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What Famous Poker Players Did Before They Went Pro

Home » What Famous Poker Players Did Before They Went Pro

What Famous Poker Players Did Before They Went Pro

A poker player wearing a hoodie leans over his stacks of poker chips and his poker hand.

Most famous poker players are so good at the game you’d swear they were born with a pack of cards in their hands. While this may seem close to the truth for a few of them, many had different plans before they decided to pursue a career in poker. 

Take a look at some of the world’s greatest players who have absolutely dominated the game, both in offline and online poker tournaments and what they had in mind before they committed their lives to the felt.

Daniel Negreanu

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $50,938,507

Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu is an incredible player who has earned millions of dollars and dominated the scene for years. Over the course of his World Series of Poker (WSOP) career Negreanu has claimed six bracelets, made the final table 45 times and claimed 148 finishes. He won the World Poker Tour title twice, made the final table nine times and had 24 money finishes. Unfortunately, he has yet to claim a European Poker Tour title, but he has made the final table five times and gotten four money finishes. 

If there is one word to describe Negreanu’s life before (and perhaps even after) he became a poker pro, that would be “hustler.” In the write-up “The Daniel Negreanu Story — Family Life and Childhood Dreams” by iGaming.org, Negreanu describes how, in his early years, he often skipped school. After his passion for acting didn’t work out as a teenager, he ended up spending much of his high school career in pool halls. This is where he built up the resilient attitude he’d need to be successful at poker. It was in this environment that he learned how to play poker, which eventually led to him going pro.

Justin Bonomo

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $57,194,647

The second-highest live earner on the list is Justin Bonomo, winner of four WSOP bracelets and 55 money finishes. He also made the final table three times in the World Poker Tour with 11 money finishes and once made it to the final table in the European Poker Tour and racked up a total of three money finishes. 

This ability to wrack up wins is because Bonomo is no stranger to cards, but not the type of cards that may first come to mind. Long before Bonomo could gamble, he was crushing the opposition in the competitive scene for the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering (MTG.) Bonomo is an MTG veteran who was playing in international tournaments by the time he turned 12. However, at the age of 16, his attention turned to poker and he started playing professionally as soon as it was legal for him to do so.

Bryn Kenney

A poker player takes a peek at their cards and sees two aces.

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $57,918,788

This poker pro has one WSOP bracelet, has made it to the final table at seven WSOP events and claimed 32 money finishes at WSOP during his career. He’s also claimed five money finishes at both the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour. 

In an interview with Cardplayer.com, in the article “A Poker Life: Bryn Kenney,” Kenney highlighted how his mother helped him develop his memory:

“My mother helped to develop my memory skills really early on. She told me that when I was 18 months old, she would show me baseball cards and that I was able to remember 60 different players way before I could even read. I think that did a lot to shape my brain and is a big reason why my memory is so good today.” 

This ESPN article describes how his incredible memory also led to him becoming extremely good at MTG, even claiming the number-one spot in the world in the 15-and-under category. Perhaps there is something to be said about learning to play Magic: The Gathering in your early years. 

Regardless of his early passion for MTG, at around the age of 16, his interest shifted away from the game, particularly since it was seen as a nerdy hobby and he was becoming more interested in girls. As a result, he turned his attention to poker. He began playing casually with his friends, created an online account in his mother’s name and eventually played online as himself once it was legal for him to do so. 

After graduating high school, his mother insisted he go to college, but within a few weeks, he’d decided to leave and pursue poker full-time. It would still take some time before Kenney sharpened his skills enough to start claiming some big wins, but the school of hard knocks and a lot of practice turned him into the megastar that everyone knows today.

Top Women Poker Players With Interesting Pasts

While the most famous poker players of all time are generally men, some of the women who have dominated the tables have equally interesting pre-poker lives. 

Kristen Foxen

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $6,478,087

Prior to her full-time poker career, Kristen Foxen, commonly known as Kristen Bicknell, pursued studies in business at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. After completing her degree, she initially worked in the field of sales and marketing. 

However, her passion for poker eventually led her to shift her focus to the game full-time. Kristen Bicknell has since achieved remarkable success, winning multiple high-profile tournaments and establishing herself as one of the top female players in the poker world.

Kathy Liebert

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $6,871,339

Before her successful poker career, Kathy Liebert worked as a business analyst for a Fortune 500 company. She earned a degree in business from Marist College and initially focused on her corporate job. However, her interest in poker grew and she began playing in local games. 

Kathy Liebert eventually made the decision to pursue poker professionally and it proved to be a wise choice. She went on to become one of the most accomplished female poker players, winning numerous major tournaments and amassing significant earnings throughout her career.

Vanessa Selbst

Hendon Mob Total Live Earnings: $11,906,247

Before becoming a professional poker player, Vanessa Selbst pursued a career in law. She graduated from Yale Law School and worked as a corporate litigation associate at a law firm in New York. However, her passion for poker eventually led her to transition into full-time professional play. 

Vanessa Selbst went on to achieve remarkable success in the poker world, winning multiple prestigious titles and becoming one of the most accomplished female players in the game’s history.

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Find out what poker legends who have dominated poker tournaments used to do before taking on the tables full-time. Read more here.