Interview With Freddy DeebBy Steve Marzolf
Originally forced into pro poker by financial difficulty, Freddy Deeb morphed circumstance into opportunity - and more than $3 million in career winnings. THP caught up with him in the Caribbean to chat about this unusual start, his famous lucky shirt and the banning of online poker.
- How did you first get started playing poker?
- Well I came here to go to school in 1975, and I had a student visa. About one year after I came here, a civil war broke out in Lebanon. And, slowly businesses got screwed up, and everything got a little messed up with the infrastructure. So, it was really hard to get on the phone for a while. And, I lost touch with my parents, and I had no money. I couldn't go to school. I was on a student visa, so I couldn't get a job.
- And you couldn't go back to Lebanon either?
- I could just go to immigration and deport myself, but I didn't want to do that because I didn't want to get involved in the war. In the meantime, while I was going to school on the weekends in Utah, there were a couple of casinos on the border between Utah and Nevada in a small town called Wendover. So it was an easy drive. We used to go on the weekends and just party over there and gamble a little bit - blackjack or poker. I couldn't work, so I tried playing poker.
- What do you think your biggest mistakes were in the beginning?
- Playing casino games or playing any games that have nothing to do with poker. It's like you want to be a professional basketball player, you can't go play soccer and be successful at it or famous at it. The biggest mistakes I made were playing the casino games.
- What got you the worst?
- Dice and baccarat. I didn't like blackjack. It's funny because when I played blackjack I could bet $100 and my mouth would get dry and I feel like I'm nervous. I swear I just don't like the game because I don't have control of the cards. I don't have control of the betting, you know?
- When did you become a pro?
- It's been since 1980. I was always a pro because I was making a living out of it; I just never considered myself to be a pro. But to think about it, I was a pro as soon as I started playing. I was always comfortable doing it, and I never had any intentions of going and getting another job. Because here I am waking up whenever I want to wake up, going to work - which is go to play - and winning money on a long-term basis all the time. I mean, I'd have to find some fluky job that doesn't need a lot of work but pays a lot of money. I don't know what that could be.
- What did your family think?
- I was hiding it from my family, just avoiding having to explain something that's not easily explained to these people that have never heard of it. They just don't get it. They're going to say, 'Bullshit, you don't make any money playing poker. That's just a story. You must sell drugs or something.' They don't understand that. Before the television, you couldn't just go up to normal working people and say, 'I haven't worked in 15 years. I'm just playing poker, making money. I've got this house, this car. I just screwed up and lost $15,000 in the casino yesterday.' It's beyond imagination.
- So you hid your career from your parents?
- If Americans couldn't understand, then in the Middle East they would not approve. Gambling is not so popular there. I mean we had a casino there, but it's like 50 or 60 years ago when people played poker and they had to go play underground in hiding. Nobody approved of it.
- How did you break the news?
- I really started making serious money at the game in 1986. Before I was making expenses, had a nice car, had a nice place, helped my parents with whatever I could. But in 1986 they legalized holdem in California, and the poker business in California boomed like in America now. There were so many people who had no clue what they were doing. I would love to have the California days even more than these days. That's how good it was because it was on a cash-game basis. I'm telling you, it was like picking money off a tree.
- Did your parents ask where all this money was coming from?
- Every month I'd send them some money. If somebody wanted to get married, I sent them $5,000. Or somebody wanted to fix his house I'd send them $3,000. Somebody needed a car to go to work; I'd send them about $3,000. I helped about 40 or 50 people in the family. So one day I said to my father, 'Why don't you get a visa and come to America and visit? It's beautiful, you know.' At the time I was living in Long Beach, right on the beach. So I paid for his plane, and he flew over. After 10 days he says to me, 'I'm worried. I've been watching, and everything seems to be quiet. I know you leave the house maybe once in a while in the evening for a couple of hours. You make too much fucking money. I mean what kind of business do you make this money in? It must be illegal.' So, the next day at lunchtime, we're driving down to the club and we pull up in the valet. We park the car and walk in and I said, 'You know what this is?' And he said, 'Yeah you think I'm an idiot or something? It's a casino.' I said, 'Okay, let me ask you a question now. You see that guy that just walked through that door? If he's got $20,000 in his pocket and he's coming here to lose it, you think he's going to lose it whether I'm here or not?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Well I couldn't get a job. I couldn't go to school. And, I'm good enough to get it. Let me get it.'
