Phil Galfond is one of the most important names in the contemporary poker history. Back when other nosebleed grinders mostly kept to themselves, trying to hold on to their edge by sharing very little of their knowledge with the rest of the poker community, "OMGClayAiken" assumed a very different approach and quickly became one of the most sought-after coaches in the world. Phil was the main reasons why BlueFirePoker became arguably the most successful coaching site of its time, that was eventually dethroned by Galfond's own project called Run It Once.
"MrSweets28" logical approach to playing and teaching poker was a welcomed breath of fresh air in the environment where many other poker coaches offered a comparatively vague message, caused by the overreliance on their own intuition. Galfond was the reason why justifying one's thought processes with phrases like "I feel like the villain is weak here" or "I like cbetting here with most of my range" was no longer good enough. "OMGClayAiken's" unique mindset coupled with his love for the game, completely changed the way people learn how to play high-level poker.
Breaking the Degen Stereotype
If bios of famous poker pros are anything to go by, one would assume that a certain amount of pathology (or at last some good old-fashioned existential uncertainty causing one to assume the role of an outsider) is almost a necessary prerequisite for becoming a successful poker player. This is somewhat in line with the trend that we can observe in other walks of life that require a fair bit of creativity. Whether we talk writers, musicians, poker players or comedians, origin stories of successful representants of these disciplines read a bit like origin stories of superheroes - at least as far as the darker elements are concerned. Some of them come from questionable backgrounds, others drift aimlessly through life until they discover their love for cards.
Phil Galfond certainly breaks the mold when it comes to this particular stereotype. He's not a born rounder or a troublemaker with a chip on his shoulder, he's a product of a loving family, who didn't really have to look far in search for role models. Here's what Galfond had to say about his family in an interview for Calvinayre.com:
Externally, the biggest positive factor in my life has been my parents. Beyond security, love, and support (which I had plenty of), my parents did a lot to shape me into who I am today, each differently. My Dad had the most impact on me as a role model. He’s honest to a fault, hardworking, and kind. I wanted to be like him. He also taught me math several years ahead of what I was learning in school. He’s very left-brained – intelligent, logical, objective. I think I’m a bit further towards the middle than he is, but I’m wired a lot like my Dad – always living in my own head. My Mom’s impact on me was more deliberate. She pushed me out of my own head, got me to talk about what I was thinking and feeling, helped me understand myself and other people. The reason I knew my Dad was honest, hardworking and kind from a very young age is that my Mom always told me he was. I didn’t know my Dad when he was a student or saw him hard at work in his office. I knew about his virtues because I was told, and I learned that those qualities were admirable."
The Importance of Self-Awareness
The main trait that allowed Phil Galfond to be such a successful poker player was undoubtedly his high level of self-awareness. Phil is always mindful of his emotions, insecurities, and fears. He's very open about this subject. This, in turn, allows him to go beyond all the mental noise and seek the most logical answer to the situation at hand.
The approach illustrated above is especially apparent in his teaching. Galfond rarely relies on intuition and while he recognizes its power and importance he never uses it to justify a play. Instead, he clearly lays out his thought process with the emphasis on all the inputs that he's able to recognize and the conclusion that they lead to. If you've never watched a coaching video made by Phil Galfond and you don't remember the state that mainstream poker education was in, before Galfond became an active instructor, you most likely don't realize how groundbreaking his approach to poker was.
It's All About The Balance
Lastly, when we talk Phil Galfond we have to talk about balance. The idea of balance wasn't something that Phil came up with but he certainly took this idea and ran away with it. He brought it to it's natural and logical extreme by not only emphasizing the role of balance in the construction of one's ranges but also its role in life in general.
We've already mentioned his family background and his balanced emotional life. On top of that, he's both an extremely successful poker player and a multiple business owner. Finally, when Phil decided that his physical health suffered a bit due to his hectic professional life he employed the help of a famous fitness personality Martin Berkhan and transformed his body under his guidance. His efforts were so impressive that Phil was even briefly featured in one of the more famous articles in the history of fitness industry that was written by Berkhan. Phil Galfond is the whole package. He can be a true inspiration to all poker players around the worlds.
Being a poker degen used to be "the cool thing to do". We used to romanticize the grueling, unhealthy +24h poker sessions. We were lead to believe that poker should be our one and only obsession and that playing well is mostly a matter of some kind of mystical soul-reading skills.