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A Poker Life -- Phil Collins

Collins Focused On Living A Happy Life After Main Event Final Table Finish


Phil CollinsPhil Collins had a dream run in the 2011 World Series of Poker main event, finishing in fifth place for $2,269,599. He has an additional $3 million in online winnings and was at one point one of the highest ranked online players in the world.

But poker hasn’t always been an easy ride for the 27-year-old pro. In fact, there were many times when Collins felt the financial pressure of playing cards for a living, worrying about whether he could provide for his wife and second guessing his decision to turn down law school for the high-variance world of tournament poker.

Learning The Game

Collins grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, a small town of roughly 30,000 people that is best known for horse racing and being just a short, 20-minute drive away from Augusta National golf course, the PGA home of The Masters.

His father Kevin, a safety manager at the Savannah River site, was able to provide a nice life for Phil, his younger brother Austin and their mother Sharon. As a child, Phil would spend hours with his brother in constant competition, seeing who could earn the bragging rights each day.

“I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to poker, and competition in general, was the endless battles I had with my younger brother,” said Collins. “He’s 16 months younger than me, but five inches taller. Everyday it was something. I remember we’d play basketball in the back yard for hours, playing to 100 by ones, neither of us willing to quit. I wasn’t a good loser and I guess that need to win followed me into school where I discovered poker.”

Collins was accepted to the University of South Carolina and first picked up the game during spring break at a friend’s condo in Hilton Head.

“I don’t think I had ever heard of Texas hold’em, but somebody brought it up, pulled out a deck of cards and we wound up playing for a few nights in a row,” he recalled. “It was just for the spare change we found in our cars, but I was pretty hooked on it almost immediately.”

After returning to Columbia for his sophomore year, Collins had trouble finding home games, which meant he needed another way to explore his newfound hobby.

“I was one of those guys you hear about who made frequent deposits,” Collins admitted. “I would put $50 on there, lose it, put another $100 on there, lose it again. It was trial and error for the most part, but by the time I was a senior, I had started to turn it around and became a winning player.”

Turning Pro

After graduation in 2007, Collins applied to law school, but had been waitlisted. While waiting for the admissions process to shake itself out, he was left with nothing to do but grind online. After a great day in July, where he final tabled two of the biggest tournaments of the week, Collins was all of a sudden sitting on a bankroll of over $33,000.

“I thought I would just see if I could pay off some student loans. I had no idea that I would be able to do that and more. I got my acceptance letter in July, but my summer run led me to the conclusion that I wanted to see if poker was a possibility. I turned it down and officially began life as an online player.”

The next step was for Collins to tell his parents, who weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea that he was foregoing law school for poker.

“My parents were fine with poker initially, simply because it kept us quiet in the back room,” Collins said. “However, one night we decided to play a $20 tournament, which was way too much money for us at the time. Things got very heated and some words were exchanged, which kind of changed their opinion about the nice, quiet game they thought we were playing. When they found out that I had been losing my summer job money playing online, they went from annoyed to upset and basically forbid me from playing while at home. Honestly, I’d say poker was the sore spot in my relationship with my parents. Then, after my senior year, I pointed my Dad in the direction of an online site which showed my ranking and all of the money I had made up until that point. After seeing how well I was doing, they became less concerned about poker.”

Building A Bankroll

Collins put everything into developing his game in 2008. Before long, he was one of the top online players in the world. In January, he won the $1k Monday for $69,680. In April, he took down the Sunday Second Chance for an additional $48,017. After all was said and done, Collins had put together an incredible year, cashing for a combined $670,499 and finishing fourth in Card Player’s Online Player of the Year race.

Though things had gone well online, Collins was having trouble with the transition to live poker. The rest of online poker’s superstars were all winning major titles and the seven-figure scores that came with them, but Collins found himself falling just short time and time again.

Thankfully, the poker world knew that it was just a matter of time before Collins found himself in the winner’s circle. He had developed a close knit group of friends to talk poker with and even attracted a high-profile backer who was convinced of his talent.

