Interview With Erik Seidel - Part 1

March 6, 2012, Posted by Lee_Davy

Interview With Erik Seidel - Part 1

So you used to play Backgammon?

I used to live a couple of blocks away from a place called Chess City in New York and as a kid my brother and I used to go in there and they would be playing a lot of backgammon. At some point during that time I picked up Paul Magriel’s book and after reading it I started to gamble a little bit at school - that was my first taste of backgammon, and gambling in general and it was fun, especially to have a little bit of an edge.

When you say you were a kid how old were you exactly?

It was High School so I am guessing around 15-years of age. Then Chess City moved and it became The Game Room and I played there for a while. By this time I was pretty good and very interested in it. Then one night all of these top players just came by the Game Room, which was a pretty big deal for me because I was still learning the game. Paul Magriel, Roger Low and a couple of others just popped in for a lark. I was introduced to Roger Low, who at the time was one of the top three players in the world. We ended up playing a bunch of games and it was a very exciting experience for me to play with one of the best.


Were you able to play Backgammon for fun or did their need to be some money at stake even back then?

I don’t really remember exactly, because it was so long ago, but I never remember playing for free. I think there was always some money at stake.

Where do you think you inherited your gamble?

I am not really sure where it came from. My mom has a theory that when I was a kid she was in a poker game and she played all night and won over a hundred dollars. I do remember that pretty clearly. It is possible that that memory inspired my interest? I certainly remember thinking, “Wow, that is a lot of money,” so that may have been it.

Do you still play competitive backgammon?

I haven’t played for a long time and the game has really advanced since I stopped playing, mainly due to computers. If I played now I would be way behind and it would take a lot of hard work to get up to speed, but I don’t expect to go back to it. I enjoyed it when I played it but I really like poker more.

Do you play Backgammon on the poker circuit?

I used to come out to Vegas for the world amateur backgammon championships, which was at The Dunes. I used to play backgammon with Puggy and Stuey and I remember playing a match with Chip Reese once - in fact that is how I met those guys. Stuey was really interested in backgammon. I remember going out to Vegas and meeting him and he was really very friendly to me. Probably because at the time I was a top backgammon player and he was interested in backgammon. We hung out for most of the night and we went to Stardust together and he let me watch him play. Although I didn’t have much of a clue - in fact I knew nothing about poker - it was tremendously exciting for me to just sit and watch this big game, watch Stuey bluffing, and showing me everything he was doing.

I suppose that’s the equivalent of a young kid watching you today? Can you talk a bit more about him?

I got to know him a little bit because of backgammon and so there were a couple of times that we would hang out when I was in Vegas. I remember hanging out at his apartment at the Jockey Club. At the time I never had the idea, “Boy I could be a poker player,” his world seemed very different and remote. It was cool to hang out a little and see what his life was like. My interest did get sparked though and I remember picking up a Sklansky book (which at that time was a little pamphlet) and I tried playing for $1/2 dollars and of course I was horrible. Somehow I won the first couple of times and I suppose I fell into the classic trap, you win the first couple of times and then you get hooked.

Was the dark side of his life something you were privy to?

I was aware that he was taking drugs. In the later years he looked just so messed up. I always thought that he should be the poster boy for people not to get involved in drugs. When you look at what a freaky talent he was and what happened to him, it is so disturbing, but I never saw him taking any drugs, but in total didn’t spend that much time with him so not surprising.

And like many other poker players you were a stocks trader as well?

I got involved in trading around 1985. At first it was mortgages at Paine Webber and then I traded stock options on the floor of the AMEX. The funny thing about trading was I was doing pretty well but I had two kids and we were living in New York. The schools were pretty crappy so I sent them to private school. So no matter how much money I made I wasn’t putting much away. NY with a family is expensive! I didn’t really love being a floor trader so I decided to quit, live outside of New York and give poker try.

Money is fantastic, and you have earned a lot, but you need to love the game as well right?

I feel very privileged to do something that really does excite me. To play alongside these kids - who are such exceptional players - is very exciting for me, still to this day. I was playing last month in the Bahamas and things were not going well. I had lost half of my stack but I still was happy to see I was enjoying playing and the challenge of it, I felt fortunate to be able to play and just be able to compete at this level.

Can you talk a little bit about your time in the Mayfair Club? Who were the most respected players in that game?

There was Dan Harrington, Jay Heimowitz, Howard Lederer, Billy Horan, Steve Zolotow. Also Noli Francisco, who won a WPT event, he was an incredibly creative player and definitely had a big impact on my game. A few of the pros like Howard & Harrington were barred from the game for a while because there were so many amateurs playing (which included me).

There was a distinction between pros and amateurs back then?

Yeah, it started off being all amateurs and they didn’t allow any pros in, but at some point it changed and the game changed as a result. But it was a mixed blessing because now we got exposed to players who really knew how to play. Harrington was always an excellent player, so to play against him you always had to raise your game. But for me it was a new game and a big learning curve. I am not the quickest and it took me a long time to work things out. I was pretty cautious at the beginning and once they let the pros in I got very cautious about playing. I wanted the game to be pretty good because I wasn’t like one of these guys who starts off right away and has a gift for it.

Was there anyone who took you under his or her wing during your time in the Mayfair Club?

Not really, I was just borrowing a little bit from everyone. Dan was always generous but I think it was all about playing a lot. In backgammon my mentor was Paul Magriel but in poker it was just being exposed to lots of different styles and getting to play a lot. There was less information back then, all we had was Doyle’s book so you had to figure things out on the fly.

Have you ever been a mentor?

I have tried once or twice to teach people but I didn’t really have much success. It has always been kind of awkward as I am not a naturally good teacher. Everything is very dynamic, changing and shifting and you figure things out at the table. There is no bag of tricks for situational spots. I don’t think I have specific rules, which can be a problem at times, but it keeps me open to finding out new things, which can be helpful. I think a lot of what makes a great poker player is being observant. A good example is a player like Chino {Rheem}, he has beautiful instincts and he is a creative player. That wouldn’t guarantee that he would be a great teacher, so much of what he does is created at the table.

What are you proudest of?

For me, doing well in live games over a long period of time playing with Chip and Doyle. We had a big Omaha game in Vegas at the time. I didn’t have much money; I was getting staked in that game so it was a big deal for me to do well. It got my bankroll started and it was exciting to play with these two icons of the game.

Check out part 2 of this interview later on this week where Erik talks about his amazing year in 2011 and plans for the future.

Lee Davy is a writer who likes to write about what is on his mind. His society filter eroded some years ago and these days he just says it how it is. You can follow Lee Davy on Twitter at   or on his personal blog For personal contact try

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