What’s the reason you tend to shy away from the media?
In the past I never really enjoyed it. I never had any desire to be on TV, that just wasn’t my thing. I liked playing poker and doing whatever else I liked to do, so I just didn’t do it because I didn’t have a passion for it. I never meant to be famous, but now that I am I’m just trying to embrace that and give a little back to the game.
Are major victories bittersweet because of the spotlight and demand for interviews, etc?
No, I’m OK with it now. I’m actually starting to enjoy these interviews a lot.
Would you prefer the poker boom never happened so you could just go back to making a great living without anyone knowing who you are?
No, not really. I love the fact that poker’s been embraced all around the world and everyone loves the game that I love. It’s great to see the game flourish like that.
Congratulations on winning the 2009 NBC National Heads-Up Championship.
Thanks a lot. That win meant a lot to me. It actually was one of the first wins where I actually felt like a team feeling, like I was playing for a team because I play for Full Tilt. Last year when it got down to the final four players it was all Full Tilt players. But this year I was the only Full Tilt player left so I kinda felt like I was playing for the team.
How did you get such a strong reputation in heads-up play?
Well, I’m taller than everybody; I think that’s intimidating, right? (laughs). Heads-up can be a game of intimidation … to prepare for a heads-up tournament you’ve got to play a lot of heads-up. I’ve had a long poker career, 20 years, and I’ve played a lot of heads-up so I feel I’m ready. … I’m just more concerned about getting my sleep and being fresh, getting a little workout in.
One of our local players here in Florida faced you in the third round, Glen Chorny. What did you think of his play?
It was an interesting match. We had a little friendly conversation before the match and we found out we had played each other on Full Tilt before so we did have a little history together. It was definitely a tough match.
Who was your toughest opponent along the way?
Sammy Farha. Not necessarily because he played the toughest against me, but because I had low mental energy in that match. I just wasn’t playing my best. I was at a mental low and that made the match tough for me.
Vanessa Rousso is the Queen of Florida poker. How was she as an opponent and did you pick up anything on her?
She reminds me a lot of these young Internet players who are so open with their information. The final match was two out of three, so after the first match she really wanted to kibitz, and was like “What did you have on this hand?” and she came out right away and said, “I did this, and this is what I had. What did you have in this hand?” But I didn’t really want to go there. (laughs)
You have more than $4.6 million in tournament earnings, but this $500K win was your largest cash since taking down the world title in 1996. Do you feel like this win completes your comeback?
I had a few years there where I went through a period of depression and problems in my life and I wasn’t really focused on poker. So that was part of the reason why I didn’t have any big tournament wins. Plus tournaments are hard to win and there’s a lot of luck and variance involved… whenever you win a big tournament you are lucky to get through all those people.
You’ve won two bracelets in razz. Why is it one of your favorite games?
It’s a great game. It started out being one of my worst games. I didn’t really understand it because I was just a natural hold’em player. Then I started working on the game and then after a couple of years I saw the beauty of the game. … When you start out as a hold’em player you’re not keeping track of all the cards and all the suits like in stud and stud/8. In razz you gotta keep track of the cards, but not the suits, so it’s not that hard to remember the cards. I do like that, coming from hold’em going to a stud game. That was one nice thing about it. … now I’m daydreaming about razz hands (laughs). … It’s not my most natural game so it did mean a lot to me to succeed in razz when it was one of my weaker games.
Do you think we’ll ever see a resurgence in razz?
I’d like to explain to you how lowball games originated. People were playing high games, making flushes straights and what not, and the people that couldn’t win would just sit and complain, “I never get a pair. I never get anything. I always have completely nothing.” And then they were like why don’t you play a game where the lowest hand wins? “Oh I’d win every day; I’d break you all!” (laughs) And that’s how the games started. Everyone who couldn’t win at the high games weren’t in tune with the fact that they were just playing poorly. They just thought it was the luck. These people thought they were just gonna crush the world because they never get anything. … I think that’s how the game got started.
Your dad also had an affinity for Mark Twain, right?
Yeah, when I was 7 years old I realized I had a unique name so I went to my dad and was like why did you pick the name Huckleberry? And he said “Well, if you ever become a famous baseball pitcher you wouldn’t need a nickname.” (laughs). … My dad was a real good athlete so I guess he thought I might be a famous athlete someday.
What is the sickest prop bet you’ve ever accepted?
When I was in my low 20s I had been playing poker every day for like a year without … you know, only walking to my car and back was the only exercise I was getting, and I love sports. So I made a bet where I was going to go out and run a marathon in a certain time with being in the worst shape I’d ever been in. I thought I could do it but I knew it was going to be so tough. I never ran more than five or six miles in my life. … We went out to the track and I ran about half the way and walked half the way and that was enough to win the time that I had to do it in. But I made it though. (laughs) … The crazy bets a lot of times are just motivation to help get out of that poker chair and try to get my body back in shape.
Your latest prop bet is to run a mile in under 4:39 by the end of the year. You just turned 40. Do you really think you can do it?
Yeah, I just brought that up to my dad to see if he thought I could do it and he thought I could. … I’m a little bit of a track-and-field fan and my little brother is a distance runner, so once in a while I dabble in the track and field. Yeah, I think I’m gonna be able to do it. I made a big bet with Doyle Brunson years ago and I trained hard for a year and I lost the bet. I just felt like it was my gym fees or something. (laughs) I was in shape and it was worth that money I lost! Sometimes it’s fun to bet things besides money. I haven’t really made a bet like that. Sometimes when people are challenging me I’ll challenge them back and I’ll be like “All right, if you wanna play for that then let’s just play for a finger, or we could cut off a foot.” (laughs) The Mayans or the Aztecs had that game where they played to the death. … That’s serious stakes there. (laughs) But every once in a while I think of that and I toy with the idea of challenging someone to play heads-up to the death. (laughs) So far one of those matches hasn’t come up.
With the heads-up win under your belt, how do you feel heading into the WSOP this year?
It’s a great win; it’s motivated me to step up my game. I’m real excited for the World Series. Right now I’m really not playing that much poker. It can be really grueling at the World Series. I seem to play better when I just relax and get in good physical shape. … But it was a really good win and I’m gonna try to hang on to the winning feeling, the good grooves I was in and try to carry that into the World Series for sure.