10 Professions that Make Great Poker Players

Poker is a great way to unwind after a long day of work. Though some come to the game because it’s completely different from how they earn their living, for many, the skills they develop pursuing their work pay off double once they’re at the tables. Some ways of making money are better than others when it comes to preparation for poker, though. If you’re considering switching professions into poker, your day job doesn’t have to be on this list - but it certainly wouldn’t hurt your chances. The life transformations following a career change can bring astounding results.

 

Poker dealer

When you stop and think about it, nobody is in a better position to become a great poker player than poker dealers. They watch poker players all day, learning to pick up tells and understand different playing styles without any of their own money on the line. And after work is done, they can use that knowledge at the tables to build a bankroll, often against the same players they’ve dealt cards to in the past.

Poker dealers make great poker players!

Like his brother Robert Mizrachi, Michael Mizrachi was previously a dealer at a few casinos in his native south Florida before turning pro himself in 2004. Since then he’s gone to become one of the most successful tournament pros in the game’s history, with three WSOP bracelets, two WPT titles, and more than $14.5 million in career winnings. Robert hasn’t done that well but is still a success by any measure, with two WSOP bracelets and more than $5.1 million in tournament winnings.

Another successful ex-dealer is Scott Fischman. He used to pitch cards in Las Vegas at the Mirage and the Sahara before being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which cut short his career in the box. He switched to playing poker full-time and won two bracelets at the 2004 WSOP. He has more than $2.7 million in career tournament earnings.

 

High finance

You can’t play poker without money - and nobody knows more about money than those who work in the world of high finance. Trading is all about pattern analysis, patience, and discipline - the very traits that make for a great poker player. Plus, they may be the only poker players around for whom money management is a non-issue.

Billionaire Carl Icahn raised his first $4,000 investing stake playing poker in the army, and he still hosts private poker games. Icahn once said he thought he was a good player until he met fellow billionaire Andy Beal, the Texas banker who in 2006 single-handedly took on a team of Vegas pros for the highest stakes ever played.

People who work in finance make good poker players!

Two-time WSOP bracelet winner and co-author of The Mathematics of PokerBill Chen made his way from poker to Susquehanna International Group. High-stakes cash game player Chris Fargis made a similar move to Toro Trading before later moving to the daily fantasy sports field.

Hedge fund manager David Einhorn made his first waves in poker with an 18th-place finish at the 2006 WSOP Main Event, before taking 3rd (and $4.3 million) in the $1,000,000-buy-in Big One for One Drop at the 2012 WSOP. His $5.1 million in career tournament winnings are second among hedge-fund managers to Dan Shak, who has $7.4 million in winnings and a lengthy list of cashes dating back to 2004.

Former Bear Stearns executive Steve Begleiter made his big splash finishing 6th for $1.2 million in the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Andy Frankenberger also worked on Wall Street as a trader for 14 years before becoming the WPT’s Season IX Player of the Year and winning two WSOP bracelets and $2.7 million.

 

Attorney

An understanding of psychology and strong analytical skills are just a few of the traits that make for successful attorneys. Combine those with the large disposable income that they generate at work, and it’s easy to see why attorneys make good poker players.

Before winning the 2004 WSOP Main Event and going on to earn more than $7.5 million in his poker career, Greg Raymer was a patent attorney. Former criminal defense attorney Todd Terry has numerous WPT final table appearances and more than $2.3 million in poker tournament winnings. And New Jersey tax attorney Jamie Kerstetter is well-known as a cash-game grinder with more than $425,000 in tournament winnings since 2009.

Attorneys make good poker players!

Two other poker players had so much success playing poker that they put aside their planned careers as attorneys after Ivy League educations. Poker Hall of Famer Chip Reese stopped in Las Vegas on his way to Stanford Law School after graduating from Dartmouth and made so much money playing seven-card stud that he never left. By the time Vanessa Selbst graduated from Yale Law School in 2012, she already had a WSOP bracelet and nearly $5 million in winnings. Since then she has earned two more gold bracelets and $5.6 million more in tournament winnings, good for tops all-time among women in poker.

 

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Writer

Poker players with a tendency toward self-reflection and strong analytical abilities tend to do pretty well at the tables. As it turns out, those are also crucial qualities for a professional writer.

Victoria Cohen-Mitchell was well-known in the United Kingdom as an author, playwright, and newspaper columnist before she won the EPT London Main Event in 2006. She remains the only player ever to win two European Poker Tour events. She has more than $2.4 million in career tournament winnings.

Writers make good poker players!

Before he became the World Poker Tour’s Season XI Player of the Year in 2013, Matt Salsberg was best known as a writer on the hit Showtime series Weeds. To date he has more than $1.8 million in tournament winnings.

Jim McManus was an amateur poker player and writing professor with a few novels to his credit before 2000. Then he got an assignment from Harper’s to fly to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. While covering the WSOP and the trial of two lovers for the murder of Ted Binion, son of the WSOP’s founder, McManus himself won a satellite for a seat in the WSOP Main Event. He parlayed that into a fifth-place finish at a table that included his poker idol, the legendary T.J. Cloutier, and turned the experience into his best-known book, Positively Fifth Street.

 

Athlete

Not many people’s jobs require them to be competitive and give them lots of money and spare time as a reward. Poker is not only a well-loved pastime for pro athletes during their ample downtime, but it actually becomes a second pursuit for some of them when their days on the field come to an end.

Canada’s Greg Mueller played professional hockey in Germany for nine seasons before making two WPT final table appearances, winning two WSOP bracelets, and winning more than $2.7 in live tournaments as a professional poker player. Some other well-known athletes have been known to make a splash here and there at the poker tables even if they haven’t gone pro like Mueller.

