Product Review: Las Vegas Academy With Phil Gordon and Andy Bloch

Normally the only way you’ll find me up at about at 8:30am in Las Vegas is if I haven’t gone home from the previous night or I’m burying a problem in the desert. Be that as it may, here I was up and in a cab heading into the parts of Vegas most vacationers never see. We left that “Vegas” way back there somewhere.

The cause for my abandoning my normal Las Vegas routine is the Las Vegas Academy being hosted by Expert Insight. As the cab rolls into this typical suburban strip mall I spot the address I had jotted down from the EI website. It’s a Regal Cinema. Being so far from where taxis normally tread I made sure I had visual confirmation that this was actually the place lest I be stuck waiting for another cab in the 90 degree morning heat.

Inside I spot Alex from EI who I had met at Phil Gordon’s cancer benefit last month and she signs me in. Phil and Andy Bloch are milling around the lobby and I say hello and then make my way into the theatre skipping the complimentary breakfast. Inside I find a good size crowd and I appear to be one of the last stragglers in. A few minutes after I’m seated Phil and Andy make their way in and begin the seminar.

The Las Vegas Academy is split into two parts; poker and black jack. Phil is there to cover the poker and Andy would be doing a card counting seminar later in the afternoon. As Phil begins to warm up the sleepy crowd he points out Susie Isaacs in the audience. Yes, the same Susie Isaacs who won two WSOP bracelets (the women’s events in 1996 and 1997) and is one of the few women ever to make the final 10 in the WSOP main event. Talk about living the never quit learning mantra.

Phil Gordon Tournament - Phil GordonNow, the real trick for someone like Phil who has a DVD and two books out on poker is to do a seminar that doesn’t seem like a rehash of those works. I mean, why pay $200 to hear Phil tell you what he’s already said in his $20 books? I think he pulled it off perfectly though. While there’s no doubt that there’s some overlap, having Phil there in an interactive environment meant that topics could be given more depth and specific questions could be addressed.

It’s a good thing too because before he started Phil offered to give anyone their money back if they didn’t feel they had received their money’s worth. That’s a pretty daring offer in a room full of poker players who are notorious angle shooters.

Considering that I’ve read each of Phil’s books at least twice and watched his Final Table Poker video at least as many times, I wasn’t really expecting anything new and exciting from the poker section. That expectation turned out to be completely misguided. Phil’s poker presentation was entertaining and presented his basic philosophies with a personal touch not easily conveyed in print or video. Whether it be a rant on why limping is for pussies or tales of a former NBA star who folded a set to a probe bet because he thought his opponent might have two pair, the mixing of poker theory with anecdotes, examples, and humor made it anything but repetitive.

I think that’s the best value proposition of the entire Las Vegas Academy. If you fix even just one leak in your game that could potentially translate into thousands or tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a year. Even more if the leak is big enough.

At the lunch break went over to some pizza and micro-beer joint. Phil sat down with a group of students who had beat us there by an appetizer or two and Andy Bloch had lunch with a couple of students at another booth. Lunch topics ranged from Phil Hellmuths performance on Celebrity Poker Showdown to how many class C felons Washington state has recently created.

WSOP 2005 - Andy BlochAfter lunch Andy gave his black jack / card-counting presentation. Again, while it would have been easy to re-hash his recent DVD, Andy’s presentation had plenty of new material. He shared several stories of close calls with the heat, including clips of him actually getting bounced from the Golden Nugget. He also had slides of his misdemeanor trespassing charge he received when he returned to the Golden Nugget months later for the buffet as well as the page from the Griffin Investigations book where they pegged him as a dangerous card counter.

Make no mistake about it; Andy’s presentation is about card counting. If you haven’t seen his DVD then one might assume his presentation on black jack is about how to play this –EV game as best as you can. There’s nothing father from the truth. Andy is all about getting the edge on the casinos in black jack. He teaches you how to count cards, how to play perfect black jack strategy, how to avoid getting caught, etc. It’s serious material for people who want to play the game profitably.

Now, despite my drunken luck at the game, I’ve never been anything more than a casual player. Andy’s material on card counting and strategy was easy to grasp and very enlightening. He runs you through strategy drills, counting drills, and explains everything step by step.

I have to admit that my intellectual curiosity has been stirred. I hit Andy up after the seminar for software and book advice which he was kind enough to share. I may not be bringing down the house anytime soon but it’s something that has me interested enough to buy some books and practice my card counting.

After Andy’s presentation we took a quick break and Phil and Andy did nearly an hour of Q&A from the audience.

I’m trying to wrap this up by comparing the Las Vegas Academy to something but I’ve never been to any of those boot camps you regularly see advertised for $2500 – $3000. Sure they have a cadre of professionals giving you tips but I’ve never been able to figure out if you get that level of value from those boot camps. I can say, without a doubt or hesitation, that you definitely get your money’s worth out of the Las Vegas Academy. I would highly recommend the Las Vegas Academy to anyone who wants to improve their game. If you just fix one leak, it’s worth the money.

And like Phil says, “If I can go from being dead money to winning two WPT events and making a WSOP main event final table, I’m absolutely convinced that anybody in this room can.”

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.