Poker Legends: David Oppenheim
“The only thing I know how to do is play poker. I’m totally unemployable in any other field.”
When David Oppenheim was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2019, he became one of the first ever pro players to join the hall without having ever won a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet or other major title. Compared to other pros that we see playing tournaments on TV, he maintains a pretty low profile. So how did he come to be recognized as one of the best poker players in the world?
Born in California in 1973, Oppenheim dropped out of college at the age of 19 to play poker full time. For the past 20 years, he’s been absolutely crushing it.
The Biggest Cash Games
Oppenheim does have a few big tournament cashes under his belt, but that’s not how he makes his living. He’s a regular at the biggest cash games around, The Big Game at Bobby's Room in the Bellagio on the Vegas strip. It’s not uncommon for him to sit down with a $100k buy-in at a $2000/$4000 NLHE table with many of the other best players in town, including Oppenheim’s good friend Phil Ivey.
In an interview with Full Tilt, he explained that he only plays the highest limits and that this was always his goal. He said that when he was still up and coming, it wasn’t always the best move in the short run to play the best players for the most money possible, but that his “short term losses became his long term gain.”
He recognized that he was learning more by just playing with better players, and he was willing to pay the “tuition” to get better. It all paid off. He moved up the limits, and now he’s living in a huge mansion with a massive pool, mountain views, and a tennis court.
Dealing with the Downswings
Playing poker professionally is never a steady climb to the top. There was one stretch where Oppenheim lost 12 sessions in a row, totaling up to a $2 million downswing. “I’ve been doing it a long time, and I’m aware of the swings,” he said. “When you’re going through it, it’s physical, but I’m aware that it’s going to happen… You just look at the long term.”
He explained that this was an opportunity to take a step back and examine his game. This hard self-examination helped him work through it, improve his game, and come back stronger. Once he finally notched a win on that 13th session, he wasn’t trying to win it all back. He was happy to be on the right side again, and he worked diligently to grind back up his bankroll.
It all worked out.