It hasn’t declined really that much. The numbers [of entrants] in tournaments are probably still pretty consistent with where they were in 2009. Obviously we’re not scaling up any more. We could never have maintained the growth that we had. Some people just thought we could keep growing infinitely, which makes zero sense, because obviously there’s a money cap and a people cap.
I think we did a really good job of growing the game from where it was, and now that we’ve hit a plateau, it’s remained pretty steady.
It seems like, especially around here, there are so many more places you can play poker. It use to be, people here in Baltimore might go to Atlantic City. Now you have poker at Charles Town and Arundel Mills and and they’re building a new casino downtown. How do you think that affects poker and gambling in general?
You get a lot of choices. There are so many different poker tours out there. Back in 2003, you had five or six tours that served for the whole year. In today’s world, there’s a poker tournament series in probably five to six cities in the U.S. at any given time, ranging in buy-ins from $200 up to $10,000. There’s just a whole lot of variety and a whole lot of options. … but it also dilutes numbers and spreads people out. …
There’s a lot of poker players from this area. A lot of the good guys that travel around the world are from this general vicinity. You’ve got a lot of big cities and a lot of money all in this area. And as poker is growing, you have rooms opening up. Charles Town has always had a lot of action, and you’ve got new casinos opening up, like you said, the one downtown. It’s just going to continue to grow.
What’s one thing that you’d say people who just watch on TV or who are casual fans don’t really know about professional poker?
That’s easy. When you’re watching on TV you see all the high-intensity, all-in drama. It’s a great, exciting, adrenaline-rush game. They don’t see that you sit there for three hours and don’t play a single hand, or you’re bored out of your mind because you’re folding all day.
Literally, you start at noon and you play till midnight, and you get those adrenaline rushes once every five hours.
I can imagine that people take a lot of pleasure when they bust you at a table.
Everywhere I go, people are trying to bust me. It’s just part of being who I am. There’s probably 10 players in the world I would say that people get a great joy out of busting. I happen to be one of those people.
People play really weird against me. They either go out of their way to try to bust me, or they go out of their way to stay out of my way. It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s going to do what, and what their motives are. Some people want a story. Some people just want to survive.
You’re coming off a win at the Hollywood Poker Open in St. Louis. Do you feel like your game is at a good place now?
I’ve been working hard on my game. After I won [the World Series] it’s no secret I got complacent. I thought I had the game figured out. … No point in studying anymore. And all these young geniuses are spending 24 hours a day analyzing the game and I’m off on vacation with my family and kids while they’re working.
I realized that a couple years had passed and results weren’t where they needed to be, so I got back to work and found some players who do work 24 hours a day on the game and picked their brain.
I feel really good about where I am – and not to be complacent again.
I know you’re a big sports fan outside of poker. Any big bets on the NCAA tournament?
I lost my billion, which sucks. I was alive [with a perfect bracket] until the night games on the first day. I actually picked Harvard and Dayton, so I was feeling all big and bad about myself. I actually live tweeted that I was going to win a billion dollars and then N.C. State decided they didn’t want to hit free throws. Most disastrous thing I’ve ever seen.