Greg Raymer Still Loves Poker 20 Years After 2004 WSOP Main Event

Greg Raymer conducted the honorary “Shuffle Up and Deal” on Day 1B of the 2024 WSOP Main Event, and two decades on from his victory he reflects on his memories of that week in May 2004, as well as what it was like to live the experience of being a poker celebrity.

Tim Fiorvanti
Jul 4, 2024
Greg Raymer’s win in the 2004 WSOP Main Event played on repeat on ESPN long after the initial broadcast.

The 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event may have been the match that lit the fuse, but the 2004 WSOP Main Event was the explosion that launched the industry into the stratosphere.

The field tripled from 839 players to 2,576, the top prize doubled from $2.5 million to $5 million, and televised poker entered the cultural consciousness in a way we haven’t seen before or since. It was in that environment in which Greg Raymer stepped up and into the spotlight.

His lizard eye spectacles and fossil card protector were a hit, and while he has given out hundreds of signed fossils to players who busted him out of tournaments in the ensuing 20 years, no one would have that privilege in the 2004 WSOP Main Event as Raymer won that record-setting tournament.

Twenty years later, Raymer stood in front of a ballroom full of players, most of whom watched Raymer’s victory in the formative days of their poker careers, as he offered up the honorary “Shuffle Up and Deal” announcement at the start of play on Day 1B of the 2024 WSOP Main Event.

That week back in May of 2004 shaped Raymer’s life and career, and brought him a kind of notoriety and attention that only a handful of poker players have ever enjoyed. Raymer still draws fans on the rail and has multiple interactions on most breaks, especially during the WSOP Main Event. But there’s really no comparison to the way it was for Raymer in the years following his victory.

“99% of the fan interaction is very positive, people saying nice things and I enjoy hearing it,” said Raymer. “You know, the level of like celebrity I have now is way, way below what it was like in ’05 and ’06, when ESPN was rerunning the shows multiple times per week, all year long. We would take our little daughter to Disney World and I would have well over 100 fan interactions throughout the day. My wife and daughter extra found that annoying. And then, of course when you’re in a casino and a poker room, everyone would be like that.

“I enjoy when people you come up and they’re like, ‘Oh, I watched you and that’s kind of why I started playing and stuff. And I’m like, ‘Well, I hope it’s been good to you. Hopefully the story isn’t ‘gonna go, ‘And now I’m bankrupt and it’s all your fault.’”

When he thinks back to May 2004, Raymer’s memories largely return to the moments that were captured by the ESPN cameras in the moment – both because of the impact of his victory and the way some of the key hands played out, and because of how many times he, like the rest of the world, were able to rewatch them.

But there are also funny little moments along the way to his WSOP Main Event victory that have stuck with Raymer over the years. The 2004 WSOP was the last series to play out in its entirety at Binions in Downtown Las Vegas, and it was the first to require two starting flights for the Main Event to accommodate the number of players in the field.

Raymer still remembers a lot of the tricks he picked up over his time playing at Binions. He knew how to beat the big bathroom lines on property, where to get drinks and snacks nearby and maximize every moment of his breaks while others fought through the chaos.

In 2004 in particular, Raymer even managed to accidentally start a dinner break ritual.

“A good friend of mine and poker buddy lived in Vegas at the time, and so he was sweating me and had a piece of me. One night he comes to me and he’s like, ‘Dinner break’s in a little while, what do you want to eat?’ I’m not really hungry, I’m gonna just get something light. We’re Downtown at Binions, so I’m like, let’s go down to the Golden Gate. I’m just gonna get one of those 99 cent shrimp cocktails.

“We get there, and by time we do I’m actually feeling a little hungry, so I get a shrimp cocktail and a tuna sandwich. It’s kind of cafeteria style. And I’m sitting there, there’s no place to set the tray down, and my friend’s just like, ‘Don’t worry about it. You go sit down and eat, I’ll go and pay. I had been doing well at that point, and by the end of the night I was chip leader. So the next day, my friend comes around, he checks on my chip count every now and then, but when it’s getting to be close to dinnertime, he’s says, “We’re going to Golden Gate, you’re having a shrimp cocktail and a tuna sandwich and I’m buying.”

Raymer rode that dinner combination all the way to a WSOP Main Event title and $5 million. The following year, Harrahs moved the WSOP to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and only played out the Main Event final table at Binions. For the better part of two decades the Rio was the home of the WSOP, before moving to Ballys in 2022, which was later renamed as Horseshoe in recognition of the original name of the host casino, Binions Horseshoe.

Twenty years on from his crowning glory, Raymer still spends big chunks of his year traveling the country and the world with his attention towards poker, between playing, running seminars and attending events for a variety of events and tours. He estimates it’s gone from about 50 percent of his year down to about 40, but he still enjoys getting in there and mixing it up in events of all different buy-in levels.

Raymer made deep runs in both the Colossus and Seniors Championship at the 2024 WSOP, finishing 56th in a field of 10,143 and 40th out of 7,954, respectively. He still enjoys the grind and thrives in big fields, even if a day gets off to a rocky start as it did for him on Day 1B of the 2024 WSOP Main Event.

“I went like three hours without winning a pot,” said Raymer, “And I only voluntarily put money in like three or four times. That gets a little annoying when you’re just folding, folding, folding and watching other people play big pots. But you know, for the most part, I still love playing poker.”

Poker has certainly changed a lot since Raymer won the WSOP Main Event, but he’s repeatedly proved he can still hang. Walking around the cavernous ballrooms of the Horseshoe on the strip, though, Raymer still carries a lot of nostalgia for the way the WSOP used to be.

“If it would still fit at Binions, I’d love for it to be there,” said Raymer, “But it couldn’t possibly. I mean, if they used every available inch of every downtown property it wouldn’t fit downtown. But it was nice while it lasted.”