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Q: You say this is “validation” of a poker career. Do you feel you get enough credit for your poker achievements?
TM: I could have a lot more exposure, I wasn’t very fortunate in that area. I won a tournament that was going to be televised and it finally was but not until a year-and-a-half later, so it was already old news. The few times I have had a chance to be on national television, I’ve made three final televised tables, two wins and a second place, so I feel I did a pretty good once I got there. It’s tough getting there. I’m not a regular on the poker circuit anymore, so I don’t have the opportunity to play in a lot of these TV events. If you’re not in it you can’t win it and you can’t get any TV time. People are far more aware of players who make a lot of TV appearances as opposed to someone like me.
Q: You’ve been on the ballot before, but it just wasn’t happening those past year. I know that was bothering you Tom. Did you approach things differently this year?
TM: As a matter of fact I did. Here’s how I approached it this year, I did absolutely no campaigning, I asked nobody to vote for me or nominate me. I pretty much resigned myself to the powers of the universe. I was either going to get in or I wasn’t and if I did, if was because people felt I deserved it and not because I did a lot of campaigning or politicking. I had done some politicking in the past and it got me nowhere, so I about gave up. It’s funny because this is the fifth time I’ve been on the ballot. All five years they allowed nominations from the public, I was one of the ten finalists each year but the fifth time was the charm. This is the time I actually got in.
Q: You think that’s a life lesson? It seems like you just let go and when you finally did the call came pretty quick?
TM: Yes it did. I said on another radio show, about a week before I got the call, that 'If it happens it happens.' I said, 'I’m not holding my breath.’ Before I had hurt feelings, that I got passed over again, it kind of bothered me. This year, I didn’t feel that way. I’ve always believed the world owes nobody a living. You’re not supposed to have a sense of entitlement, and yet I think I did feel I was entitled to this. Then I realized that poker has done a lot for me, that I try to give back to poker, but that doesn’t mean it owes me anything. Well, I just kind of resigned myself and good things happened. It’s like when you’re looking for a relationship and you can’t find one, no matter how hard you try, when you stop trying suddenly it appears.
Q: Your thoughts on the criteria for the Hall of Fame? I guess, one of the stumbling blocks for you has been the stipulation, “Must play at the highest stakes.” I mean, you’re not playing $500/$1000 with the likes of Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey.
TM: Well, I certainly think playing the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker main event qualifies as high stakes. There are several people in the Hall of Fame that didn’t play high stakes but made other contributions to the game. Henry Orenstein got in a few years ago, he’s the man who invented the hole-card camera. He didn’t play high stakes, although he did win a bracelet one year in a seven-card stud event. Linda Johnson, same thing, she doesn’t play high cash game stakes, she's very modest when she plays. She did win one bracelet, in a Razz event, and she’s in the Hall of Fame. I certainly don’t begrudge those two for being in because they’ve made other contributions to the game. Benny Binion, the founder, he’s in and so is his son Jack Binion. These are not high stakes cash game players but they‘ve made other contributions and belong there. In addition to winning the main event and four total bracelets, I feel like my other contributions, all by themselves, should have given me serious consideration and, in the end, they did.
Q: So much history in the Hall of Fame, all those legends. You’re one of the oldtimers now Tom. When you were a so-called young gun, who were some of the guys you looked up too?
TM: The guys that I talked poker with a little bit were pretty much the guys I played $10/$20 and $15/$30 games with, both seven-card stud and hold’em games. Most of those guys were not exactly household names but they were good, solid, winning professional players. I never had a chance to pick the brains of one of the superstars of the era. There weren’t that many poker players who had universal recognition when I broke in. There was Johnny Moss, of course, there was Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. They were the three biggest names in the poker world. I played with all of them at various times but I didn’t have a chance to pick their brains.
Q: Was it tough to break into that group back then?
TM: Pretty much. I was never in a clique or part of the ‘in-crowd.’ I think that was one of the things that hurt me in prior Hall of Fame balloting. I really wasn’t one of the good ole’ boys. Yes, I was in the same age bracket as them but a lot of those guys broke in together, playing in private games, especially throughout the southwest, Texas in particular. I never did that, although I did play in a few private games in Texas in the mid 80’s. We’re talking about some of these guys going back to private games in the 60’s, who are maybe not that well-known anymore, they’re in the Hall of Fame and played in those games. I was never part of that crowd. I was an accountant from Michigan. I bought one of the very first copies of Doyle Brunson's book, when it first came out way back in 1978. It wasn’t even called Super System then, like it is now. He had a publishing company at the time and I tracked down where the company was. I walked in and there he was. So, I got Doyle to sign the book. He told me years later, 'I thought you were fresh off the farm.' I pointed a finger at him and said, 'You just wait. I’m gonna be at the same table as you one day, you just watch.’ Four years later, we’re both at the final table at the World Series of Poker main event, the year I won, which was the first year I played it. He came third that year and it was last time Doyle Brunson ever made the final table of the maIn event. I think he prefers to be known not only as a two-time world champion but a guy who played high stakes his entire career as well. That’s his legacy.
