Poker is a tough competitive sport which, at the highest levels, requires physical and mental prowess to play and win consistently. For professional poker players, their primary income is the game, which is why they’re motivated to put in the long hours it takes to hone their skills. Your average amateur poker player relies on a main source of income other than poker and plays for fun or recreation. That’s why the final tables at major live Texas Hold’em online poker events tend to be dominated by the pros.
But it isn’t always like that. Part-time poker players have been known to outplay and outlast the most dedicated full-time players. Sometimes it’s talent, sometimes it’s plain luck. Very often, it’s a bit of both! Let’s not forget that the pros were amateurs at some point in their careers. Take some inspiration from these “pro poker” amateurs and part-timers who had incredible runs.
New Yorker Dan Shak’s day job fits in perfectly with his passion for live poker. He’s a hedge fund manager in the gold futures market and is tremendously successful at his work. As a result, Shak has the kind of bankroll that allows him to buy into tournaments with the highest stakes. He’s been doing this since 2004 – to date, his career poker tournament earnings total $11,154,647. Not bad for an amateur! Shak’s best career cash score so far is $1,178,980, thanks to a memorable run at the final table of the 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 Super High Roller.
Shak was up against top pros such as Vanessa Selbst and Antonio Esfandiari. With the blinds at 30,000/60,000, Esfandiari opened to 120,000 in early position with A♠ 3♠. Selbst called with A♥ J♦, while Shak called from the big blind with T♣ 9♣ . The flop came out T♦ 6♣ J♣, which gave Selbst top pair and brought Shak a club flush plus middle pair. Selbst bet 165,000 into the 450,000 pot, Shak raised to 400,000 and Esfandiari folded. Selbst called. The pot was 1,250,000. The turn came 6♥. Selbst checked and Shak went all-in with 1,210,000. Selbst called. Shak was equity underdog at this stage, but the river came T♥ and he doubled up, much to Selbst’s disbelief. Shak went on to finish second to Germany’s Florian Quoss.
Another hedge fund manager with a passion for the game is the UK’s Talal Shakerchi. He regularly goes up against the pros on the high-stakes live poker tournament scene where his lifetime earnings total over $2.6 million. He’s also made his mark in online poker tournaments. One of this talented amateur’s most memorable runs took place at the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold’em poker High Main Event of the 2016 PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker. Shakerchi beat out a final table of some of the world’s best players, including Scott ‘gunning4you’ Seiver, John ‘LuckBox’ Juand and Sean ‘Nolez7’ Winter.
Shakerchi entered the final table as chip leader, with 9.8 million out of 41.2 million chips in play. On the fourth hand, Shakerchi raised to 700,000 with blinds of 175,000/350,000. Winter called and the flop brought 4♣ 3♦ 2♦. Winter check-called 788,375 and the turn came 7♥. Winter checked again, followed by Shakerchi betting 1,624,052. Winter called; fifth street brought the J♦Diamond Suit. Winter checked once again and Shakerchi bet 3,913,659. After tanking for a while, Winter went all in for 11,330,771. Shakerchi called with A♦ 7♦ for a nut flush. Winter’s lower flush with 10♦ 9♦ couldn’t compete, resulting in the amateur Shakerchi winning the title and a first-place prize of $1,468,001.
The pinnacle of live events is undoubtedly the World Series of Poker and its $10,000 Main Event. Every player aspires to claim the title of world champion and the big cash prize. The WSOP is also the most democratic of all high-stakes Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. Every player with the skills has a shot. If you can’t afford the buy-in, you can qualify via one of the many satellite tournaments. That’s what 27-year-old amateur Chris Moneymaker did back in 2003, when he shocked the poker world with a sensational victory in front of millions of viewers on ESPN.
Moneymaker was an unknown accountant from Tennessee who liked to play poker online for fun. He won his seat via an $86 satellite event in an online poker card room – the Main Event was his first live poker tournament! He battled through a field of 839 entrants, knocking out legends such as Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey along the way. At the final table, he was up against seasoned professional Sam Farha in a heads-up Texas Hold ‘Em poker showdown for the title and the $2.5 million prize.
The Bluff of the Century
Moneymaker and Farha played 28 heads-up hands. In Moneymaker’s most memorable hand, he bet $100,000 from the button with K♠️ 7♥️. Farha called from the big blind with Q♠️ 9♥️. The flop brought 9♠️ 2♦️ 6♠️ and both players checked. Fourth street brought 8♠️. Farha bet $300,000, Moneymaker raised $500,000 and Farha called. The river brought 3♥️ and Farha checked. Then Moneymaker went all-in for his opponent’s effective stack – and Farha folded. ESPN announcer Norman Chad called Moneymaker’s move “the Bluff of the Century.”
In the final hand, Moneymaker had 5♦️ 4♠️ on a flop of J♠️ 5♠️ 4♥️ against Farha’s J♥️ T♦️. His two pair won the day and he was crowned the 2003 WSOP champion. It was the first time an online poker player won the WSOP. “This is beyond fairytale. It’s inconceivable!” yelled Chad. The upset sparked a poker boom that still shows no signs of letting up. Twenty years later, Moneymaker told CNN, “When you could see an amateur like me pull off a bluff like that, it gave everybody hope that they could do it too.”
Hope isn’t enough, of course. Luck is an important part of the game and you also need enough skill “to put yourself in position to be lucky enough,” as Moneymaker said. Fortunately, every kind of poker player today has more ways to train than ever before. The best online poker sites offer tutorials and poker tournament tips for players of every skill level, so anyone can get in on the game.
Stanley Choi is one of the most famous of all recreational players, both in and out of the poker rooms. Choi is a businessman first and poker player second. However, you would be forgiven for confusing his roles.
When he’s not beating pro poker players at their own game, he’s one of China’s most influential and affluent businesspeople. He founded YunFeng Capital as well as the Head & Shoulders Financial Group. He was a majority shareholder in the Simsen International Financial Group, is a former executive director and chairman of Intl Entertainment Corp and, if that weren’t enough, he is also a champion for the Nature Conservancy Project.
Given his large bankroll, Choi rose to prominence in 2012 when he took first place at the Macau High Stakes Challenge Super High Roller tournament. He went home with a whopping $6,465,574. The run didn’t end there, though. In December of the following year, he won a further $117,800 at WPT Korea and two years later followed up with a $401,000 haul at the APPT – ACOP High Roller tournament, finishing second overall. With total recorded earnings of $7,576,252, Choi is definitely one of the world’s most successful amateur poker players.
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