A Score Just In The Nick Of Time

After Black Friday, Collins could no longer supplement his promising, but not yet fully realized live poker career with online poker earnings. All of a sudden, money was getting tight and doubt began to creep in. He had the full support of his wife, Katie, a woman who had lived across the hall from him during his freshman year of college, but still, the pressure to provide for his family was almost too much.

“I wasn’t doing that well financially before last year’s WSOP,” Collins admitted. “I may have a few million in winnings over the last five years, but that number you see online wasn’t the same number in my bank account. The stress of being a poker player is unlike any other profession in the world and it gets much more difficult to deal with when you throw a wife and family into the mix that you must now provide for.”

The 2011 WSOP didn’t start well for Collins. Despite playing a full schedule of events, he had only managed one min-cash. Still, he maintained his positive attitude, telling his followers on Twitter that he was “#savingitforthemainevent.” He couldn’t have been more right.

“Everything just clicked in that tournament,” he said. “It was like everything I had been through in the last few years was playing into it. I was playing well, but more importantly, I was confident. After all of the big tournaments I had played, day 6 of the main event didn’t feel that different for me. I think that’s where I had an edge over most of the field. I had been there before.”

The November Nine

Collins tore through the field of 6,685 to make the November Nine and lock up at least a $782,115 payday. It was enough to get him out of make up, but now, he had a shot at life changing money.

Collins went into the November Nine with a decent spot at the table and a plan to keep his head above water, but just a few hands in, he was put in an unfortunate situation.

“It was really unlucky for me that O’Dea gave Heinz all of those chips early on. I went from having the second biggest stack at the table on my right, to having the big stack on my left. It really handcuffed me and forced me to play a low-variance style of game. I didn’t want to be a hero and find myself out in ninth place. In that situation, getting ninth place is almost worse than winning is good.”

Collins found himself short stacked when he shoved his ADiamond Suit 7Diamond Suit into Heinz’s pocket nines. Though he had a sweat with a flush draw, the river ultimately failed to produce any miracles. He went out in fifth, taking home $2,269,599.

“Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight and a hole card camera, there are some things that I wish I had done differently, but based on the information and the reads that I had at that time, I have no regrets about how I played that final table.”

Learning From Other Player Mistakes

It’s common knowledge that Collins was backed by Erick Lindgren, a man who had a lucrative deal with Full Tilt Poker prior to Black Friday and was known for having a large stable of pros that he staked for live tournaments.

After paying back some makeup and taking his 50 percent, Collins took home about $1 million. He also won his first live tournament, an April 2012 Heartland Poker Tour main event, good for a $71,566 score. Collins says he doesn’t want to go down the same path as many other overextended poker player. Now that he has all of his own action, Collins is determined to keep himself and his wife in the black for the foreseeable future and doesn’t plan on playing every High Roller event that crosses his path just because his bankroll is now larger than ever.

“I’m not going to make the same mistakes that so many others have made in the past,” Collins vowed. “My entire net worth is not my bankroll and it never will be. I’m not going to be one of those guys who gets a hold of some money and sees it gone in a year or two. Some money has been set aside for investments, some money has been set aside as a down payment on a house and some money went into my bankroll. Right now, I can’t afford to play every $10,000 event that comes my way, but I can certainly play some satellites for them. I’ve also transitioned to cash games, so that I can take advantage of the games that run in Las Vegas every day. Though I’m still figuring things out, it’s become clear to me that they have a much lower variance, which is exactly what I’m looking for out of life right now.”

For now, Collins is satisfied with life. He is looking to dabble in mixed games on the Strip while continuing to develop his cash game skills. But perhaps most importantly, Collins is basing his decisions on his happiness and not his net worth.

“Life is great,” he said. “My WSOP score reaffirmed that I made the right decision to pass on law school and pursue poker for a living. Now that I’ve found success, I’m just going to make sure I hold onto it.” ♠