think is much stronger than my O8 game. I really enjoy it, I think it's possibly the most fun poker game that I've played. So yeah it's a lot of fun but it’s getting tougher.

And I don't think so for No Limit either. The issue is that games just don't run. You can always find PLO action, and a lot of tables of it. So rather than sitting around waiting for NLHE action every once in a  while, or taking on the best regulars all the time kind of just for fun, it's just more profitable to spend my time focusing on my PLO game, just because I'm able to get in so many more hands there.

When nosebleed games ran all the time, I was very used to the swings and it didn't affect my game much.  These days, having a big loss (or win, actually) at nosebleeds makes it much harder to put in hands and focus on 25/50 PLO.

My results are telling me to relax and grind it out at PLO, but I have a hard time not wanting to compete in the bigger games. I can't say for sure what I'll be playing, but it's important to me to have fun=while I play, so I generally decide to play whatever I am in the mood for.

I've had some years in my career where I've run poorly at low stakes and well at higher stakes, but lately it's been the opposite. Last year was similar too, I had plenty of success at $25/50 and $50/100 PLO (though not over as many hands as I'd have liked), but my one session of $300/600 PLO for the year was part of a -$1m day at nosebleeds. At least my winrate is still good?

What are your thoughts on the state of the games these days?

Zoom only at HS PLO on Pokerstars has been awesome for the games. There are a couple of downsides, but overall I am a huge, huge fan. Games run more frequently, there is no pressure to avoid taking breaks for fear of losing the table, and bumhunters have to play against good players. Also, those with seating scripts don't gain an advantage, and more importantly, I don't have to get stressed out by obsessively checking the lobby for games. So the PLO games have been good. The competition is getting tougher though, but it's a fun challenge.

Mixed games run a fair amount at $200/400 up to $1500/3000, but lately I have been avoiding them, mostly because, as I said before, I don't have the time to focus on all the games these days.

2-7 doesn't really run other than heads up, which is unfortunate, and the players have gotten much stronger. It was a relatively unexplored game a few years ago, and the progress in it has been fast.

So playing in the biggest games, when you have those huge swings, sometimes daily, do you find it easy to detach them from the rest of your life?

For the most part yeah. I've been doing this for a long time now, and especially early in my career I was playing way over my bankroll, so I've taken some beatings, and dealt with it. Yeah for the most part it's not that difficult - take a beating, and cool down and go live your life and feel better when you come back. I think usually the most difficult thing about dealing with swings, is not even just a massive downswing over a day or a week, but an extended downswing, even if it's small, like over 2 or 3 months where it just feels like you can't win. That's very discouraging. It makes you not want to play poker, which makes you feel like you're not being very productive. That's much tougher to deal with. Although I think I'm okay with dealing with that too, that I think that is more of a challenge.

And if you have a bad day, how easy/hard is it for you to not let it affect or ruin the rest of your day?

I’m pretty good at dealing with that I can usually contain it to just one day of being a little stressed out. What happens usually while I'm playing, is that I actually am affected by it - not to the point where I think it throws me of my game very much - but I'm definitely very much focused on how I'm doing in the poker game while I'm in it. And really the second that you quit, I find that it actually makes a difference right away. Because the level of focus that I have when I'm playing poker - which I think most players have - it kind of just feels like at that moment that's your whole life and that's everything that you're thinking about and caring about. But once you quit and step away, even just for a second, you kind of remember that that's just a small part of your life, and that losing a certain amount of money in a poker game one day isn't the end of the world.

Could you give our readers any tips for dealing with bad days or extended downswings?

I think what's tough is that everybody handles it differently. It's helpful if you can become self-aware, to figure out what works for you and what calms you down. Most importantly, you need to figure out when you're off your game. So if you're upset before going into a session, it's important to be aware of that and probably not play if you can avoid it.  When you find yourself getting upset during a session, I think it's likely that you are tilting even if you don't feel that you are.

I think that the worst form of tilt for a professional poker player is auto-pilot. The reason it's so dangerous is that it happens so often when people are either upset or just not focused.  They think they're playing great because everything is standard, and what happens is that they miss out on a lot of the spots where they normally would pick up an edge and they get lazy. It's something that happens so frequently, and I think that that's what costs the pros the most money.  

How are things going with Run it Once lately?

Things are great! It's nice to have something to work on and be passionate about besides poker, especially when I'm travelling around the US. I'm really proud of our community, our pro roster and the content we are putting out. The response continues to be great.

We just got the coolest news we ever have gotten. Two of our earliest and favorite RIO members just got  MARRIED after meeting years ago on the RIO forums! I can't say I had ever considered the community we've been building leading to something as life-changing as this (not that I take any personal credit), but it is SO cool. I'm thrilled for them and it feels so cool to look back on the beginning of RIO and the two of them posting and responding to each other for the first time. I was there!


Are you currently working on anything else or do you have any other projects for the future that you can tell us about?

What I've been learning from my couple years of business experience is that things take a very long time. I started out with 100 ideas, and I sent our team off to work on all of them, throwing plenty of money at them in the process - outsourcing where we needed more hands on deck.  But there is always a bottleneck somewhere, and we've had to give up on a couple of ideas/improvements that were already in progress in favor of some others that we like more, due to the fact that they just aren't all going to get done.

We have always prioritized improving our product and growing the company over pocketing profits, so in that respect I don't regret the types of decisions we've made. I am learning to be more realistic though, and controlling my natural "big idea - go go go!" mentality.

So, to your question- We do have a very exciting video series on the way, which will start being released within the next month or so, and there will be a bit of a promotion around it. I think people will love it.

RIO Gear ( http://store.runitonce.com/ ) was a big hit last WSOP and we are working hard to make some additions.  Hopefully they will be done in time for this summer!

Other than that for the near future, we'll just be continuing to make upgrades to the site, and continuing to seek out new pros.

Sounds good. Thanks again for speaking to me, and best of luck in your games!

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