The PokerStars Sunday Million Two-Timer Club
At 55 years old, Dr. Diego Aizenberg isn't a man who spends every Sunday grinding away at the Sunday majors. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aizenberg has lots of other things on his plate. In addition to playing soccer and rugby, he's a marathon runner. When he's not doing that, he spends almost all of his professional life dedicated to Type 2 Diabetes clinical research. He is not a man who has time to waste.
With that much understood, when he does have free time, he likes to play cards.
"I really love my job, and I can't find enough time to play poker as I would like," he said.
Over the years he has played, by his estimation, somewhere between 30 and 40 Sunday Millions.
Now, get this: Aizenberg has won two of them.
In a few weeks, the Sunday Million will celebrate its tenth anniversary. It's hosted more than 3.5 million entrants and paid out more than $730 million.
In all of that time, in the middle of all that money, with all those people fighting for the first place spot, Aizenberg is part of a very small club of players who have won the Sunday Million twice. In fact, over the ten years of Sunday Millions, only nine people have managed to join the Two-Timer Club.
"I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to turn off my computer. It was really awesome, amazing, a dream come true," he said. "I thought 'Is this really happening to me?' After that, I became a 'celebrity' to my friends and to the poker community in my country. I traveled a lot, invited my friends, bought a brand new car, and I did a few interviews on poker magazines, radio and tv poker programs. I had my 15 minutes of fame."
Aizenberg, known as diegoaiz on PokerStars, is simply a recreational player among the likes of twirlpro, WhatArunAA, vietcong01, VinceVegaMFR, robtinnion, kevsteele, KipsterDK, and bagoch, the eight other people who have two Sunday Million titles.
"I'm an amateur player and a very successful physician," Aizenberg said. "Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Want to start working on being part of the Two Timers Club? Click here to get a PokerStars account.
It's 1,781 km north to Balneário Camboriú, SC, Brazil where you'll find Guilherme Cheveau, aka VinceVegaMFR. He's more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll.
Today is Cheveau's 27th birthday. Five years ago, he signed up for PokerStars, and since that time, he's become a full-time pro and a manager of a 50-horse poker team. Since signing up for PokerStars, he's played more than 40,000 tournaments. He has no idea how many of them were Sunday Millions. He does, however, remember what it meant to play in one.
"I used to play a lot of satellites for the Sunday Million, and I never actually played the Sunday Million," he said. "I used to un-register from it, because I couldn't afford those $215. I always dreamed about playing it and
winning. Eventually, three years later, I did it."
Winning the first was a big deal. Wining the second made him a local celebrity and resulted in one of the strangest reactions he's ever gotten about a win.
He'd just moved in with the woman who would eventually be his wife. She had fallen asleep on the couch while he way playing. He was as quiet as could be after he won. He went into the living room and leaned in close to give her a kiss and reveal the good news. Apparently, his future wife wasn't one who liked to be surprised when she slept.
"She got frightened, slapped my face, and started crying while my glasses flew away around the room," he said. "It wasn't the reaction I expected after I won $150,000!"
That second win made his name on the Brazilian poker scene and changed his life. He gave some money to family bought himself an apartment, and traveled all over. He's since made two other Sunday Million final tables.
"I went from a grinder to the guy that won the Sunday Million two times. Everybody recognizes me. It feels pretty good," he said. "People keep making jokes about about how great I run. Honestly, it feels awesome. It will never get old. I'm winning it for the third time real soon, so I hope the jokes keep coming."
Of the nine people who have won the Sunday Million twice, Jesper Hougaard is among those who have some worldwide success. Known as KipsterDK on PokerStars, Hougaard not only has two Sunday Million titles, he also has two World Series of Poker gold bracelets.
The man from Copenhagen estimates he's played around 150 Sunday Millions in his life. The week before he won his first, he'd earned himself a little bit of good luck.
"I had staked my upstairs neighbour to play the Sunday Warm-Up which he managed to win, so it was an exciting time for us," he said.
The now-32-year-old entrepreneur is no stranger to success. He was one of the people behind Donkr.com, and was at one time a national table tennis champion. When it came time to win his second Sunday Million, he was already an established poker pro and one of the best big-field MTT players.
"At that time, it was less about the money and more about the prestige and legacy," he said. "I was a very established sponsored pro at the time, and this win cemented my profile even further."
Hougaard doesn't play as much poker any more. He's turned his focus to other ventures, but he's not forgotten how he earned his freedom.
"Thinking back on 9-10 years as a poker pro, I'm very thankful and fortunate about the life I've been able to lead because of it," he said.
While everyone else estimates their count, Robert Tinnion knows exactly how many Sunday Millions he's played. It's 115. It's earned him what he jokingly calls, "a sliiiiiiiightly above average win-rate."
The thing is, the 26-year-old from Somerset, England never planned to be a professional poker player.
"I signed up in 2010 just looking to gamble. I hadn't even considered poker as a career and viewed it in the same light as roulette, blackjack, et cetera," he said. "With a background in mathematics from my Motorsport engineering degree, I eventually realised it's just a numbers game, and poker is just one infinitely long equation. You just have to keep solving problems and work hard. The harder I worked, the more money I made."
Tinnion's two wins turned his life into one he would never have imagined. After the first, he felt like he'd won the lottery.
"I'd love to say I was calm, collected, and very professional about it. But I was more in disbelief and hoping not to wake up and find out it had all been a dream," he said.
The second win happened just five months later.
"I felt a sense of fulfillment, as I feel I earned it more, as much as anyone can earn a Sunday Million win," he said. "I still reverted to a five-year-old on Christmas day mindset once the final hand had been dealt."
Now, Tinnion does what he wants to do. And that's a lot.
With the help of life coach Elliot Roe and personal trainer Naomi Male, Tinnion has transformed himself into a poker businessman. He hung up his mouse and started running Pocarr.com, a backing group with more than 140 horses. He's also launching a training site at the end of this month called Max-Value.com. He finds as much fulfillment helping others as he did making a fortune for himself.
"We have countless rags to riches stories across the world. Now my time is focused on helping others all over the world replicate my success." he said.
Asked to reveal his secrets, he's ready with a joke.
"I want people to know that I'm a genius and that my accomplishments are only possible if you're me and only me," he said, before going on with the truth. "That's a lie. I'm just a normal person from a normal background who managed to find the right people at the right time in their life in order to make something of himself, almost exclusively thanks to Pokerstars and Pocarr. I also have every intention of becoming the first three-time winner, and I can''t think of a better way to do so than by winning the 10th anniversary Sunday Million."
The 10th anniversary Sunday Million runs Sunday March 20th at 14:30. Satellites are running now. Whether you're looking to win your second title or still looking for your first, you can start working on qualifying for it today. Full details are here.
Other stories from this series:
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.