Athletes make good poker players!

Teddy Sheringham, who played 755 games of professional football and represented England in 51 international matches, finished 14th in the 2009 WSOP Europe Main Event and 5th in the 2010 EPT Vilamoura Main Event. He has more than $325,000 in tournament winnings.

Four-time NHL All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo earned his first live poker tournament cash in the 2012 WSOP Main Event. 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has played at the WSOP and made the final table of a tournament at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. And former NBA world champion Paul Pierce is well-known for playing live no-limit hold’em cash games and also played at last year’s WSOP.

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Chess player

Chess players have to develop extremely high-level analytical abilities and the ability to think many moves ahead, both of which make for great poker players. Beyond that, they can only rise to the highest levels if they’re extremely competitive - another important trait for the tenacious poker pro.

Chess master Ylon Schwartz played in tournaments and for money on the streets of New York. He later turned to poker and finished in 4th place at the 2007 WSOP Main Event for $3.7 million. He has a lengthy career resume with one WSOP bracelet and more than $4.9 million in live tournament earnings.

Chess players make good poker players!

As a teenager, Australia’s James Obst was rated as a Master before turning to a wildly successful career in online poker with $3.8 million in winnings. He has since found some success in live tournaments as well, with more than $950,000 in winnings.

Vladimir Shchemelev was a chess prodigy as a child in Russia before making a big splash at the 2010 WSOP with four final table appearances. He later won a bracelet at the 2013 WSOP and has $1.9 million in winnings.

Almira Skripchenko, chess International Master and Woman Grand Master, ranked second among all women in France, has more than $260,000 in online poker tournaments earnings. Her fellow Woman Grand Master and two-time American woe’s chess champion, Jennifer Shahade, has earned $240,000 in live poker tournaments.

 

Magic: The Gathering player

Success at Magic: The Gathering requires strength in logic and problem-solving, plus a desire to compete. A surprisingly large number of young players emerged from the Magic scene in the 2000s to become highly successful poker players. David Williams, Brock Parker, Justin Bonomo, Eric Froehlich, Noah Boeken, Isaac Haxton, and Scott Seiver were all Magic champions before becoming professional poker players. Between the seven of them they have eight WSOP bracelets, two WPT titles, one EPT title, and $49 million in live tournament winnings since 2004.

Players of Magic the gathering make good poker players!

 

Pool player

Playing pool for a living requires not only a competitive spirit, but also a high degree of comfort with making a living by risking money on a game of skill. In other words, it’s excellent training for a career in professional poker.

John Hennigan played the professional pool circuit before turning to poker. It was a good move: he’s won three WSOP bracelets, one WPT title, and more than $6.2 million since making the switch.

Pool players make good poker players!

Nick Schulman began playing pool in New York at the age of 13, learning from some of the top players in the city. By 19 he had become a pro poker player, going on to win $7.5 million, two WSOP bracelets, and one WPT title by the age of 30. He still owns part of a pool hall in New York.

Daniel Negreanu never played pool professionally, but he did get his start gambling by hanging around pool halls in Toronto. It was there that he was introduced to poker, which he turned into major life transformation. He’s the highest-earning tournament poker player in history with more than $29.9 million in winnings.

 

Prop player

Proposition players are hired by casinos to keep poker games running. They have to play on their own bankrolls, so there’s risk involved, but they do make a small salary that helps to offset some of the game’s variance. In the meantime they gain valuable experience by playing more hands. Bryan Devonshire earned his living as a prop player before winning tournament at the L.A. Poker Classic and making deep runs in both the 2011 and 2014 WSOP Main Events. He has more than $2.46 million in tournament cashes since 2006.

 

Sales

There are a lot of salesmen in the world, and not all of them are successful. Those who are demonstrate the ability to know a good thing when they spot it, an understanding of human psychology and market dynamics, often with a healthy dose of charisma - a solid set of skills that transfers well to the poker table.

People who work in sales make good poker players!

Two members of the Poker Hall of Fame share a similar line in their bios. Both Mike Sexton and 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Doyle Brunson took sales jobs early in their lives, only to quit when they realized they could make more money playing back-room poker games with the businesspeople they were selling to.

Among those who make sales for a full-time living, there have still been plenty of poker successes. Brett Faustman, an insurance salesman from Michigan, won the 2008 WPT World Poker Open in a memorable final table against a table stacked with accomplished poker pros. And Canadian auto part salesman Kirk Caldwell won a bracelet and more than $668,000 at the 2011 WSOP in a tournament with more than 2,800 players.

 

The bottom line

Are you currently employed in any of the professions listed above? Would you consider making a professional transformation to become a professional poker player? Do you think it is possible to make these life changes and succeed? If so, you have a stellar career ahead of you if you decide to devote yourself to poker.

If you’re currently working at some other job, prove your adaptability to a career in poker! Who says an undertaker can’t become a great poker player? Be the first!

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Photo credits:
Athletes: U.S. Air Force image in the public domain
Attorneys: Illustration from 1900 McClures Magazine in the public domain.
Chess: Ricardo630, CC-BY-SA-3.0
High Finance: BArchBot, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Magic: The gathering, Hochgeladen, CC-BY-SA-1.0
Playing pool, DerHexer, CC-BY-SA-4.0
Poker dealers: Rob Watkins/Paf, flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Sales: Mhgroupbd, in the public domain
Writers: caricature from 1923 Chicago Daily News in the public domain.

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Jason KirkJason Kirk has been writing about poker since 2005 and has covered the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and WSOP Circuit in various capacities for numerous outlets. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife of 10 years and two dogs.

 


 

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