Lee Davy sits down with the World Series of Poker November Niner, Neil Blumenfield, to talk about his sponsorship deal with 888Poker, his relationship with Roger Sippl and much more.
When it came to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Final Table, I didn’t have a favourite. Today, I was fortunate enough to spend over 40-minutes talking to Neil Blumenfield, and now he occupies that spot.
He is a wonderfully peaceful man, who speaks from the heart. During our interview, we talked about the impact of losing your job in your 60s, his relationship with the entrepreneur and budding poker player Roger Sippl, and much more.
What follows is a shorter transcript of the full interview. The full interview is available in audio format, and I highly encourage you to stop reading and instead listen to that full recording.
How has life changed for you since making the November Nine?
“The biggest change in my life was right before the Main Event. I was in Las Vegas for about a week and a half and played three events in June. I came home and was heading back to the Main Event in two weeks. During those two weeks, I was laid off from my job.
“I’m 61, and I have been doing software start-ups for over 30-years. Those who know technology will know that getting employed in a start-up at 61 is not that easy. So I was lost as to what to do with my life. I was wondering if it would be in technology or outside of technology. I even drove Uber for a day and made $20.
“I thought about not returning to Vegas for the Main and keeping hold of the $10k. But I was looking forward to it for a long time, had cashed previously, and thought I could do it again. Fortunately, I went back, and it was a great decision. It helped solidify some of my life choices now. It takes the pressure off. I am officially retired from software, and I won’t be looking for another software job.”
How did it feel to lose your job?
“It was rough but not totally unexpected. Seven and a half years ago a group of friends and I set up a software company. Five years in and we were bought by Intuit. I was with Intuit for two years running two teams, one in Virginia and one in Cambridge, Mass. And I was in California. I was spending a lot of time flying, and I wasn’t with the teams for half of the time. It didn’t make a lot of sense, so I wasn’t surprised. But when you realise the paycheck is going away it puts some added pressure on.”
What has the activity been like in the sponsorship department?
‘I am sponsored by 888Poker, which is great. It gives me more of a reason to get on my soapbox about online poker. I feel American players are at a huge disadvantage because they can’t play online. It’s no fluke that the top three finishers last year were European. Martin Jacobson has seen thousands of hands compared to one of mine. Also, the live game lags behind the online game.
“I also approached a hat company whose hats I was wearing in July, but they were totally uninterested. It’s not as lucrative as it was during the online poker era. The interest isn’t there anymore.”
I notice you are President and COO of Elastic Intelligence, Inc and Roger Sippl is the Chairman and CEO. I guess it’s no coincidence that you have both done well in poker…how did that happen?
“Roger got me into tournament poker. I have known him for over 30-years. He was the founder of the first technology company that I went to work for. That run lasted seven years, and it was great.
“It must have been 8-9 years ago. I had started a new job and was unable to go, but Roger and a friend of mine Nick Baxter went to Vegas to play the Seniors event. Nick is a math genius and has a Masters in Math from Stanford and is the captain of the US Puzzle team. He cashed like 77th, and I had a little bit of background in poker from when I was younger. So I was a little jealous of his achievement and committed to going the next year. That’s what got me going in tournament poker.”
You are reaching that age where most people start to think of retirement. What goals and dreams remain unfulfilled for you as you move into the next phase of your life?
“I have had a lot of fulfillment in my life; great success in business, good family and friends, and I have had a lot of fun. So actually the big achievement that is still out there is winning a bracelet. I expected that my best chance was in the Seniors, but now I am eight guys away from it, so it’s pretty close.”
I believe you like to read a lot. What are some of your favourite books and why?
“I read a lot of historical fiction. In terms of fiction, The Bear Comes Home, is an excellent book and one that nobody knows of. Catch-22 is a classic favourite, and I also enjoyed reading 1Q84.”
When it comes to the word ‘success’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?
“Roger Sippl certainly comes to mind. For me, success is about getting something done on your own and gaining achievement beyond all odds. Roger not only started up some very successful technology companies, but he also had a rocky road to get there. He not only grew up with no money, but he also dealt with life-threatening health issues in college. He got through all of that and became an incredibly successful entrepreneur.”
What does love mean to you?
“Love is about passion. It’s about respect, compassion, understanding and friendship. I think love grows out of friendship and sometimes vice versa.”
What are your views on money?
“My views are guided by my life story. My parents and their brothers and sisters grew up in the Depression, so they had very strong views on money, in as much as it’s very hard to get, and when you get it, you have to be careful with it and don’t take it for granted. So I grew up with no money.
“So having some success in business prior to poker, my views have changed somewhat. I think it’s nice to have it, it’s even nicer not to need it, and it’s really important to be happy without it. Gifts that have been most important to me have been special because I could never have gone out and gotten them myself. A lot of people, especially where I am in Silicon Valley, have somewhat distorted views on the value, importance or lack of money. I treat it with respect, but ideally you want to be in a situation where it’s not important at all, and you neither under or over value the importance of it.”
What advice would you give to my teenage son?
“The first thing is to do what you love. Never do anything just for money. That’s one of the big changes in technology today versus when I got into it with InformEx. We believed in and loved what we were doing. We thought it changed things in a very positive way pretty much across the board. I thought I was on a mission and when a customer chose a competitor I believed they were making a mistake. That’s why I think I was a success there. You have got to do something that gets you excited. In technology today, people want to fish for an idea, sell it, get rich and move on. There is no value in it. It’s for the love of money.
“Secondly, do everything with passion. If it’s important to you, it will come naturally. There is no need to do something half way. I am treating poker the same way as I treated my business.
“Finally, you are going to make mistakes. The deal is to learn from them and not beat yourself up too much. Make that part of the growing process and revise the plan, adapt as you need and move forward from there.”