Everyone knows the hand – it is Day 1 at the 2008 World Series of Poker and something rarely seen at the poker table just happened, a royal flush beat quad aces. With this one hand, a relative unknown was pushed to the forefront of the poker scene – Justin Phillips. And it was such a memorable hand that it emerged victorious among 31 other competitors in PokerUpdate.com Most Memorable Televised Poker Hand bracket. We sat down with Phillips to discuss how the almost-impossible hand went down and what he has been up to since his famous TV poker moment.
Explain how you got into playing poker and what led you to want to go to the WSOP Main Event.
Well I used to go up to La Center in Washington and play blackjack and was losing my butt. Looked over at the poker tables and was like what are these guys playing. So I sat down and right off the bat realized I wasn’t playing against the house. Then was like, “Wow I don’t think these guys are playing very well, they keep chasing and chasing.” So I looked into it and found an underground warehouse where I started dealing as well as playing.
How did you get a seat to the 2008 WSOP Main Event? Was this your first time there?
It was my first main event but not first time at series. The way I got in was bought in with my backer’s money. I played $50k worth of tourneys and cash games that year.
Of course there were big name poker players at the Main Event, but we want to know about your experience playing with Ray Romano at the table. Did everyone love Raymond?
Yes everyone loves Raymond (Raymer lol). He is a tight conservative player and a real nice guy, and everyone wants to talk to him. He came up to me in the hall the next day and told me a bad beat story. I told him that sucks and to go get them.
Your reaction was captured by the ESPN film crew when your royal flush beat Mabuchi’s quad aces. The chances of that happening are 1:2.7 billion. What went through your head when you saw the cards on the table?
I was like “impossible” and I couldn’t compose myself; my heart was beating out of my chest. I actually had to leave the room for an hour. I called my girlfriend at the time and was so excited she thought I was crying. All I could get out was I won the hand.
After this amazing hand took place, did you think you had a realistic shot at making the first ever WSOP November Nine final table?
This hand took place late day 1 that thought didn’t even cross my mind.
Part of what made the image of you winning so iconic was that you were wearing a wife-beater (T-shirt). Is that how you normally dress to play poker these days?
Yes that is me comfortable, but I did stop buying white wife beaters – looked too grungy after i saw myself on television. I wear only black and grey now.
You were the winner in our Most Memorable Televised Poker Hand contest, destroying the competition, mainly due to a strong group of supporters in the Portland, OR area. Are you well known within poker circles there? How often do you play? What else are you up to?
I am very well known within the poker circles here. I try to play at least a few times a week and I actually deal at a club in Portland.
Do you consider that hand the highlight of your poker career, or have you had other bigger successes since then?
Yes, it was the highlight of my poker career so far, but it’s not over.
Since 2016 is right around the corner, what would you like to see happen to poker in the US in the coming year?
Well I would really like to see the US government find a way to tax online poker and bring it back. But not sure if that’s ever going to happen. I would also like to see the WSOP put in a BigO tourney.