With poker you need to work on your game all the time in order to stay at the top. Do you think your game is at that high level right now, or are you getting by because your opponents in live tournaments aren’t of the highest quality?
I think that my game would definitely be well served to play more and be in more of a poker environment. Let’s say I would live in a house with three or four other top professionals where we would be playing every day…then yeah I would be better. So my game is probably not at 100%, but I do talk to some of the best players in the world on a regular basis. I do play often enough and I am still extremely confident that I’m at 95%. Personally I think that my game is better than it’s ever been but I think that’s just kind of an evolution; you should always feel that way. You should always be striving to get better unless you are taking some crazy time off. Hopefully every year you can look back on how you’ve played last year and think, “Wow, I didn’t really know what I was doing back then.” It’s important to keep learning and to keep improving, but I don’t think I need to play every day to do that. I think I can do well enough by doing what I’m doing.
One of the big things that gave you mainstream media attention was the story in ESPN The Magazine back in May 2011, about how Jason Mercier was down a lot of money staking Allen Bari and yourself, among others. What kind of perspective did that story give your friends and family on how you were living your life, since that was kind of a negative article?
I could not be more honest about this than to say that I didn’t really care. It definitely wasn’t a good article. I guess the writer and the editor needed to sensationalize it, or whatever. We weren’t under the impression that it was going to come out the way it did, not only before but also during. It was fairly honest at the time since Allen (Bari) and I weren’t doing well at the time and things were not all that pleasant. If someone thinks that I’m just a losing player because I’ve lost for maybe a year or so, which is probably like 75 tournaments, they really don’t understand the variance in the game. For me personally, negative or positive press, I don’t pay too much attention to it. Not that I’m in the press all the time, but I don’t watch myself on TV or read anything written about me. It’s not because I’m trying to avoid it; I just don’t really care.
But how do you think it was for your friends and family to read such a story, because they don’t get to see you all the time since you’re traveling most of the year?
I don’t think so. I don’t think people took it as badly as it could’ve been taken. Honestly I don’t remember it all that well. All I know is that we weren’t too pleased with it. I don’t even know what my parents said, but they probably just wanted to make sure I wasn’t broke. Some friends probably thought it was cool that I was in ESPN The Magazine, but no one approached me saying, “Are you broke?” or “Are you sure this is the right thing?” Maybe Jason’s friends and family were a little bit wearier, wondering if he should be backing us. If he was doing the right thing, since the article made it seem like we were just losing him money. For the most part it didn’t really affect anything, and after that Allen and I actually did really well for a while. When you’ve been in the game for as long as we have you understand the ebbs and flows of it all. When I’m losing I don’t think I’m the worst, and when I’m winning I don’t think I’m the best.
Three friends; Kyle Julius, Dan O'Brien and Jason Mercier
Are you famous?
(laughing) No. Not even close. More people know me than the average guy I guess, but it doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t really mean anything. Fame, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. There are some confused people out there maybe that think that I’m famous, they are incorrect.
On your HendonMob we can see some pretty impressive results among which are a lot of close finishes...
(laughing) Yeah, I tend to almost win tournaments a lot!
...but that big win is still missing. Last year you finished second in a World Series of Poker Europe event after a dreadful heads up. How was it to know that you were so close to a bracelet but eventually you ended up in second place?
That was extremely difficult. That was probably one of those moments where I wasn’t as cognizant of my image or trying to be entertaining. As much as it’s important, I mean if you watch Negreanu, it's a big part of the reason why he is what he is. He made some big finishes at a good time during the World Series when it was coming up, but he’s also very personable at all times. There are also times where you just have to sit there and realize that this is very important, and you need to put all your energy in what you need to do. In that time, and as much as I wanted to be entertaining, I just really wanted to win.
People felt bad for me but I don’t know how they watched the whole thing, because I played some of the most boring poker imaginable. I just limped everything as the blinds were getting up there and I didn’t want to increase variance against that guy. I just felt comfortable playing flops with him and I thought I had a pretty big edge. Sometimes things just don’t go the way you want and I also made a couple of mistakes. I probably should’ve limp-called a little bit more and taken a couple more gambles. At the time it just seemed like I shouldn’t gamble on anything because I really felt like I could control the situation. It was tough because I was up 11.5 to 1 in chips against an amateur player, and even against a pro that would’ve been tough to deal with. If you look at the situations, I got it all in with ace-king versus pocket queens for 10 blinds each and he won. Then he proceeded to pick up some pots and we ended up all in four times with about even equity. I lost them all and it was pretty tough to be in those situations. I did everything that I could and I was pretty proud of myself for sticking to my game and not losing it. I was even able to take it into the next day, and from an 11:1 lead I got down to a 6:1 disadvantage. From that I battled back to around two or 2.5 to 1. At that point I turned down a deal from that guy, because I didn’t want anything to taint my bracelet. I just wanted to win and was very confident on the uptick. The blinds ended up getting really big and I ran some big hands into bigger hands, and that ended up going against me unfortunately.