Q: You get the autograph and four years later you’re at the final table with Texas Dolly. You win it! Did he say anything to you about giving you that signature a few years earlier?
TM: Only years later. He might have been kidding but he said he actually remembered that brief encounter, giving me the autograph, at his publishing company, which he didn’t have long. I don’t know if he was being polite or not but it was flattering.
Q: That main event heads-up battle with Rod Peate in 1983 was the longest heads-up battle in the history of the WSOP, until Bloch versus Reese in the inaugural 50K H.O.R.S.E. championship. Talk about high stakes. Can you tell us about Rod Peate and that clash?
TM: I had been playing Rod Peate in the same cash games all over Las Vegas. We played a lot of $10/$20 hold’em together. He and I were casual friends at least. You know, we socialized a bit because we had some mutual friends and we played in the same circles. So, I was quite familiar with Rod Peate. The other big names at the table, in poker, didn’t know either one of us. So, I was very pleased when it gone down to me and Rod. Rod was the guy who broke Doyle three-handed. Of course, they made Doyle the betting favourite before play had started. Rod Peate actually had the chip lead going to the last table, Doyle was second and they made him the betting favourite, and I was third, well behind both Rod and Doyle. At a nine-handed final table, they had me at 8-to-1 on to win.
Q: When Peate busted Doyle, you say were you were 'happy.’ Is that because you knew Rod’s style from those cash games and felt you had an edge?
TM: For several reasons. I wouldn’t have cared who I played. Some people said, 'Oh, you don’t want to face Doyle Brunson,' figuring there might be an intimidation factor, but that wasn’t the case. I have to admit I was rooting for Rod because I knew him and was friends with him. It was going to be exciting no matter who I faced but it gave me some extra pleasure that I got to play against Rod, somebody who I really knew, liked and respected.
Q: How long did you guys play?
TM: Well over seven hours! It’s still the record for longest heads-up play in World Series of Poker main event history. Back then, it was a four day tournament and we played well into the fifth day.
Q: You’ve had some epic heads-up matches in your career, beaten some big names too. You get heads-up you seem to prevail. What’s your secret? Don’t you get nervous?
TM: When I was playing at the final table of the main event back in 1983, there were a lot of TV cameras, it wasn’t live like it today. They made a documentary out of it. One of them asked me that question, ‘Don’t you get nervous?’ I said, ‘The only time I’m nervous is when I’m talking to you guys.’ When I’m playing, I’m totally focussed on the game, so being in front of cameras has never bothered me. The game is still the game, so just focus on the game because that’s what matters.
Q: How good did it feel to win the first ever Binion’s Cup, the first ever Champions Invitational?
TM: Good question. They interviewed everyone of the participants, there were 20 of us. I think at the time, there were 25 or 26 living main event champions. Not all of them, for various reasons, could make it but 20 of us did. They did an interview before we started playing and I told them, ‘There is nobody in this field more determined to win this event than I am because I feel like I have something to prove.’
Q: You wanted to win that badly!
TM: Very much so. They had a special trophy called the Binion’s Cup, the only time that trophy's ever been awarded. I still have that trophy. In addition to that, they had a vintage Corvette, 1970 vintage Corvette, 1970 was the year they first started the world series.
Q: Do you drive that car around Tom?
TM: Actually, my wife is wearing it on her finger. She said she’s prefer a diamond, so she was quite happy with that little prize. I never actually drove the car, never took it out of the parking lot of the Rio. I sold it. I never regretted it. If I was a little bit younger I might have considered keeping it. I figure one of two things would happen; I’d either get a lot of speeding tickets because it was bright cherry red or I’d kill myself. I didn’t like either option.
Q: You’re a columnist for Card Player magazine and you’ve authored more than 10 poker books. What has writing taught you about life?
