Name: Russell Thomas
Hometown: Hartford, Connecticut (Grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Chip Count: 24,800,000 (4th overall)
Occupation: Actuary for Aetna Insurance (working on ObamaCare/healthcare reform issues)
Twitter Handle: @RunGoodRussell
College: Temple University; Degree in Actuarial Science
Marital Status: Single (Girlfriend)
Poker Experience: 4 years
WSOP Earnings: $126,796
WSOP Cashes: 3 (1 in 2011; 2 in 2010)
Best Previous WSOP Finish: 5th place – 2010 WSOP, Event #16 – Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em
Main Event Results: 1 previous cash (2011: 248th place for $40,654)
2012 WSOP Events Entered: 3 Events Cashed: 1
Thomas was interviewed the day after reaching the final table (July 17). Here is the transcript of that interview:
WSOP: How did you get started playing poker?
THOMAS: I started playing poker in college during my sophomore year and I have been playing ever since. I played the Main Event last year and got like 252nd and played again this year and now I am at the final table (laughs).
WSOP: How many years have you been playing poker?
THOMAS: I guess it is maybe four or five years now.
WSOP: In terms of your family and their support for you, what does it mean for you to have them backing you and at the October Nine?
THOMAS: Yeah, my family was out here for Day 6 and Day 7. My Mom actually flew out just yesterday. It is really awesome having them here.
WSOP: What got you interested in poker?
THOMAS: Well, my brother was a poker player so I got to see him play. I always liked playing games, and it just came and seemed natural to me.
WSOP: What made you decide to play the Main Event this year? Did you play any other events?
THOMAS: I played a $1,500 event and a $1,000 event this year. I made it really far on Day One both days, but I lost. The structure is really great [for the Main Event] and that is why I like it. You know its not just one hand or just shoving in the third level. It is a great structure and a great tournament.
WSOP: What is your daily life away from poker? What do you do at work and for fun?
THOMAS: I work on healthcare reform-type work for Aetna. You know, ObamaCare. There are some regulations mandating insurance companies to pay back all of their members if we don’t pay enough out for medical claims for how much premiums we take in, so I forecast the amount for Aetna on a monthly basis. So I am going to have to train someone on how to do that! (laughs) For fun, I like to play basketball. I am interested in economics, politics, religion, poker; I don’t know all sorts of stuff.
WSOP: Is poker just for fun? I mean obviously you are quite proficient at it, but is it a hobby or are you a semi pro?
THOMAS: I could have gone pro after college but I had a good career lined up. Poker does not give me any structure in my life. I don’t want to wake up at noon everyday. I need structure in my life where I feel it.
WSOP: Will you continue your normal professional life depending on what happens in October?
THOMAS: I am going to take a leave of absence for sure until October. If I got out in ninth place I would definitely go back to my job, because I don’t think $750,000 is enough and because I don’t have a 100 percent of myself anyways. But If I got third or something I would quit for sure and just play poker.
WSOP: While you were playing the Main Event, what was your moment where you thought I am going to make the October Nine? Is there a specific moment or were you confident the entire time?
THOMAS: I was pretty confident, because I had a stack of over 20 million and I looked at the chip counts and there were a few short stacks on the other table and I realized that there were only 12 or 13 players left and I had a pretty good shot at making it. So, yeah I mean I have been top four in chips for all of Day 7 and I felt like I could make it.
WSOP: Was there any hand that stands out from your tournament?
THOMAS: Well, I got it all in with jack-eight suited against Greg over there. He had ace-king and I won that hand. So, if I did not win that hand, I was gone in like 40th place. That was a huge hand.
WSOP: Do you think your career as an actuary helps your game or improves your game or has any effect on the way you play?
THOMAS: Well, to be an actuary you have to pass a bunch of exams. One of them was called probability. So I have studied probability pretty intensively. The math helps, but it doesn’t correlate as much as people think. Playing poker makes you better at poker.
WSOP: While you have some time off, are you going to play poker? You said you are taking a leave of absence. What do you plan on doing until October?
THOMAS: I am going to be playing poker, I am not really a tournament player I am a cash game player. I just played the Main Event and the $1,000 and $1,500 events. I am going to learn a lot about tournament poker in the next few months, play it right.
WSOP: You played with Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann. They put on a heck of a performance. What is your take on the state of women in poker and specifically the performance that they put on?
THOMAS: There were a lot of women in the field and I played with a lot of them throughout the days. I played more with Elisabeth than Gaelle and Liz played really awesome. I don’t know if she had hands in a bunch of spots or if she was just bluffing. She is pretty amazing and she was owning Greg, which is not easy to do since he is probably one of the best players in the world. It looks like more women are playing and are getting a lot better. I am really surprised that one of them did not make it.
WSOP: Other than making the October Nine, what is your greatest accomplishment?
THOMAS: In poker, I took fifth in a $1,500 event right after college, so that was definitely my biggest poker accomplishment at that point. I don’t know. Becoming an Actuary and passing all of my exams would be more work than anything I have done in poker so far. I had to study three months straight for a set of exams so I mean that has been a pretty big accomplishment.
WSOP: You are an actuary, so you know probabilities and you know that no matter how good you are, it’s tough to get here. What were your expectations when you registered for the Main Event?
THOMAS: Well I gave my girlfriend probabilities. She came in on Wednesday. I am like there is a 50 percent chance I will be playing on Wednesday and a 20 percent chance on Thursday than a five percent chance and then a one percent chance on Saturday or something like that. I guess those probabilities didn’t really mean anything.