Top Ten Rags to Riches: Tales of Glory

12 Jun
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#10 Lukas 'RobinPoker' Robinson

Lukas Robinson gained his inclusion in this list very recently, when he broke a Twitch streaming record as part of his quest to go from busto to robusto, going full-time poker with the bold move of quitting his job as a local fish and chip shop in Liverpool. Robinson streamed 1,000 hours of live poker play over 100 days, and posted $23,850 profit with zero days off from playing. 

Whilst we wouldn’t recommend this as an ongoing lifestyle, we applaud Robinson for his commitment and achievement. His success on the felt and determination on stream surely make for a potent combination to lead him on to further poker glory, and we look forward to keeping track of his progress. What a stellar start!

Robinson has since been made a Pokerstars Team Pro as well as an ambassador for Run It Once.

#9 John Cynn

When he started playing poker back in 2010, John Cynn was a university undergrad and a self-confessed fish at the poker tables. He continued working on his game, however, starting to play live in 2012. 

His breakout and life-altering win came in 2018, when technically still homeless as a globe-trotting live poker pro, Cynn went on to ship the most sought-after win of them all, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event which he took down after an epic seven days of play for a disgustingly huge $8.8 million in prize money. 

As a US citizen, the US taxman gets a nice chunk of Cynn’s winnings, but after tax he walked away with a $4.9 million dollar win, still nothing to sniff at!

#8 John Hesp

John Hesp has been about as good for the game as a player can possibly be, proving that anyone with a bit of heart can truly find poker stardom. Hesp was a 64-year-old caravan salesman from Yorkshire who liked to play weekly £10 home games with his friends the year he struck gold at poker. When Hesp made it to Vegas to compete in the WSOP Main Event, he was hoping for a top 1,000 finish. He ended up going deep, and taking 4th place for $2.6 million dollars in the 2017 WSOP Main.

Most intriguing, Hesp has since returned to his caravan sales, and playing in his weekly £10 games, with £200 being his biggest score since. He continues to work four days a week and take short breaks in his static caravan in the Yorkshire Dales.

#7 Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliot

Dave Ulliot, may he rest in peace, passed away back in 2105 and was a true legend of the live felt in the UK, and certainly a larger-than-life character. The Devilfish, as he was better known, was reputed to be at his most fearsome at the tables when he was “going broke”, playing his heart out to regain a bankroll and power on with his poker career.

Ulliot’s past prior to poker was somewhat shady, he actually served time in prison for planning a bank robbery. Once he found poker he reformed his ways, and lived a life free from crime, but still full of high drama, accumulating over $6 million in tournament winnings over the course of his career. 

The Devilfish was also said to have played some pretty rough home games prior to going pro, claiming he had to carry a weapon just to feel he had a chance to get out with his cash, famously quipping “the problem for me wasn’t winning the money, it was getting out with it.”

#6 Scotty Nguyen

Scotty, one of the most charming and hilarious pros at the live poker table, is simply one of the most memorable old school pros in poker. Still, many who might recognise him and smile at his antics at the tables might not realize that Scotty’s is a true rags to riches tale. 

Scotty Nguyen grew up in war-torn Vietnam, surviving the horrors of that awful war to eventually emigrate to the United States. He has spoken of being witness to unbelievable atrocities as a child, seeing friends killed and worse. Attempting to escape Vietnam aged 12, he and his brothers were lost at sea in the Pacific for over 22 days, finally being rescued by a Taiwanese ship when close to death. 

Stuck in refugee camps for over 2 years, Scotty finally made his way to Las Vegas aged 19, where he spent two years cleaning tables at Harrah’s casino. He eventually became a poker dealer, and then player, amounting over $1 million in winnings but then losing it all in a complex spiral of gambling, alcohol and drugs issues, once famously losing over $1 million in 4 hours of playing craps.

With just shy of $6 million in lifetime winnings, and the 1998 WSOP Main Event Championship title to his name, Scotty may be chilled and funny at the tables but his life has been plagued with tragedy. The day after his biggest lifetime win of $1 million in the WSOP Main, his brother Dung Nguyen was tragically killed in a car crash. Scotty says he has never worn the bracelet since, in memory of his brother’s passing.

#5 Stu Ungar

Stu’s poker journey was even more of a tragic tale. A brilliant player who could outshine just about anyone at the felt, Ungar was bedevilled throughout his lifetime by drug addiction. Incredibly smart, and with a photographic memory, Ungar famously once won a $10,000 bet with casino owner Bob Stupak that he couldn’t name the missing card once 51 cards had been dealt out from a deck, which he of course promptly did. Stu had won his first Gin Rummy tournament aged just ten. 

