Barry Greenstein: PokerStars' Renaissance Man

SCOOP logo.gifThere's a famous New Yorker cartoon, featuring two men, clearly residents of Manhattan's Greenwich Village, which has its de facto northern boundary at 14th Street. One says, "I haven't been north of 14th Street in 20 years." The other thinks for a moment, then replies, "I've never been north of 14th Street."

Sometimes the poker world, and its heroes, can be like that. Particularly for the youngsters among us, it's easy to get completely wrapped up in this game and its milieu. Especially if you're one of those chasing SuperNova or SuperNova Elite status, and/or you follow the various online forums, track the SCOOP results, and so on - suddenly it seems like there's not much time left for anything else.

Then there's Barry Greenstein. I've known Barry since the late 80's, when we played in the same cardroom (Garden City in San Jose, California). That's not to say we were playing at the same table; Barry was playing in the biggest games and I was in some of the smallest. But the point is that 25 years ago, Barry was plying his trade, and that's pretty much how he's supported himself and his family since.

But along the way, even while becoming a world-class cash games player and major tournament winner, Barry has studied and learned the world around him.

This was brought into sharp relief yesterday when Barry was kind enough to spend a couple of hours chatting with his fans in the SCOOP Fan Club1. When the questions were typical ("Do you feel good about making play X on televised hand Y?"), Barry's answers were more or less what you'd expect from a serious professional player. But I knew he had a broader range and threw some non-standard queries at him. For instance, "Discuss the strategic importance of U.S. President Obama publicly supporting same-sex marriage in an interview yesterday." Barry's replied that it would force Obama's likely opponent in November, Mitt Romney, to face up to the question of "equality for all Americans" during the campaign. Clearly he was aware of that interview and had thought about its implications.


Greenstein in a similar Q&A at the 2012 PCA

Then another member of the club asked Barry about his mathematics background. Barry said something about "(W)hile I was working on my PhD in mathematics..." That surprised me; while I knew he was a serious computer scientist and programmer, I didn't know he had that advanced background in math. Hearing that, I asked Barry for his Erdös number (a measure of a mathematician's publication-fu). Somewhat to my surprise, he said, "Well, I thought it was going to be 2 (an impressively low number), but I didn't get author credit on (a paper) I did some computer work on, so I guess it's infinite." This impressed both me and the math-geek who'd asked Barry the original question.

Other questions elicited uncharacteristic (but wonted for Barry) replies that showed his forward-looking nature. "What was your favourite poker moment?" "I don't know - it hasn't happened yet." This from a guy who has WSOP bracelets, WPT titles, and has been inducted into the poker Hall of Fame.

But lest you think that this has distracted him from his day/night job, you should have seen the discussion about his session lengths. "I generally average 16-hour sessions... Given my age, I'm trying not to go over 20-hour sessions." Barry takes his job very seriously, and yet somehow finds time to inspect both the world around him and himself.

Perhaps we got a glimpse of how he does that on a recent EPT broadcast. He said he was reading a book on (I believe it was) "etiology". When broadcasters James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton sounded confused, he explained that one of his kids was taking a philosophy class and Barry had a standing offer to read any text book that his kids had to use in school. Thus did professional poker player Barry Greenstein find himself wading through a philosophy text.

This method of supporting your kids has the excellent side effect of occasionally throwing a new and different subject in your face. While that may not hold specifically for dry philosophy tomes, I suspect that in general, PokerStars Team Pro Barry Greenstein relishes the opportunity to stretch his brain and learn a new thing or two. That's how one keeps his Renaissance Man chops up to date.

1 The SCOOP Fan Club is in Home Games club #634789, invitation code "scoopfan". It's open to everybody and we've already visitors such as Talonchick, Nanonoko, and David Williams. There's plenty of room for new members so come on in.

Lee Jones
@PokerStars in SCOOP