World Series Champion Tom McEvoy says he longs for the days when all he did was play poker. With large boxes of unread books and unwatched movies sitting in his Las Vegas home, 61-year McEvoy simply doesn't have the time for basic pleasures.
He's poker's version of Slash, only he's still in his prime. In order to list his current occupations, McEvoy needs to take a deep breath before rattling off professional poker player, poker instructor, poker author, poker tournament host, Poker Stars representative, magazine columnist and he's sure he's forgetting a job or two.
In the fall of 2005, McEvoy went on a crazy tournament tour, participating in major events around the world and squeezing in lessons and appearances when time allowed. During that span, he never returned home for any significant period and the pace eventually caught up with him.
A respiratory illness chained him to Las Vegas home this winter; however, even being in his house didn't afford him the time to dip into those unwatched movies. He says he tries to watch two films a day, but hours of online poker and a steady stream of amateurs seeking game improving lessons keep interrupting his attempts.
Despite stating a desire for some down time, it's hard to believe McEvoy would have it any other way than busy. The excitement in his voice picks up a notch when he talks about playing in World Poker Tour (WPT) tournaments and he doesn't hesitate to relay quips about traveling to Oregon for a weeklong series of intense lessons with a first time player.
He can say he wants a break, but nobody's buying it. Breathing the Nevada air this winter has recharged the poker star and after he vacations with his family in the Caribbean this May, McEvoy said the plan is simple – attack the World Series of Poker (WSOP) events and win another bracelet.
This summer will be a busy one.
McEvoy on the World Series of Poker
McEvoy is the original Chris Moneymaker. He was the first WSOP Main Event participant to win after earning his seat through a satellite. Rather than ante up the $10,000, McEvoy played before the Main Event at the Horseshoe Casino and won his entry fee from others also seeking a discount. This was in 1983, before Internet poker rooms, a time when satellites were expensive and only those with a legitimate chance even bothered.
It was a good investment. McEvoy went to war at the Main Event with 108 of the world's greatest players, facing fellow satellite winner Rod Peate and legendary two-time Main Event Champion Doyle Brunson at the final table. Brunson busted out in third, making the heads-up battle a match to see who would be the first to capture the most prestigious bracelet without paying the full buy-in price. The twosome slugged it out for seven hours before McEvoy took home the $540,000 prize. He won with K-J offsuit.
"Back then, there were less players, but at the same time, there was virtually no dead money in the tournament," McEvoy said. "The players in those days were almost all top professionals or successful businessmen who were talented in their own right. Now, any amateur can play. Someone might sit down at a poker table for the first time in their life and plop down the $10,000 just to say they played in the big one. It's so different now."
The World Series has definitely changed.
There were 108 players in the Main event in 1983. This year, WSOP organizers expect a field of more than 7,000. McEvoy said the increased numbers are great for poker, and even though the skill level entering the events has dipped, it may require stronger play to win.
"Whoever wins the tournament will be the luckiest they've ever been in their life," McEvoy said. "But they will also need to play the best they've ever played at the same time. Guys like (Chris) Moneymaker and (Greg "Fossilman") Raymer got lucky when they needed to, but they also played extremely well."
According to the former champion, the days of back-to-back winners are gone. There will never be another Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, or Stu Unger, but that doesn't mean predictions saying another famous professional won't win the Main Event are true.
"I think another big name will win one day," McEvoy said. "It won't necessarily be this year or the next. There's a reason why some of these big names are big names. They've established themselves with a history of good play and they continue to be a threat under the most extreme circumstances."
Phil Ivey has the best shot, McEvoy said. He considers Ivey to be the greatest tournament player in the game today, but even with that distinction, it's not a lock or even likely that he'll win a modern major tournament, never mind the Main Event.
"Realistically, he has a 10 times better chance to win than anyone else," McEvoy said. "But even with those odds, the size of the field still makes him a huge underdog."
Given his age, McEvoy said the grueling multiple day World Series tournaments present a challenge. Because his endurance levels have decreased, he doesn't play as many events and if he lasts deep into a tournament and then busts, he needs a couple days to recover. Still, he's confident about finding a final table.
"Winning a bracelet is one of the greatest feelings in the world," McEvoy said. "My goal is to win a few more and I have as good a shot as anyone."
McEvoy on Being an Author
With 14 books already in print, McEvoy is generally considered to be the premier source for poker information. Writing about poker has proven almost as lucrative as playing, but despite the extra revenue, McEvoy said he's retiring as an author.
"I wrote poker books long before that was popular," McEvoy said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "Now everyone is writing one. Now that everyone is writing them, guess what, I don't want to write them anymore."
Shortly after winning the 1983 Main Event, McEvoy was approached by many about writing a book. Professional player and distinguished poker author Mike Caro was one of his prodders, insisting that McEvoy publish his secrets for public consumption. The result was the 1985 instant classic "How to Win at Tournament Poker." It took him seven months to write it.
