Most people would agree that it takes a lot of effort to become exceptional at poker or competitive video games (which are also known as eSports and which you can learn about in this beginner’s guide.) In both of these arenas, it requires hours of study and practice to reach the pinnacle of play and go pro. However, it’s not enough for some people to be exceptional at just one of these. They have to take things even further and compete at the highest levels at both.
Let’s take a look at three great poker pros (regardless of whether they play offline or online poker or both) who’ve demonstrated an insane ability to perform at the highest level in eSports as well. These professional gamers are listed in order of their Hendon Mob earnings at the time of writing.
3. Ivan “SouL” Demidov
eSports career in: StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft III
Hendon Mob poker earnings (at time of writing): $6,915,800
Little has been written about Ivan “SouL” Demidov’s early eSports career, but he performed reasonably well in the WarCraft III scene, claiming a single first-place win and multiple top-three finishes during his time playing competitively between 2003 and 2004.
After retiring from eSports, he entered the professional poker scene in 2006. His career kicked off with a fifth-place win at the 2006 Russian Poker Championships in Moscow, where he won $3,517. His biggest win, which makes up the majority of his career earnings, came just a couple of years later at the 39th World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 2008. Demidov came second in the $10,000 World Championship No Limit Hold’em event and earned $5,809,595. Not bad for less than two years of playing poker as a professional player.
2. Doug “WCG_Rider” Polk
eSports career in: WarCraft III
Hendon Mob poker earnings (at time of writing): $9,596,008
According to the PokerNews.com article “Joy Ride: Doug ‘WCGRider’ Polk’s Road to the Nosebleeds,” Doug Polk’s love of strategy games started when his father introduced him to chess when he was just five years old. While his father easily won against his son in his early years, by the time Polk was nine, he was under the tutelage of a grandmaster chess player. Polk claims this education and his competing in tournaments helped him build a solid foundation for critical thinking.
By the time he was 15 years old, he’d left chess behind in favor of another strategy game: WarCraft III. His skills shone through and he took part in the World Cyber Games USA tournaments until he finished high school.
Once he started attending college, Polk’s focus shifted from WarCraft to poker. In fact, his focus shifted so drastically that when he accidentally failed a class in his first year (he didn’t know he had to sign an attendance sheet,) he ended up dropping out of college. He packed his things and headed to Vegas.
From 2007, Polk put in the time to master the game. However, he hit some bad patches in 2010 and 2011 that he attributes to his focus being on his personal life, and toward the end of 2011, his money had almost dried up. It was do-or-die and Polk decided to put everything he had into poker.
Needless to say, it worked out, as Polk’s winnings started to trend upward. Just a few years later he finished first at the 48th WSOP 2017 $111,111 No Limit Hold’em – High Roller for One Drop event. He won $3,686,865 for first place.
1. Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
eSports career in: StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft III
Hendon Mob poker earnings (at time of writing): $14,851,208
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier started off his professional gaming career playing StarCraft: Brood War. He achieved incredible success between 2001 and 2003, often placing in the top five at various international competitions. His greatest achievement as a StarCraft player was in 2003 when he managed to claim first place at the Euro Cyber Games. Grospellier also played WarCraft III competitively but only achieved moderate success in the scene. His highest win was a second-place finish at the Ongamenet WarCraft Retail League in 2002. He currently plays Hearthstone (and poker) for Team Liquid.
As a poker player, Grospellier has achieved incredible success, earning almost $15 million. His first professional earnings were made in 2005 during the European Poker Tour. He took part in a €500 + 50 No Limit Hold’em and claimed ninth place, taking home $2,591. Since then, he has played in hundreds of offline and online poker games and used his poker skills to amass millions of dollars. His largest win was the 48th WSOP 2017 $111,111 No Limit Hold’em – High Roller for One Drop event. During this event he won an incredible $2,278,657 after coming in second place (yes, he lost to Doug Polk.) However, he has claimed several first-place finishes, with his largest first-place finish prize being $2 million.
eSports Skills That Transfer Well to Poker
The professional gamers in this list have shown that it’s possible to move from the eSports scene to professional poker play and achieve success. That’s because there are definitely some similarities between the two competitive arenas. Here are some of the skills that are applicable to eSports and professional poker.
Knowing How To Gather Information
While information gathering differs from game to game, it’s important to know how to gather information so that you can make the most informed decisions. In a strategy game, this may mean sending a unit to scout out your opponent’s base so that you can learn what their plan of attack is, while in a game of poker, that might mean watching for tells or studying how an opponent plays to figure out if they are a tight or loose player.
In both eSports and poker, you can’t just turn your brain off and play. Even though luck may give you the occasional win with this approach, in order to keep on winning consistently, you must play each game with a strategy. In poker, this may mean feigning weakness in order to build a pot or going in aggressively if the odds are in your favor, but regardless of how you approach the game, you must have a plan.
This may not apply to cash games, but physical stamina is vital to both poker and eSports players who play in the most competitive environments. This is because tournaments may involve many hours of play in multiple rounds for eSports and poker players alike. At large poker tournaments, it’s not uncommon for the tournament to go on for 12 hours or more, so if you’re going to have any chance of winning, you’re going to need to be able to match other players who have the physical stamina to stay at the top of their game.
There’s no doubt that eSports and poker require strong minds. This isn’t only in regards to understanding the games and strategies that help you win but also having the mental strength to keep yourself calm and focused for long periods of play, especially when things aren’t going your way. “Tilting” (or getting upset) is something every player has to learn to deal with, especially at the highest levels of play, and having a strong mental game can help you stay level-headed and make the best decisions when you play.
While there is the occasional outlier who doesn’t put much effort into something and seems to have a knack for it, the best players in both eSports and poker are often the most committed. They are competitors who spend hours studying and practicing in order to learn everything they can about a particular game. They are also the players who are willing to sacrifice other aspects of their life in order to get to the top. At the end of the day, those who are the most committed are usually the ones who achieve the most success, while those who don’t put in the hours will rarely make it to professional play.
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