EPT11 Prague: Dennis Phillips trucks into Prague

If you play good poker and run well at the right time, you might find yourself one day hitting a huge payday. But if you can repeat that feat, or figure out a way to extend a fleeting moment in the sun, that puts you in a more elite category. It's the kind of place you'll find Dennis Phillips.

Phillips, you may remember, finished third in the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2008 and earned himself $4.5 million. He also became a real American hero, with an appeal based largely on his enormous good charm and enviable everyman amiability. He worked in a trucking firm by day and played poker with friends and work colleagues by night. But despite his huge score at what was actually the first November Nine, you'd be forgiven for thinking you might never have heard of Dennis Phillips again.

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A flashback to the first November Nine

But Phillips is here in Prague this week, playing on the European Poker Tour. And he was in Barcelona at the beginning of the season, where he didn't play a single hand. He says today that that "kind of sucked" but it actually tells its own success story. Phillips is now heavily involved in a number of poker business concerns, which has kept him close to the game he loves while also guaranteeing a regular income, i.e., one that does not depend on the fickle turn of a card.

"I'm a jack of all trades, I guess," Phillips says. "I do a wide variety of things. I'm involved in seven different businesses now, I do a lot of consulting work for companies, some casinos, trying to put some businesses together in a program that's mutually beneficial. And every chance I get, I play poker."

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Dennis Phillips: Playing in Prague

Phillips today has found himself on the same table as Martin Jacobson, the most recently crowned world champion, and was full of praise for the young Swedish player's abilities. Phillips was on the stage in Las Vegas last month when Jacobson outlasted Felix Stephenson, Jooryt van Hoof et al, to secure his $10 million prize. Phillips got to see up close what poker watchers in Europe have known for quite some time.

"I thought he played the best at the table," Phillips says. "The player that seemed to play the best actually won, which doesn't always happen. So I have a lot of respect for his game."

Jacobson is a fairly level-headed character, with a solid family life and good business sense -- the kind of young man Phillips will admire. But it's not always the case that poker players manage to hold on to their wealth, and the avuncular Phillips, who turns 60 this month, has often found himself in demand for simple common-sense advice on how to cope with the unique pressures of getting rich very quickly.

"I've seen too many poker players who are well known and have had big scores and now, frankly, can't buy in to a satellite hardly, and it's just not a cool thing," Phillips says. "So anytime I can help someone out, I'm more than happy to, any kind of advice. From simple travel advice to financial advice to who to be friends with, a wide variety of things. I'm happy to do whatever I can."

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Phillips' fans at the WSOP Main Event

Despite six years having passed since Phillips was on the biggest stage in the game, he says he still receives emails almost weekly from strangers seeking a share of his spoils. Mostly the requests come in the form of "investment opportunities", and Phillips says that a huge part of his time these days is taken up assessing which ventures, if any, are worth backing.

"Everybody seems to have a better mousetrap, and unfortunately none of them turn out to be able to catch anything," Phillips says. "But there are ones that come up and you look at and you think, 'There may actually be something in this. There may be a ten per cent chance of something developing out of it.' And those we go forward with, and we try to develop and see if there's anything worthwhile - and one out of ten actually turns into something. But a couple of them have done very well for us. We've got a couple of patents on games now."

Tantalisingly for poker players, Phillips says that some of his most recent endeavours are tightly focused on the game. During his trips to Europe this year, he has been in deep conference with some of the big-wigs in one or two large, influential firms.

He says: "There's a lot of exciting things in the pipeline, a lot of things we're working at, a lot of elements that in the next six, seven or eight months, players are going to be very happy with."

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Howard Swains
@howardswains in Prague