Dennis Phillips to Darvin Moon: 'Relax'
If there's one person who knows what Darvin Moon is going through right now, it's Dennis Phillips, the Darvin Moon of the 2008 World Series of Poker. (Or is Moon merely the Dennis Phillips of 2009?)
When the 2008 tournament broke for an unprecedented, months-long hype-building hiatus, Phillips had the chip lead -- and all the attendant attention and pressure. The 26,295,000 poker chips, he liked. The rest of it, not so much.
"It's a whole collage of feelings that nobody can prepare you for," Philips said over the telephone on Wednesday. "You're apprehensive, because you really don't know what to expect. You're worried that you'll have a poor showing. You've got everybody and their brother throwing their advice at you. You're in the middle of a media blitz that you've never experienced before and probably won't experience again.
"It's no fun."
Last year, Phillips was an anonymous amateur card player who worked as an account manager for a commercial trucking company in St. Louis. Then he became the breakout star at poker's marquee tournament, though he wound up busting out in third place to collect $4,517,773.
Moon was an anonymous amateur card player from Oakland, Md., where he (still) works as a self-employed logger. He's reluctantly become the breakout star at this year's World Series of Poker Main Event, which resumes in Las Vegas on Saturday, when nine players will vie for the $8.5 million first-place prize.
But playing poker on the game's biggest stage won't even be the half of it when Moon flies back to Las Vegas tomorrow, Phillips said.
"It will be like nothing he's ever experienced. He's going to get hit from all sides, microphones stuffed under his face, everybody asking what he's going to do, how he's going to play, cameras flashing, autographs. It's just crazy. If he sits down, catches a hand within the first hour or so and doesn't play it well, it's all they're going to talk about. There were times [last year] when it got a little ridiculous.
"I was extremely lucky that I was surrounded by a big group of friends who would step in when it got crazy, almost forming a bodyguard circle around me when I was trying to get from place to place. It was unbelievable. When we had a break during the final table, they had to make a circle formation around me to get me through the crowd. Otherwise, I never would have been able to get away to get any free time."
Phillips has chatted with Moon on the phone several times since the 2009 World Series was paused in July. They've discussed poker strategy and media strategy, Phillips said, and they've also talked about dealing with the pressures and demands of being the top dog among the November Nine.
As Moon told The Washington Post in a front-page profile, he spent a good chunk of October in the woods, hunting with friends in Wyoming. Sound strategy, according to Phillips.
"With his type of attitude and life structure and such, I think that was a good thing to do. He went on out West and just disappeared for a couple of weeks and tried to clear his mind. I agree with him on that.
"I've also recommended that he get some free time in Vegas. He has my phone number and knows I'm coming out tomorrow. I fully expect at some time that he'll call me and we'll sit down and talk. I don't give a damn if we talk about elk hunting; he just has to talk about something non-poker. He has to relax."
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