Many of us love nothing more than opening up PokerStars and settling in for a long grind of online poker tournaments in our spare time. But what do the poker professionals–those who, with the recent absence of live poker in most parts of the world, have been plying their trade at home online–do in their free time?
Over the years, we’ve spoken to countless poker pros, from famous household names to skilled sharks who choose to remain just below the surface, and while free time is often spent on the things you’d suspect (binging TV shows, seeing friends and family, et al) there are plenty of interesting and unusual pastimes in the poker world.
Here’s a look at what some of poker’s best do when they’re off the grind.
The game of poker in and of itself is rather acquisitive, but that doesn’t mean poker players are only in it for themselves. There are countless examples of charitable endeavours in the poker world, from hundreds of charity events each year to many of the biggest tournaments in the world (such as the $1 million buy-in One Drop) raising millions for worthy causes through buy-ins alone.
One household poker name who has gone above and beyond to raise money for charities in recent years in Dan “Danny98765” Smith, who holds his Double Up Drive every year. The drive–which Smith runs with fellow famous poker players Matthew “MUSTAFABET” Ashton and Stephen “stevie444” Chidwick–matches donations to worthy causes dollar for dollar. To date, the Double Up Drive has raised more than $18 million.
“I’ve gone through several existential crises about my future as a poker player, mostly being uncomfortable playing a negative-sum game which doesn’t contribute to society,” Smith wrote in a blog. “Largely in part due to this drive, all those concerns have dissipated. I still genuinely love to play poker, and am thrilled that due to this drive, I can use my favourite thing to make a tremendous impact on the world.”
Like Smith, all-round poker wizard Adam “Adamyid” Owen has travelled the world playing a game he loves, but as he told PokerStars Blog at the 2019 World Series of Poker, nothing affected him more than visiting a migrant camp in Mexico City, which housed around 1,500 people making the arduous and perilous journey from Central America towards the United States.
Inspired by the work of two other poker-playing friends — Nick Maimone and Kami Dawn, who would take clothes and supplies to people enduring hardship in Honduras — Owen did what any popular, well-connected poker player would do: he rallied his friends and contacts to the cause.
“There are some really good people in poker,” Owen says. “You won’t necessarily hear a lot about them, they go about their business. They don’t necessarily make headlines. But there are a lot of people in poker who put a lot of money into charity, doing direct things.”
David “Bakes” Baker was also busy working on causes close to his heart in 2019, protesting outside the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
More recently, Charlie “Epiphany77” Carrel has dedicated much of his time to set up his own charity, Thrive, which aims to end homelessness in the UK by 2025. “It’s primarily focused on lifting people out of poverty, specifically homeless people,” Carrel told us in 2019. “It also focuses on bringing health to the masses, cheaper and more transparently than is currently available to them.”
Proposition betting (more commonly referred to as prop-betting) has always been common in the poker world and many famous poker players have taken on bets in the world of sports and fitness.
The golf course has long been an active battleground for such wagers, with the high-stakes games of Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu and Patrik Antonius (just to name a few) becoming the stuff of legend. Negreanu even has a golf simulator built into his Las Vegas home. But we’ve also seen interesting sporting prop-bets in other areas.
Recently, Mike “Timex” McDonald accepted a basketball challenge (despite not possessing great skills at the time) to shoot 90% from the free-throw line over a 100-shot sample. McDonald completed it with plenty of practice time still to spare, sinking 90 out of 100 shots to win more than $200,000 from other bettors and high-stakes poker players. Sports betting–even when it’s on non-professional events–is a popular pastime in poker.
Of course, money doesn’t have to be on the line to get poker players outside for exercise. Dara “SlowDoke” O’Kearney is a former professional ultra-runner who frequently competes in races longer than 42.195 kilometres (26 miles, 385 yards), while an annual World Series Football tournament takes place at the WSOP each year, with Daniel “KidPoker” Negreanu, Timothy “Tim0thee” Adams and Patrick “Pads1161” Leonard taking part.
Former poker pro Terrence “Unassigned” Chan was also an MMA fighter with a pro-record of four wins and two losses, and speaking of MMA, we’ve also seen a few examples of famous poker players training for fights against each other. PokerStars Ambassador and Twitch poker superstar Lex Veldhuis took on his friend Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier in a kickboxing match back in 2011 (which Veldhuis won), while Olivier “Adonis112” Busquet defeated JC “PrtyPsux” Alvarado in a brutal UFC-style bout in 2016.
Board games–or rather any game with strategic elements–have always been popular with poker players. More recently, since the success of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, we’ve seen the worlds of poker and chess crossover more than they ever have before. The links between poker and chess go back decades (chess is a common hobby among poker players while many chess masters make the transition to poker) but with the rise of both chess and poker on Twitch and online events like Joker’s Gambit, we’ll certainly see the two wonderful games merge further in the future.
If you follow famous poker players on Twitch you’ll be well aware of how integrated the community is in the world of cryptocurrency. From Doug “WCG|Rider” Polk’s crypto YouTube channel to Joey “JoeIngram1” Ingram’s podcasts with crypto influencers, it’s clear that many of poker’s biggest names spend their free time researching and investing in cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin.
But there are plenty of other notable investments made by poker players, particularly in the restaurant business. 2005 WSOP Main Event Joe Hachem owns and operates Lorca, a busy restaurant in the heart of Melbourne, while Todd Brunson and Max Pescatori run the Roma Deli & Restaurant in Chinatown, Las Vegas.
As Forbes magazine points out, there are plenty of links between poker and investing which often lead to poker players making savvy investments. “Specific skills in poker may carry over to investing,” says Forbes. “One skill is patience. This can be measured in portfolio turnover, and hedge fund managers who succeed in poker tend to hold onto portfolio positions longer.
“Another is avoiding the disposition effect. The disposition effect can cause you to hold onto losing investments for too long, while quickly selling winners. Skilled poker investors are less likely to do this. Furthermore, the ability to read people can be useful both in poker and investing. The researchers also find that those investors who focus on fundamental stock selection have greater links to skill in poker, than those who invest with a purely quantitative approach.”
The goal of most professional poker players is to achieve financial freedom so that they can spend their free time doing what they really want to do. For many, that’s to raise a family.
“The advantage of making a living playing poker is that you get to set your own hours,” Erik Seidel told PokerGo. “I could drive my kids to school in the morning, I could pick them up, and that was a very big deal for me.”
Parenting and playing poker from home comes with its own set of challenges, however, as recently retired high-stakes pro Max “goodeh99” Silver, creator of SnapShove and a 29-year-old father of two, can attest. “With my first child, it was just a huge adjustment,” Silver told us. “I went from being in a job where I could pick all of my own hours, to suddenly having very defined hours where I was at the whim of a young child. That can be a big change for poker players.”
The joys of parenting are also said to come with a poker-related benefit: baby run-good. Many of the game’s best players enjoy great success after their child is born. After Chidwick’s daughter was born in 2019, he binked his first WSOP bracelet in a $25,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha event for $1.61 million, placed fourth in a £1 million buy-in event for £4.41 million, and won the €50,000 Super High Roller at the European Poker Tour stop in Prague in December for €725,710.
“Being a father now is surreal. It’s really hard to describe,” Chidwick told Poker Central that summer. “Looking at my daughter and seeing her smile makes up for any pot in any tournament I could ever lose.”