Posted: Tuesday May 24, 2005 3:47PM; Updated: Tuesday May 24, 2005 4:36PM
By John Walters, SI.com
Barry Greenstein Age: 51 Best Finish: Won the 2004 World Poker Open Texas Hold 'em event and a $1.2 million prize. Academic Status: He got a perfect score on the math section of both the ACT and SAT tests. He graduated from the University of Illinois in three years and then remained there to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. "I could have gone to other universities," says Greenstein, who upon completing his undergrad degree wrote his father a check for $7,794 -- the money his dad had spent on his college education -- with his poker winnings, "but the poker games [in Champaign] were too good." Cranial Pursuits: In high school, Greenstein was voted "most likely to make a million dollars." His classmates at Chicago's Bogan High School underestimated him. Not only has Greenstein earned millions more, but since 2003 he has given away every dollar he has earned playing poker -- some $3 million -- to charity.
Thomas "Thunder" Keller Age: 24 Best Finish: Winner, $5,000-limit Hold 'em event at the 2004 WSOP, earning $382,020. SAT score: 1570 Academic Status: Graduated from Stanford University in three years with a B.A. in economics in 2001. "I didn't have an outstanding GPA, but it was above a 3.0," says Keller. "I always prided myself that my class attendance to GPA ratio was probably one of the best in the university though, [I never went to class]." Cranial Pursuits: While still in high school, Keller played in the piano conservatory at Arizona State University.
Erick Lindgren Age: 27 Best Finish: Winner, "PartyPoker Million," an online tourney for which he won $1 million. Academic Status: He dropped out of Butte Junior College in Oroville, Calif. Cranial Pursuits: More of a jock than a scholar, Lindgren was an all-league quarterback and MVP basketball player in high school in the remote Sierra Nevada range town of Burney, Calif.
John Stolzmann Age: 23 Best Finish: Finished first and won $1.4 million at the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, Miss., last January. Academic Status: Dropped out of the University of Wisconsin in the midst of his final semester. Stolzmann had a 3.5 GPA, although in his first year of college at UW-Oshkosh, he earned a 4.0. Cranial Pursuits: Stolzmann played thousands of hands on a computer program (Turbo Texas Hold 'em) and read dozens of books (The first? He asked for, and received, Poker for Dummies for Christmas when he was a college freshman) before ever sitting in on a live game.
David Williams Age: 24 Best Finish: Second place at the 2004 World Series of Poker, for which he won $3.5 million. Academic Status: Dropped out of Southern Methodist University after his junior year with a 3.9 GPA. Previously accepted to college at Cornell, Harvard and Princeton (the last of which he attended for one semester). Cranial Pursuits: Williams was one of the world's top Magic: The Gathering players in his early teens.
The lesson to be learned from all of these players? While luck plays a role in the outcome of a poker hand, native intelligence is far more integral to long-term success. Until you can master how many "outs" you have in a particular hand at a particular time and you understand "pot odds" and "implied pot odds" and even "reverse pot odds," then you may want to stick to $10 buy-in games or free games on online sites.
Still, luck is always present. At last year's WSOP, Hellmuth Jr., went all in with a pair of pocket 10s against Johnny Chan, one of his two equals in terms of WSOP bracelets won. Chan held pocket kings. After the turn Chan's pocket kings still were the nuts, and Hellmuth Jr., was down to the final card. He had two outs. Either 10 in the deck.
On the river, the dealer drew a 10. Hellmuth Jr.'s set of 10s beat Chan's cowboys.
Hellmuth Jr., elated, whooped for joy. Then, sheepishly, he turned to Chan, seated directly to his right, and said, "Sorry, Johnny."
Even Phil Hellmuth Jr., it seems, needs a little luck sometimes.