TM; Several things. People think I like writing but I actually like the results of writing more than the process. The toughest thing for me to do with writing is to sit down in front of the computer and type the first word, the first sentence. After that it seems to flow out of me. I’m a procrastinator when it comes to doing that, I’ve missed more than few deadlines. Once I get cracking it kind of flows out of me. It’s hard for me, this doesn’t come natural. I never thought of myself as a writer. I was approached to do the books and, all of sudden, I’m making a lot of money on them so I kept cranking them out. I did about one a year, sometimes two. I thank my good friend and editor Dana Smith for being the driving force behind it. Then, we recruited TJ Cloutier, he did four books with us. Then I did two with Brad Daughtery. It just snowballed. It was nothing I ever thought of. If someone told me during my poker career that I’d and up being an author, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. I don’t know anything about writing.’ It was an on-the-job learning process and because I was trying to give out good, proper and balanced information, it forced me to really, really think about poker and what I had to say. I wanted to be sure I was giving out proper information and not misleading people. There are books out there with not so good advice. The books I give a lot of credit to are the ones written by professional level players. Anything written by Dan Harrington in particular, I always recommend to people.
Q: You’ve been playing at the WSOP since the late 1970’s. What are some of the things that have changed for the better over the years? What are some of the issues facing the WSOP?
TM: The biggest change for the better, in my opinion, is when they finally went non-smoking in the early 2000’s. I wasn’t the only person who was advocating non-smoking but, three years before the 2002 world series, in 1999, I hosted the first ever non-smoking tournament in Las Vegas history at Sam’s Town. We got a lot of flack from the smokers, that they were gonna boycott the tournament, they weren’t gonna play. Many of them changed their minds and played anyway. Well, a lot of the players who couldn’t stand the smoke started coming back to play. There are more non-smokers than smokers in the poker world now. So, many people who left poker because they couldn’t stand the smoke came back. The smokers didn’t have to quit, they just had to take it outside. Smoker’s aren’t going to just quit playing poker.Then something funny happened, the smokers decided they preferred the cleaner air themselves. They could breathe better as well. I remember at Binon’s, for years they allowed smoking and they had terrible ventilation. There was a thick haze of cigar and cigarette smoke. People were getting sick all the time. There were bronchial ailments and you no had no options. You had to put up with it and play. It went on for years. Finally, the casinos realized that besides the moral issues, to preserve and protect people’s health, it also made good financial sense. They were going to get a better tournament without smoking than with smoking. About 25% of the players were hardcore smokers who really objected and did reverse petitions threatening boycotts and such. It didn’t work. The vast majority wanted to go non-smoking and once it got established in one it was like rapid fire. Poker rooms across the country, one after the other, went non-smoking. Europe was a big hold-out but they final capitulated in most of their venues.
Q: You will inducted November 3rd, any thoughts are your ‘Class of 2013’?
TM: The ceremonies are going to be great. Scotty Nguyen, the other inductee this year, is certainly worthy of being inducted. He’s not only a main event champion but he’s won five WSOP bracelets, so he is the most worthy of inductees. He was on the ballot like I was several times and got passed over. He was a lot bigger name than some of the people who went in before him. I think that drinking display at the 50k HORSE championship, that was nationally televised, hurt him. I think he’s toned it down, not that he’s totally quit drinking, but that was his personal make-up for a while. I think he’s realized he went too far and it was time to tone it down. Basicaly, I think the poker world has said, ‘Okay you were wrong but we have forgiven you.’ Who is without sin right? Cast the first stone.
Q: The WSOP is a spectacle these days. Back in 1983, standing with your arms raised, could have veer imagined poker where it is today?
TM: No (laughs). Who could have thunk it? When Moneymaker won they had a record number of entrants, 839 or so. The very next year it tripled to around 2,500. The year after that? It went to 5,000 and when Jamie Gold wonin 2006 there were close to nine thousand entrants. The year I won, they had 108, no dead money, but the evolution of poker has been incredible. It would have been virtually impossible to predict that. Nobody saw this coming.
Tom McEvoy Thank-You!
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Legend of the game! Tom McEvoy is a 4-time WSOP bracelet winner, 1983 world champion, inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame (2013), columnist for Card Player magazine and author of more than 10 poker books. The guy is good! Did you know? McEvoy was instrumental in making poker rooms across America and the world non-smoking. He is also the only person to win the WSOP 'Champions Cup' also known as the 'Binion's Cup.'
This is a great Q&A with a ton of excellent information. Enjoy.
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Tom McEvoy Interview Notes
1983 World Champ! (Full Audio Q&A HERE)
Q: You’re going to be officially inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame November 3rd, 2013. Congratulations, it’s well deserved. Where does this rank on your list of poker accomplishments?
TM: This is really a life-time achievement award and a validation of my entire poker career. Next to winning the main event of the World Series of Poker, which nothing can ever top, I consider this the second highest achievement any poker player can have. I certainly feel both honoured and humbled that I’m going to be inducted with all the other poker greats. It’s tough to get in. They only induct one or two players a year. It was a long time coming but now that it’s here I’m really excited and enjoying it. It’s like a new chapter in my life.