- Speaking of making money, you've said that cash games are more dependable than tournaments? How do you balance those out?
- Cash games, that's where the money comes from. Tournaments are nice once in a while, and if you get lucky and hit one, it's a bonus. Winning a tournament now is like winning five tournaments in the old days or maybe more.
- Is it harder to place in those tournaments than it used to be?
- The only thing hard about it is the long hours for a couple of days. Sometimes you get bored, but it's worth it when you win. It's worth it when you put in the time and the patience.
- Do you think you'll be able to nail down a win in the World Series?
- Oh yeah, because even if you don't win, even if you come in on the final table, you make enough money to cover all of your expenses for all the tournaments. Even if you come in sixth or seventh, you get $150,000, which is enough to cover all the balances for the World Series put together. So if you make the final table twice, you're definitely going to make a profit. Even once.
- With so many random people winning the WSOP, do you think the bracelet is as validating as it used to be as far as getting respect as a pro?
- Oh yeah, it's more so now than before. The bracelets really mean something. Before I didn't care about winning a bracelet. I was looking for the cash, not the title. Now the title means more than the cash because you can get endorsements. That's how it is now. It's just not easy. You have a field of 9,000 players. A lot of pros will make it down there and play hard, but when you get to that final table, it seems like you're sitting there with millions, but really all you have is enough money to play one hand. I guarantee you - and I know they're not going to do this - but when you're down to the last 40 or 50 players, give everybody whatever the average amount of chips is and let the blinds stay the same, then see if one of the newcomers can win it. It's impossible. I'll definitely tell you, a pro will win it 100 percent of the time. There was $90 million this year in the pool. So, when you're down to six players the average is $15 million and you're playing $100,000 or $200,000 blinds. Every time you open the pot, you have to open for $700,000 or $800,000 - almost 10 percent of your stack. If you get raised, you can't just call it. You're either going to call all of them or throw your hand away. So there's still a lot of luck down there.
- Tell me about your famous lucky shirt.
- There was this time I beat Phil Ivey, and he normally doesn't say much. That time he said, 'It must be your lucky shirt.' It was a white shirt with red blocks in it, kind of flowery looking. So, I said, 'Tomorrow if I win, I'll give it to you to wear.' And he said 'I wouldn't wear it.' A lot of people out there watching the television started picking on my shirt - they all had their opinion. And most of them out there really liked the shirt, and now wherever I'm at, people say, 'Where's that lucky shirt? I'll wear it, too.' I should make my own shirts, and put that in the market.
- How long have you been a U.S. citizen?
- Since about 1989.
- What do you think of your adopted government banning online poker?
- I think they're crazy for doing that. I mean, I can't believe it's been so long. There are poker sites making billions. There could be taxes for them. They could be making billions of dollars. But instead they're just letting it go. I have no clue what they're thinking.
- Has it affected you endorsements?
- Well I was working with Ultimate Bet for a while and now I don't know what's going to happen because of the online poker and everything. The poker sites were making a lot of money. I was getting big offers from different sites to go to them for promoting, but now we don't know what's going to happen.
- Do you have any forecast for the future?
- Five years ago, before the television, they could have probably stopped it. And it would have worked, but now it's impossible to stop it anyway. Because now everybody wants to play poker. There are so many poker games in bars, businesses and restaurants. Everyone is playing poker. So they might as well legalize it and get the tax off of it. A lot of people are not happy about it. I can't believe they won't legalize it. I bet you there are a few people in the White House who are playing right now. I'd like to bet money on it.
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