Greg “Fossil Man” Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion, winning the 1stplace prize of $5 million. His infamous holographic sunglasses became his trademark throughout his Main Event journey. His nickname “Fossil Man” comes from his hobby of collecting fossils, and his use of them as card protectors. Aside from poker, Raymer is a patent attorney as well as a poker coach. In this interview, Raymer talks about the time he did stand up comedy, poker advice, and fighting off robbers who held him at gunpoint by his room in the Bellagio.
So you used to do stand up?
Well, I went to University of Minnesota for graduate school in 1986. During that time, it was the golden age of stand up of the 1980s. Minneapolis was one of the best places for stand up opportunities, because unlike New York and L.A., there wasn’t as much of a struggle for stage time. I thought it would be fun to try. But, it’s a lot harder to come up with funny things on stage. [laughs]So, I learned how tough it was to do that stuff. If you did well at open mic in Minneapolis, you would eventually get invited to perform on a showcase. Instead of doing 5 minutes, now you did 15 minutes, even though they didn’t pay you.
Nothing’s changed… [laughs]
You know, I was amazed when I would see comedians doing the SAME five-minute routine for years, and I always thought, “What’s the point?” But, I did those showcases and eventually they offered me the paying job which was riding around in a van full of comics from one dive bar to another, in the upper Midwest. Your expenses were covered. The booker put you up in cheap, dive hotels, and fed you the cheapest food available. Then, after having been on the road all month, you made maybe $200.
So you got to the level of where you were getting paid to do stand up?
No. I turned down the job. [laughs]At the time I was only making $5,000 a year as a graduate assistant, plus tuition. $200 a month wasn’t enough to help me keep my apartment.
For you, stand up wasn’t a passion enough for you to barely survive just to keep doing it?
Well, I just realized it was highly unlikely I would ever be some big hit.
But, you still turned out to be a big hit. You still made it into the world of fame.
[laughs]Right, I just knew I was not gonna be the next Robin Williams, or Bobcat Goldthwait, or anyone else from those names of big stars back then. If I was to do it today, it would just be for fun rather than trying to make a living at it.
What do young aspiring poker players ask you the most?
I get people all the time who ask for my advice on quitting school or their job to be a full time poker pro. And my advice is always, “Don’t do it.” It’s that simple. I don’t know their game most the time, but the truth is, the majority of players aren’t skilled enough. And they don’t understand that. Then, of the players who have the skill level, a lot of those will fail because they will blow their money on sports betting, casino pit games, etc. They’re gamblers with good poker skills. And finally, the group of players who will avoid the pitfalls and have the skill level, a lot of them will look back in five to ten years and get bored, will want to do something else, but now they have a ten year hole in their resume. How will they go back and get a real job?
When did you start playing poker seriously?
As soon as I became a lawyer. I finished law school at University of Minnesota, and took a job in Chicago. Before that, I played poker every now and then just for fun. Which was more of an excuse to sit around with friends and chat, drink beer, make crude jokes and all that. What I had also played while going to school was Blackjack. I became a card counter and made extra money this way instead of some other student job. But, when I moved to Chicago, the games there weren’t beatable by someone like me, who was playing by himself as opposed to the team method. So it was like, “I’m working as a lawyer, am I gonna go play blackjack on the side for minimum wage?” Probably not. So, while in Chicago I found a poker game known as the Rockford Charity Games.
Wow, and they’re still around today…
After that, I got a job in San Diego, and found more poker rooms there. Plus, I went up to L.A. on the weekend and played in the big rooms there. After that, I took a job with Pfeizer in Connecticuit. This is where I really moved up in stakes. By the time I won the main event, my main cash game I played was $75/$150 mixed games. Which meant easily winning or losing five to ten thousand dollars a night in a game like that.
When you won the Main Event, they called you a part-time amateur player? But it seems like you were more than that?
ESPN wanted to portray me as another (Chris) Moneymaker. They tried to make me sound like the amateur poker playing attorney, even though I had already played maybe 500 tournaments before the Main Event, including the Main Event a couple times before, and also other $10,000 buy in tournaments. I also already had a quarter million in live tournament cashes by that point.
What steps did you take to actively improve your game?
When I first discovered the Rockford Charity Games, I went to a used bookstore to pick up some poker books. They had three, so I bought them all. Two of them were enjoyable to read, but not very good in terms of making you a better player. One was Poker According to Maverick, written as if by Maverick from the TV show or movies.[laughs]Another was The Education of a Poker Playerby Herbert Yardley, which was interesting because he was a World War II code breaker. But, his advice for poker was basically to play weak-tight, meaning to play tight and when you get the nuts, bet it. Which was a perfectly valid strategy for back then, before players got better. But nowadays, that strategy is very A-B-C. It won’t make you world class. The third one is a book that even to this day I recommend people read, and that is The Theory of Pokerby David Sklansky. It appealed to me because it is very logical and mathematical. That’s the stuff I like, and that’s the way I approach the game.
THE BELLAGIO ROBBERY STORY
We read about you getting robbed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas? What happened?
Basically, I was at the Bellagio for a poker tournament and also to film a TV show that was not that good [laughs]called Battle of the Sexes, which was a poker TV show thing I happened to be invited to. So I was staying in town a few days for that. While staying there, I was playing cash games every night. Apparently, these bad guys found out what room I was in. We found out later that they hung around the poker room a lot. So, they probably saw me leave the poker room with lots of money, because I was playing $400/$800 mixed games. Which means, I might have been cashing out with $50,000 or more.
On my last night there, when I opened the door to my room, two guys jumped me from behind. They tried to push me into my room. But, I yelled for help and pushed back into the hallway, knocking them and pushing them off of me, while still yelling for help. That’s when the smaller guy pulled out a gun. So, I stopped yelling. While staring at the gun, in a split second, what went through my mind was, “I’ve seen their faces, so now they’re going to rob me AND kill me.” I figured if I just cooperate with them, it’s highly likely that I’m dead at the end of it all. So, I decided to not cooperate.
I attacked the bigger guy, who was big but not muscular. He was just big and round with stick legs and stick arms. I knocked him to the ground, and the smaller guy with the gun ended up running away. Then, the big guy got up and ran. With all this adrenaline in me, I ran after them yelling, “I’m gonna kill you motherfuckers!” But then, I quickly realized, “Wait they have a gun, I don’t want to catch them.” So, I stopped running. But, security finally came, they went through surveillancefootage and ended up recognizing one of the guys because he had caused an incident there before. The robbers ran off and got away, but police had their info. Two months later, they were found in San Diego. They ended up pleading guilty and doing time in Las Vegas.
THE INFAMOUS GLASSES
Watching you play now, we notice you don’t wear your signature sunglasses that you had when you won the Main Event.
[laughs] The glasses I wear now are made by Blue Shark Optics. These glasses don’t hinder your vision. There is a special coating that gives enough reflectivity so that you can’t see my eyes, but I can see everything as if I wasn’t even wearing sunglasses. My original glasses were just a novelty item I bought at a gift shop. [laughs] But, they were dark sunglasses with a hologram sticker on them, and you can’t see all that well with them. I put them on as a one-time joke that I planned on wearing for just one hand. But during the Main Event when I wore them, an opponent freaked out and folded to me, so I kept wearing them every time I played a hand. [laughs]
Written by: DAVID GAVRI