Stu Ungar is one of only two people ever to have won the WSOP Main Event three times, the other being its founder, Johnny Moss. He also famously blinded out of the 1990 Main Event to take 9th after running up a huge stack the day before and then overdosing on cocaine that night and ending up in hospital. 

Ungar put it best himself, “There’s no-one that ever beat me playing cards, the only one that beat me was myself.” 

Despite winning the WSOP Main for the third time in 1997, Stu was to die just over a year later in a rundown motel room with just a few hundred dollars to his name.

#4 Archie 'The Greek' Karas 

The story of The Greek is one of the most legendary in poker, as this old school figure was famed not only for going rags to riches, but back to rags again in what must be the biggest swong in all of poker’s history. 

The son of a poor construction worker, Karas used to bet on marble games on his home island of Cephalonia as a child just to buy food. As an adult he moved to the United States and worked his way up from being a waiter at a Los Angeles restaurant to hustling people with his impressive pool skills, before progressing to the poker tables where he simply crushed souls.

The Greek gambled ferociously, playing out of his bankroll and repeatedly busting out only to rebuild. In 1992 he was down to $50, convinced someone to loan him $10,000, drove to Vegas and within 3 weeks had built it into $30,000 at $200/$400 Limit Razz. He then took on a big pool and poker player known only as Mr. X, starting with $5,000 games and winding up playing pool games for up to $40,000 a go, accumulating over $7 million in a matter of weeks. 

Karas took his bankroll to the Big Game at Binion’s and built it to over $17 million playing against the best in the world, including Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese, for stakes up to $8,000/$16,000 in Mixed Games, particularly Razz. At one point he had every single $5,000 Binion’s poker chip in his possession. At peak his run took him all the way up to $40 million dollars.

The crash came in 1995 when Karas lost essentially all his money, including $11 million lost playing craps in just a few hours. He then lost another $17 million playing baccarat. He took a break and returned to Greece with $12 million, but returned some months later and lost it all again. Despite various mini streaks since, Karas has never managed to hold on to his wealth, and he resides in Vegas to this day.

#3 Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker didn't just propel online poker into the spotlight, he also himself rose to fame very much like a phoenix from the proverbial ashes. Not only was Moneymaker stony broke at the time that he won entry to the World Series of Poker Main Event, but he was on a considerable down stretch as a sports gambler. 

Moneymaker stated in his autobiography that he was down to his last $60 in his PokerStars account when he clicked on a $39 tournament, which he only later even realised was not just any old MTT but a super satellite to the WSOP Main Event. 

When Moneymaker went on to win the ticket and the whole game, in what was back in 2003 the largest poker tournament ever held in a brick-and-mortar casino, beating Sammy Farha to take down the title and the $2,500,000 prize, he and his perfect surname sent poker itself viral and started a tidal wave of poker activity both online and live. 

This was to carry Chris and many another player on their poker journey from rags to riches, and sometimes back again, on a poker wave which you could say we are all still riding to this day.

#2 maratik

The online bink, one of the sweetest feelings in poker. Probably the best online rags to riches tale of all time has to be the journey in 2012 of Russian micro stakes SNG player “maratik”, who entered a free player points super satellite worth 40 FPPs (the equivalent of about $0.40 USD in terms of real value), and laddered through an astounding 7 levels of super satellites to turn that $0.40 into a $5,200 ticket to one of the most hotly contested online events of the year, the $5,200 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event on Pokerstars.

Maratik, a taxi driver by day, fought off a final table full of High Stakes poker crushers including Mike "munchenHB" Telker, Phil "takechip" D'Auteuil and Ryan "TheCart3r" Carter. He went on to 

Take down the event for first place, scoring himself an anxiety-inducingly large amount of money, and making him an instant millionaire as he walked away with $1,000,907.26. We hear he might have quit his day job after that.

#1 Ramon Colillas

The story of Spaniard Ramon Colillas is probably the best underdog to glory tale from the modern era of the live poker felt. He went from being a fitness trainer with a taste for poker, to storming his national poker series to be crowned Player of the Year in the Campeonato de España, which awarded him with a coveted Platinum Pass from Pokerstars for his efforts.

This Pass covered both the prestigious $25,000 buy-in to the 2019 PSPC No Limit Hold’em Players’ Championship in the Bahamas, and a $5,000 budget for travel and costs. 

But Colillas wasn’t going for that prize. He went on to ship the tournament itself for first place, besting a field of 320 players and taking down an exhilarating $5.1 million in cash and the trophy. 

Oh, he’s also since gone on to be invited to represent Pokerstars as an Ambassador. Living a blessed life, Ramon really must have done something right!

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