- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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Reaching your goals is about keeping your eye on the ball. Assuming you have talent to build around, you focus, you work, you study, you work some more and then you work some more, because there are millions of people out there who want the same things you do. Of course, the strongest survive and he who works hardest will ultimately win. Finally, through your perseverance, your dedication and your adherence to a mantra, you reach the promised land: You achieve everything you ever wanted in life.
This is a question that few ever have the luxury of putting to themselves, but Phil Galfond is amongst those few. I've referred to Galfond more than once as "The name for God on the lips and hearts of all online poker players." It's a stylish movie paraphrase ("The Crow," in case you're wondering) that really suits the 25-year-old veteran of the online wars and you'll see why this Tuesday night, when he's featured on ESPN's broadcast of the World Series of Poker.
Perhaps no player in the industry holds more respect than Galfond and quite often that is vocalized among the online forums and railbirds.
"I'm not totally sure," admitted Galfond when asked to appraise the reasons for the high esteem he's held in amongst the industry. "I've always been very involved in the online community, more than some players like Patrik [Antonius]. I was more like one of them, part of discussions, hanging with other players. I think I'm just more relatable than other successful players. That and more accessible. The community was able to watch me grow as a player from playing $30 sit-and-gos to ramping up stakes. I think especially now, with my being public with blogging, and [video] blogging, I'm more of a real person than some of the other guys."
It's a thoughtful answer from a thoughtful player who seems to do everything right. Galfond is known for his strong game selection as much as for his analytical abilities. "I think my strengths would be in logic and reasoning," he said. "I think they are a big part of poker, the ability to take a specific situation and make the right adjustments in that situation. That and understanding the psychology are my strongest points."
Galfond has used those strengths to take himself to the top of the online poker food chain. According to PokerTableRatings, his online winnings exceed $7,300,000 in the past 30 months, a time period in which he also won his first WSOP bracelet. He's also made appearances in the biggest cash games on television and there's the aforementioned adulation. So, what do you do when you've achieved dreams and made enough money to retire at 25 years old?
For Galfond, the answer lies in the expansion of his interests. In January of 2009, Galfond helped launch BlueFirePoker, a coaching site.
"It was interesting for me to spread out my horizons," Galfond recalled. "I wanted to make training videos because I had something I wanted to bring to the table as teaching goes. I feel like I do it well. I have interest in learning about business and running a business. Teaching too. I'd like to be recognized at the end of my career as a player and as a teacher. My relationship with the community has changed. Now, rather than asking for strategy advice, I'm teaching it. There's less for me to learn from the experience of being a part of the online community now, but there are other ways to interact."
"We make training videos," Galfond explained of his site. "We're not the first people to do so, but what I went for with BlueFire was keeping the pro pool small and of a high quality. We don't have as many videos as the other sites, but they're all done by good players, good thinkers, who each bring something different to the tables."
After BlueFire, Galfond turned his sights to opening PokerStatic in May 2010. "PokerStatic was something that we thought of and put into action pretty quickly," he said. "We just thought it would be fun to have a media website with podcasts, interviews we thought we could do it well and it would be fun. We started working on it and within a few months it was live. It's not hugely profitable, but it's a lot of fun and I don't consider the work I do for it work. It's interesting and it's fun."
"I approached Phil to be our lead pro at BlueFire and I never talked to anyone else because he was the best fit by far," recalled Billy Murphy, Galfond's partner in both enterprises. "[Phil is a] great guy, willing to dedicate his time. He was perfect for it. He's been a really great guy to work with. He's great with the forums and you get what you see with him. He's the same guy out of the spotlight. He's not about publicity and he works for everything he has. He's really passionate about the training videos at BlueFire and at PokerStatic and he's really focused on creating something unique, a product people aren't getting anywhere else. He's all over all of our shows. He's been really great to work with."
The question, though, is why Galfond didn't just keep his focus on the big cash games he's become a mainstay in when they're so obviously profitable. The answer can be found in the rut Galfond found himself in prior to his business ventures.
"I think what happened was a product of the big games drying up," said Galfond. "Games wouldn't run very often so I'd spend most of my day sitting around waiting and some days playing very soft games where the play wasn't too interesting. I wasn't playing interesting matches against tough opponents or playing very often, and it felt more like a grind. I was playing because I had to. I think that lasted on and off one to one and a half years. That's why, in the last few months, I decided to work on new games and play tougher competition. It's just more interesting. My results have been good lately. I definitely feel like I've been playing a lot stronger, thinking harder about the game, which is how you get better. I think it's been good for my game."
Could Galfond ever really leave the game? The pro seemed frank that it wouldn't really be a possibility in the near future.
"I think I enjoy the game too much to just leave and never come back," he said. "There will be a point where, hopefully, I play purely for the competition and the fun of it and play 10 hours every couple of weeks against high-stakes players where I'm playing to figure it out for the challenge of it instead of because of the edge. I had my three-to-four year period where I played 80 hours a week and learned all I could and I got burnt out. Now I understand that just playing isn't enough. It's fulfilling to try new things."
A main event win would be a nice new experience. With all he's accomplished in poker, even Phil Galfond could use a world championship bracelet on his wrist. Tune in Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET to watch him continue to expand his horizons.
Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @GaryWise1.
14hMichael C. Wright