Something you didn't know about... Jeff Gross
The Team PokerStars Pro discusses his passion for soccer, staying in physical shape and his close friendship with former US Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps...
Poker is inherently a sedentary playing experience, which is why keeping fit away from the tables is crucial if you want to stay mentally and physically sharp during a gruelling tournament. Indeed, Team PokerStars Pro Jeff Gross, who has amassed almost $3m in live tournaments and more than $1m online, firmly believes that a healthy body equals a healthy mind.
When he's not doing cardio workouts or pumping iron in the gym, the 30-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan, can often be found on the soccer field. In the past, he's even made numerous trips to the UK to watch London club West Ham United play. We caught up with Jeff to hear more about his love of soccer and what lessons he's learned from pal Michael Phelps when it comes to the mental side of competing at the highest level...
How did you catch the soccer bug?
My dad took me to have a tryout with a team when I was seven years old but I really didn't want to do it. However, I loved the game from the start and I've played ever since all year round - spring, fall, summer and winter. It was just one of those things where I loved soccer and wanted to play as much as possible, so I'd go out and play whenever I had some free time. A lot of kids played multiple sports but with me it was just soccer. I played for the Michigan Wolves growing up, which is now an academy team.
Did you see any of the games when the World Cup came to the US in 1994?
Yeah, I went to a few games when I was living in Michigan. I saw Sweden play Russia and Sweden versus Brazil at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. I liked watching players like Sweden's Martin Dahlin - it was a good time and good memories.
What was your position on the field?
Centre midfield. I'm left footed so I would sometimes play left midfield sometimes, but 95% of the time I played in the middle.
Do you support a particular team?
When I was in college around 2006 and 2007, I used to support West Ham United. I had a friend and he knew [West Ham player] Anton Ferdinand, so we would go multiple times a year to games. Being 17, 18 and 19, it was a cool experience as I was hanging out with the guys in London. Being really into soccer, it was all pretty surreal. The fans there are so passionate about the game, which is great. We travelled a lot and even went to West Ham's away games like Arsenal and Man United and got to hang out with Anton Ferdinand and [teammate] Nigel Reo-Coker. It was a lot of fun. These days, I still watch the Premier League and the Champions League whenever I can.
How do you keep fit and stay active when not playing poker?
I still enjoy playing soccer. I also try to get to the gym as much as possible and I like to do 30 or 40 minutes of cardio a day, which is on a 15% incline. I'll also lift weights, although it's hard when you are on the road to regimentally stick to a workout schedule. However, during the summer I have been doing the All American Dave workout called '5 Weeks 2 Fitness Challenge', which is a structured routine and involves eating a clean, healthy diet.
If you are eating well, exercising and feeling full of energy, everything seems to go better. I'd rather arrive an hour late to a tournament and make sure I'm prepared mentally and physically because that's what you have to do to be at the top of your game. I don't always get to do it, though, because there are times I've been up late or running thin on time but this is the one piece of advice I give people. Once you start eating poorly and not exercising, things can build up.
How else do you like to relax?
I like to spend time with my wife. We got married last December and she's Brazilian so we go to Belo Horizonte, where she has a place, and relax there. She has a lot of nieces and nephews whereas I'm an only child, so that's a lot of fun. Things have been pretty busy lately so it's always nice to get a break to do some travelling and exploring new places with her. Or we'll go away with a group of friends and do things like snowmobiling, surfing or other outdoors stuff. I'm not a massive computer games fan, but I do like to play two-on-two FIFA. That's a lot of fun.
Where do you like to visit on your travels?
Melbourne is one of my favourite cities, as is Barcelona. Istanbul was incredible. I also regularly visit Montreal to play poker and that's another great city.
You are good friends with retired swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with a total of 28 medals. How did that friendship begin?
We met at a poker table in Windsor, Canada. We just kind of hit it off and that was it. He likes the competitive aspect of poker and I was up and coming in the game and we both started playing online. I then moved to Baltimore and lived with him for a few years.
How has his success in the pool helped you with the mental side of poker?
I've definitely learned some stuff from him, particularly training, his work ethic and having your own goals and not worrying about what other people say or think. If you sit down and play and an opponent is running as hot as the sun then there is nothing that you can do. You can't control that. I can't dictate how others play or how the cards fall. But what you can control is how you play and what your preparation is beforehand. This is one of the things that I learned from Michael and I thought this was so interesting. He knew what he could achieve at the Olympics and he did his preparation and didn't worry about anybody else. So set ambitious goals, but just worry about yourself. Don't worry about others.