It was more than a decade before McEvoy published his second offering. The reason for the delay was more than a busy schedule. Although ideas for books constantly rattled around the champion's head, he knew he needed an editor and a co-author to clearly present his points on paper.
He found his editor in the form of Dana Smith, an established author and the woman McEvoy now calls his lifetime partner and friend. Others helped McEvoy put his thoughts to pages. Collaborating with professionals TJ Cloutier, Brad Daugherty, Don Vines, and Max Stern, McEvoy pumped out 13 more books, most coming out after the mainstream poker boom.
The fastest McEvoy was able to finish a book from idea to print was 10 weeks. Wanting to capitalize on the lucrative satellite industry, McEvoy joined with Daugherty to write "Win Your Way into Big Money No Limit-Texas Hold'em Tournaments: How to Beat Casino and Online Satellite Poker Tournaments." Even though it was his quickest effort, McEvoy considers it his second best book and a great guide to satellite play.
His favorite book: "Championship Omaha: Omaha Hi-Lo, Omaha Hi, and Omaha Pot-Limit," his 1999 collaboration with Cloutier. He believes this is a must read for all serious poker players. The Omaha book is his best selling piece.
McEvoy on the Changes in Poker
He's not bitter, but McEvoy feels the attention given to one-time-tournament winners is ridiculous. Believing players like Brunson, Cloutier, Barry Johnson and himself made the game accessible for the current generation, he'd like to see more face time for the legends of the game.
"I'd like to see some of the former world champions, who have quietly led good lives as far as being a good example for poker players, get a little more recognition," McEvoy said. "I don't get invited to the invitational television events and it's a big sore point for me. I feel I've made a lot of contributions to the game through teaching and writing and being an ambassador and I think that deserves a little recognition and respect."
Despite not liking some of the hype surrounding poker's youthful resurgence, McEvoy said the influx of new talented blood is great for the game. When asked if he thought poker has changed, McEvoy said it's not the game that's changed, it's the players.
Today's players are more aggressive. Back when McEvoy and other legends ground out their livings against tourists in Las Vegas, professionals played by the book, using moves that ensured survival and steady bankrolls. Now, players are fearless and in most cases, have much less to lose.
McEvoy said a few players made a living in the past using "today's" fearless techniques. The late Stu Unger was the master of erratic play, using a super aggressive style to run over opponents and capture three Main Event championships. The only other player to match that total was the legendary Johnny Moss.
"Stu (Unger) had a very unique style and he was one of the few that could get away with playing that way," McEvoy said. "Now you have a whole bunch of Internet players playing a similar style and being very successful with it."
The key for the so called old-timers is adaptation. It's still the same poker game, but if you don't adapt when things change, McEvoy believes a player will get left behind.
"If you're stuck in a mindset from a decade ago, you won't win. It's that simple," McEvoy said. "I won't let that happen to me. I play a very different game now and it's enabled me to still earn a living playing cards."
Many professionals and industry leaders are predicting the poker boom will one day go bust. McEvoy disagrees. He believes the game will continue to grow. As long as the money and the prestige are there, players will continue to chase the dream.
He does believe, however, that eventually the game will level off, taking on the same status as other major professional sports.
"Poker will probably reach a certain plateau and level off," McEvoy said. "But at this point, it's become too engrained into popular culture for it to go away forever. It may level off, but it will never come crashing down."McEvoy Fast Facts
- McEvoy is an avid Stephen King fan. Although he loves all types of books, he's read every one of the horror master's novels and is first in line when a new book comes out.
- Every time McEvoy plays online under his own name at Poker Stars, someone asks him if he's really the true Tom. He plays all different limits, from play money and $5-$10 Hold'em to a $200 sit-and-go or a $30-$60 game. When playing in a $5-$10 game one day, one player asked him, "If you're really Tom, what are you doing playing a $5-$10 game." His answer, "Actually I'm playing three."
- Tom said if he died today, he'd leave behind 10-years worth of books he bought and didn't get a chance to read.
- McEvoy considers "Action" Dan Harrington's back-to-back final table appearances in 2003 and 2004 and Greg "Fossilman" Raymer's Main event victory followed by a 25th place finish the following year to be the two greatest WSOP performances of all time. Given the size of the field, McEvoy said it's remarkable to even do well in one year, never mind put together consecutive years of endurance and dominance.
- The $10,000 cost of buying into the World Series of Poker in 1983 is roughly equivalent to $25,000 in 2006 money. Of course, McEvoy doesn't pay buy-in costs. He just qualifies through satellites.
- McEvoy is a staunch opponent of smoking. He organized the first high stakes non-smoking tournament in 1998. Taking it a step further, he convinced former WSOP director Benny Binion Behnan to ban smoking for the 2002 WSOP events in exchange for a series of lessons. The WSOP is now completely smoke free.
- McEvoy provides one-hour lesson for anyone who wants to give him a call or stop by his Las Vegas home. Interested players can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on lessons with McEvoy see http://www.rgtonline.com/Article.cfm?ArticleId=64590&CategoryName=Featured.
- McEvoy has played poker against every WSOP Main Event winner.