November Nine: The Chip Leader

One day you're working as a sales rep at a trucking company, the next day you’re a millionaire with your name and picture in newspapers and magazines across the country. This exactly defines the last few months in the life of Dennis Phillips.

Phillips will be the chip leader when the November Nine return to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to finally play down to a winner. Phillips has developed quite the following thanks to his everyman image and down-to-earth honesty — something there’s not a lot of in a game where deceiving people is a key element.

“Look, I’m 53 years old, I have a bit of a paunch, and I love to play poker,” says Phillips, who lives in St. Louis, MO. “This has been great so far, I’m really living the dream.”

Part of that dream included throwing out the first pitch before a St. Louis Cardinals game in August and being presented with a souvenir from one of baseball’s biggest superstars.

“I was walking off the field and here comes Albert Pujols with a signed bat for me. I was really in a bit of shock,” says Phillips, who wore a red St. Louis Cardinals hat for the entirety of the Main Event thus far and plans to wear it again come November 9. “It’ll be the same hat. I’ve had to put it away for now though. Wearing it for nine days straight, it’s not exactly in the best shape, but I’ll have it on for sure.”

He’ll also be wearing the same blue button-down shirt he wore on the final day of play in July, bearing a PokerStars patch on one side and the logo for Broadway Trucks on the other. Despite walking away from the Rio with ninth-place money, Phillips headed straight back to St. Louis to put himself in familiar territory in short order.

“I was back at work probably within 24 hours. (My co-workers) were all very proud and the company has been extremely supportive of me, especially when it comes to
needing time off.”

“When I got back my boss said ‘Look, this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff and we’re behind you,’” says Phillips. “He just said ‘Work when you can and enjoy this experience,’ and I have for sure.”

Phillips has been on a poker whirlwind since mid-July and it’s taken him on a world tour. As we go to press he’s in London getting ready to play in the WSOP Europe Main Event. He’s also played several tournaments in Biloxi, MS and has earned a little bit of celebrity status at the Harrah’s Casino in St. Louis where he won his seat in a $200 satellite.

“They’ve been great to me there, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t give any of this up for anything. It really has been an amazing ride so far.”

Despite the fact that he’s good enough to be sitting at the top of the chip counts Phillips recognizes that getting some help in preparing for the final table can only help him succeed. In early September he announced that he had hired former WPT Borgata Poker Open winner Roy Winston and his partner Joe McGowan as coaches.

“I look at a sport like golf and all the best players — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson — all have coaches. Any player who says they can’t improve their game is lying to themselves,” says Phillips. “They actually approached me early on Day 5 and at the time I wasn’t all that interested. They were back the next day and we listened to what they had to say.”

And while he’s obviously invested some of his winnings in the services of Winston and McGowan, he hasn’t gone out and spent copious amounts of money on new toys. Phillips’ blue-collar image isn’t an act and at last check he’s the only one of the November Nine who hasn’t splurged on a new car, plasma HDTV, or new house. He’s tied the money up in a bank account and will deal with it all once the final table is over and he’s got the rest of his money — whatever that final number ends up being.

“I’ve bought nothing yet,” says Phillips. “There’s something in the works though — but that’s not until later this year.” And while he’s saving the ninth-place money he was paid in July, he has had to shell out a few times to buy his co-workers lunch.

“I’m more than happy to (buy lunch). It’s the least I can do,” laughs Phillips. With nearly 27 million in chips, almost 2 million more than his closest competitor Ivan Demidov, he could return to Broadway Trucks in mid-November to be buying more lunches — maybe even dinners — and showing off a shiny gold bracelet.