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Interview With Jeff Gross, Roommate Of Olympian Michael Phelps

Gross Talks About His Live Tournament Success

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Jeff GrossJeff Gross is a 24-year-old poker pro with a lot going for him. Before Black Friday, he was a successful online tournament grinder playing under the name “kidwhowon.” Post Black Friday, he’s a budding live tournament star with 14-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps in his corner.

The two are friends and roommates, and both are masters of their particular craft. So far, with two World Series of Poker final tables and over $1,000,000 in winnings on his poker resume, Gross is proving that he can excel at the tables.

Gross recently returned from a trip to China where he spent his time rooting for Phelps in the World Championships in Shanghai and fellow pro McLean Karr in the APKT High Roller Event in Macau.

Gross has also appeared in a music video for Steve Aoki and Afrojack for the song, No Beef. In the video, Gross is playing a sit-n-go with fellow pros Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Dan Fleyshman and the Mizrachi brothers.

Card Player recently caught up with Gross to discuss his recent live tournament success and what it is like sharing a home with in Baltimore, Maryland with Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever.

Jeff Gross With Friends Phelps, David Swanson, Phil Collins, Phil Laak and Antonio EsfandiariCard Player: When did you first begin to play poker?

Jeff Gross: I started playing poker when I was 15 years old in high school during our team’s soccer camp. It was right around the Moneymaker boom and one my teammates had seen it and brought out some of those old plastic poker chips. We were playing for loose change, but I always did pretty well. I was able to get a $50 transfer from a friend on PartyPoker and then started to run that up.

I kept playing while I was in college at the University of South Carolina. I was there on a scholarship to play soccer, so I had very little free time to work. Poker filled that void pretty easily, since I could grind cash games for an hour or so at a time, here and there around my schedule.

I wound up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management with a minor in entrepreneurship, but because of my lifestyle at the time, I really wasn’t up for getting a real job right away. I decided that I would try and play poker professionally, knowing that I always had a degree to fall back on if things got rough.

CP: How did you meet your roommate, Michael Phelps?

Jeff Gross Playing Soccer at USCJG: He was going to school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I’m from and we found that we had very similar interests. We were both athletes, we both loved video games and we both loved to play poker, even if it was just for fun, so it was a no brainer when he asked me to be his roommate. He wound up buying a place in Baltimore so that he could train in his hometown and be near his family. Since I didn’t really have any location requirements for my profession, I moved in with him.

CP: Phelps made the final table of a Caesars Palace Classic event. How would you assess his poker game?

JG: Mike is easily one of the best celebrity poker players around. Overall, I’d say he treats the game seriously and loves the competition, but it’s just a hobby. Once he finishes up his career at the 2012 Olympics in London, I think you’ll be seeing him competing more in live tournaments.

CP: How do you guys push each other in your respective careers?

JG: Mike is one of the competitive people I have ever met. Actually, he’s the most competitive person I have ever met and he knows how to achieve his goals. That is something that I have really learned from him over the years, having that drive to get the job done. Whether it’s playing FIFA on Xbox, playing words with friends, on the golf course or a friendly game of Rummy, we are always trying to win and figure out what strategy works best to beat each other."

Michael PhelpsCP: Most of the major competitions in swimming take place during the summer, so Phelps can’t participate at the WSOP, but you can.

JG: Definitely. I’ve been in Las Vegas full time for the WSOP each summer for the last three years. I made two final tables in the last two years, but Mike couldn’t come out and support me because he was busy training. By backing me in these events, he at least gets a nice sweat with the updates I send each day. I guess it’s his way of getting some action without actually having to play.

CP: Can you talk about those two final table appearances and your experiences at each?

JG: In 2010, I made the final table of a $1,000 event. They were pretty much crap-shoots early on, but I somehow found a way to get deep without any chips whatsoever. My stack didn’t really allow for much other than survival. This year, it was a $5,000 shootout event, so I was able to start the final table on even ground. Luckily for me, two very close friends of mine, Matt Seidman and David Silverman offered me some great sit-n-go strategy beforehand. Dave and I were actually the last two at our round 1 table and played heads-up to advance. I wound up finishing second on a bit of a bad beat when my A-J lost to K-10, but I ran well throughout the entire tournament and can’t complain about that.

Jeff GrossCP: What’s next for you now that online poker has been shut down in the United States?

JG: Post Black Friday, my poker playing has gone down considerably. I wasn’t playing a ton of live events before, but now that’s pretty much all I can do, other than a few live cash game sessions every once in a while.

I’m currently working on a documentary that will chronicle Mike’s last year as a professional swimmer and I’m hoping that turns into something pretty cool, but I’m not sure yet. I’m pretty happy playing cards at the moment, but I’m definitely keeping my eyes open for a big picture idea. Feel free to follow me on twitter @Jgross5.