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Poker Legends: Barry Greenstein

“I never chopped and took a small win. I beat people into the ground.”

This competitive mentality, along with a strong work ethic and a mathematical galaxy-brain, helped Barry Greenstein climb to the top. Inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2011, Greenstein holds 3 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, 2 World Poker Tour (WPT) titles, and over $8 million in live tournament winnings, most of which “The Robin Hood of Poker” donated to charities like Children Incorporated.

For this cash game crusher, tournament winnings were really only a drop in the bucket. For instance, at the 2003 WSOP, most people think that Chris Moneymaker was the big winner, cashing in for a little over $2 million at the main event. According to Greenstein, though, he won over $5 million playing cash that month in Vegas.

(Photo Credit: hochgepokert.com)

Barry Greenstein’s Poker Journey

Greenstein started playing poker and other games with his family as a little kid, and it was obvious that he had a knack for it. And it wasn’t just gaming where he excelled—he skipped a grade in high school, graduated from college in the 70’s with a computer science degree after 3 years, and spent the next ten years working on a math PhD while building his poker bankroll.

He could have easily become a professor, but the money wasn’t as good as what he could make at poker. He stayed in grad school just because he loved math.

Still, he wanted to do more than make money; he wanted to do something productive with his life. So he headed out to Silicon Valley to code for Symantec, where he single-handedly wrote an award-winning word processing software. He was so good at his job that Bill Gates snuck into his office and offered to double his salary.

“I don’t work for money,” replied Greenstein. “I work for my projects.” The truth is that he had no problem making money. He could easily make bank playing poker, and that’s just what he did when his seven years in software development were up. He would go on to become one of the greatest the game has ever seen, as well as mentoring other poker legends like Phil Ivey.

“I never loved poker,” explained Greenstein. “I did it because I could make money easier than other jobs.”

A Community Advocate

A common theme of Greenstein’s life is following his heart and his values. Beside donating millions to charity, he also wrote a bestselling book, Ace on the River, which gives a behind-the-scenes look into the poker scene and gives actionable advice for rising pros.

In the forward to the book, Doyle Brunson writes, “[Greenstein’s] attitude, demeanor at the table, and approach to the game set him apart from most pros. The ability to maintain his composure in any situation is a trait I’ve long admired… Although Barry is in my top ten all-time best poker players, I respect him most for what he does outside the poker world. He has a giving nature and sets high standards for himself and the poker community.”


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