Q&A with PokerStars Team Pro Dennis Phillips

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Can you explain what your life has been like since your third-place finish at the WSOP in 2008? It’s been about 18 months now and honestly I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling the entire time. It’s been a whirlwind. Doing things I never would have dreamt possible, that I can now count as friends such as St. Louis Cardinals slugger) Albert Pujols and a number of others, traveling to places I’ve never even heard of before. … Me in Monte Carlo, what’s going on here? (laughs) It’s crazy, but it’s all good. The poker world is such a good group of people. They do so much work with charities, they are so friendly, they will welcome you into the fold as long as you’re a good guy. It’s pretty awesome.

A lot of truck drivers are in it for the solitude, but now that you’re a famous poker player solitude is the last thing you have. How hard was it to go from real obscurity to limelight? It is kinda wild. To come to the event in Chicago, instead of the option of flying, which I’ve done a tremendous amount of flying last year (more than 200,000 miles), I decided to drive because four hours in a car with nobody else sounded really, really good. (laughs) You’re absolutely right. I can’t go into a McDonalds now (as) someone (always) recognizes me. But again, for the most part, it’s really good. People just want to talk to me for a second. They always have a question. If I hear that ace-king, ace-queen question any more times … (laughs) but that’s just part of it.

Did you buy Broadway Truck Centers in St. Louis, the trucking company that used to employ you? Yeah, I am buying the company down there. These are guys I’ve known for years and years. The economy of course, with the way that it is, the two owners right now, one of them is 79 and the other one is 80, they wanted to get out of the business, but they wanted to make sure the business stayed together. They have guys who have worked there for 30-35 years. They were afraid if they sold it that it would kinda get dispersed. We came to terms and my friends are going to have a job and I’m going to have a good business. They know that it’s going to stay together so it’s kind of a win-win-win situation.

Anyone who knows you knows you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan. (laughs) What was the experience of throwing out the first pitch at Busch Stadium like and how did that come about? Actually some friends of friends. I’ve made a lot of acquaintances now. I’ve helped Albert Pujols with his Pujols Family Foundation charity, which is absolutely awesome. … They gave me a jersey with my name on the back of it, the whole bit. You walk out in the middle of 40,000 people, you don’t get a chance to warm up or anything like that. The guy said, “Look, just go out 20 feet and lob it back in if you want,” and I said, “Nnnnnuh!” (laughs) This is the only time this is every going to happen. I don’t care. I went out there and I tried to pretend like I was 20 and heave it. And of course I split the plate with a ball; it rolled right over it. (laughs) There you go. But it was fun, and now everyone gives me a hard time about it, and I really don’t care, it’s fine. (laughs)
How’s your radio show going? It’s going very well. … You can’t hardly name a poker star who hasn’t been on. … It’s all working well and we’re having a blast on it. (Go to chipleader.com for live or archives.) It’s done at the local station there in St. Louis, on 590 The Fan. … Listen to it, send me some emails, we’ll have some fun.

How often do you play charity events and how rewarding has it been? It’s been really rewarding. It’s one of the best things I do, I think. I’m actively involved in some aspect with about 20 charities in the St. Louis area and around the country. And I also do individual charity events. … I pretty much do them whenever I’m available. It’s so much fun; it’s so rewarding.

Moving on to poker, you made another incredibly deep run in the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. Did you have to change your game at all before the Series because people knew who you were from the prior year? What happens when you go on the tour and you’re around there, your game better improve or you’re going to get in trouble. And I played with some of the best in the world and my game did improve. I play a much better game now than I did in ’08. … On the first day (of the ’09 Series) I had a camera crew follow me around to every table I was at that entire first day. And everybody wanted to be on the camera. It made no difference what I had or what I bet, I guarantee I was getting called. It was a nightmare. (laughs) That first day was nothing but survival. I flopped a set of fives and laid it down.

So how did you turn it to your advantage? Instant analysis at the table. Two things are the reactions I normally get: people who are scared to play with me, or they want to push me out so they can tell everybody about it. Those are the two extremes. You have to instantly be able to recognize those when you sit at a table. I hate it when my table gets busted, I sit down (at a new table) I haven’t seen any play at the table and they deal me something like jacks. And you got a preflop raiser ahead of you. It’s like, “What do I do now?” Give me an hour and I’ll know how to handle it. But right now it’s a problem. (laughs)

How many people was it you brought out for the November Nine in 2008? Three-hundred forty-six people came out with me.

And what did that cost? (laughs) I’ve never really told anybody what it cost. But we did hotel rooms, we did all the shirts, all the hats. A lot of people flew out on their own, but a lot of them I did fly out also. We rented McFadden’s restaurant there for the weekend so they could go there any time they wanted to eat. I rented shuttle buses that took them around places. We went out and played golf afterwards. We just had a blast, and I wouldn’t change anything. I’m telling you it was worth every penny of it.

How’s your relationship with PokerStars going? Very well. PokerStars is a quality act. … They are an extremely ethical and forward-thinking company. I love it and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Do you like other games besides hold’em? I play a lot of the other games now, and I’m really getting addicted to some of them. … Deuce-to-7 triple draw can be SO much fun and it is SO sick (laughs). And then I found out the more I play razz the more strategy there is in razz. It’s a lowball game, supposedly real simple right? No it’s not! … There’s a skill to playing razz. … I’m enjoying the variety. Hold’em is my favorite, obviously, but the others are fun to play.