WSOP Main Event: Greg Raymer--Large Field Guru

By Dr. Pauly

Greg Raymer has set himself apart from his peers by becoming one of the greatest large field tournament players of all time. Over the last three year the numbers of participants in various WSOP tournaments, including the main event championship, have spiked to ridiculous numbers. The number of entrants this year jumped from 5,619 to 8,773.

Some pros regard tournaments with more than 1,000 players as a "crap shoot" or a "mine field." In the past I've described the first two days of the WSOP main event as similar to the opening scene from Steven Spielberg's WWII flick Saving Private Ryan, when the Americans storm the beaches at Normandy. You could do everything right, and still get picked off when you least expect it. In a field of several thousand players, poker acumen is no more important than simple luck.

Over the past three years, Greg Raymer's statistics at the WSOP back up my assessment that he's one of the toughest players to beat in a field of 2,000 players or more. At the beginning of this year's WSOP, Raymer became the first and only player who cashed in every single event that had fields over 2,000 players, which at the time were the among the five largest pool of players in WSOP history.

63 out of 2,776 (2006 $1,500 NL)
25 out of 5,619 (2005 $10,000 Championship)
6 out of 2,013 (2005 $1,500 NL)
86 out of 2,305 (2005 $1,500 NL)
1 out of 2,576 (2004 $10,000 Championship)

Raymer's performance at last year's main event featured his most impressive run to date. He outlasted 8,170 players over two years at the WSOP before he was eliminated after losing a chunk of his stack by a vicious bad beat. Raymer's pocket Kings were crippled by Aaron Kanter when he sucked out a flush to cripple Raymer, who had went from over $3M in chips to under $500K. Raymer would bust out a half hour later in 25th place as everyone in Benny's Bullpen at the Horseshoe gave him a standing ovation.

During his ESPN bust out interview Raymer said, "I don't look at results. Poker is about decisions. And I am happy with the decisions I made this year."

That statement sums up why Raymer is considered the best large field player in poker. He has the patience, discipline, and humbleness of a Buddhist monk. At the same time, he has the astute decision making ability of a brain surgeon. Time after time, Raymer makes the best decisions possible during any given situation. At one of the featured tables last year, he sniffed out a bluff against Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot. A lot of other players would have folded on the river to the intimidating Devilfish, but Raymer went with his gut and made a bold assessment that Devilfish was bluffing. Raymer called and scooped the pot.

As of this morning, Raymer outlasted over 6,200 players in the 2006 main event. That number of eliminations represents more players that played in the entire 2005 main event. In the last three years at the main event over 14,000 players busted out before Raymer. And he still has chips at the start of today's action with $48,500.

So why does Greg Raymer succeed in larger fields more so than the average professional poker player?

The source of his success is two-fold. The main contributing factor to his amazing runs is that he's one of the best decision makers I've seen in poker. He's aggressive, but not a maniac. He's disciplined, but not entirely passive. Raymer picks his spots. When he senses weakness he attacks. When he thinks he's behind, he mucks. This is basic strategy, but very few can apply these traits in the heat of the battle.

Raymer is also a hybrid poker player with experience playing both live events and online tournaments. When he won the 2004 WSOP, Raymer was not a complete unknown like the two previous champions in Chris Moneymaker and Robert Varkonyi. Raymer was a regular in the weekly NL tournaments at Foxwoods Casino. He made several final tables, won a few tournaments, and did well in various New England Poker Classic events.

Raymer was also a savvy internet player. He won his seat to the 2004 WSOP via a satellite on PokerStars. He knows how to handle anonymous hyper-aggressive opponents. Since the convenience of the internet allows several thousands players to be in a tournament simultaneously, Raymer gained experience against gigantic fields.

Since the majority of the players in the smaller buy-in WSOP events in the $1,500 range were novices and internet payers, Raymer knew how to adjust his play accordingly. The main events over the past three years were also filled with internet hotshots and luckboxes. Raymer could handle those players much easier than some of the other bigger named pros.

With deft experience against large fields and Raymer's exquisite decsion-making ability, it's not a surprise that he's still in the hunt for his second WSOP championship. Anything can happen in tournament poker, but based on Raymer's track record, I expect to see him survive Day 2 and outlast another 800 or so players.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker