Phil Galfond Reveals How His Fear of Failure Eventually Led Him Back to the Online Felt

June 28, 2021
Andrew Burnett

Appearances can be deceptive – it is poker after all – but Phil Galfond’s revelations this week about his lifelong fear of failure stopping him from trying to compete with the modern-day beasts will come as a shock to his many fans. Galfond was reminded of the turning point that arrived in his life just two years ago...

Galfond’s lengthy and highly-revealing thread on Twitter saw him explain where this fear came from, explaining that he never had to work hard in school to get by, but that wasn’t because he had a great memory.

Describing it as the "Too Smart to Try" syndrome, Galfond admits it led him to “spend 34 years avoiding or quitting everything I wasn't naturally good at!”

By the time solver-based poker learning started to take over a few years ago, Galfond reasoned he couldn’t possibly compete.

“I thought that in the post-solver era of poker, the best players would be the ones who studied hardest & memorized solver outputs, & I knew that wouldn't be me.”

Admitting he was “expecting to semi-retire (AKA to stop playing tough online nosebleed games)” Phil’s RunItOnce businesses had taken over his life and playing took a back seat.

However, his work with Elliott Roe had sparked something in his mind, Galfond admitting: “I realized I wasn't content moving on from high-level poker to "bigger & more important things" - that was an excuse I made up because I was afraid to try. I absolutely loved playing poker.”

He soon found that although GTO-theory had a big part to play in modern poker: “ fears were unfounded... poker hadn't turned into a game of memorization. Solver-era poker is still about outwitting your opponents.”

This realisation and change of attitude led to Galfond devising his series of PLO Challenge matches, which has seen him defeat online beasts VeniVidi1993 and ActionFreak, as well as post a mini-match victory over Dan 'Jungleman' Cates. He also has a $90k lead over Bill Perkins after two sessions of their challenge and most recently he took on and defeated Chance Kornuth.

Galfond explained that the reminder of the turning point in his life was a timely one: “I'm glad this reminder came up when it did. 2021 has been a hard year for me. It was a tough year already, and then a month ago, my father passed away unexpectedly.

Phil added: “Every time we spoke over this past year and a half, he asked me about the Galfond Challenge. My dad loved following the action & he was as proud as can be - and it occurs to me now that I gave both of us that experience due to the realizations I came to, the fears I faced & the decisions I made. Thank you @ElliotRoe1 & the rest of you who helped me figure it out!”

Fans of Galfond will see their hero play his next Challenge match live in Las Vegas, with Brandon Adams stepping up to the PLO plate...

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