Top Ten Rags to Riches: Tales of Glory

12 Jun

#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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Adelstein Returns To Public Eye - Is It Time To Admit That Poker Isn’t About The Poker Anymore?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Garrett Adelstein did not roll back his accusation that Robbi Lew cheated him out of a $250,000 pot on Hustler Casino Live. In fact, he doubled down, saying that he " stands by his statement on 2+2 ” and that everything that came out in the fallout of that hand has only further solidified his belief. But is this podcast return proof that we, as a poker audience, care more about the drama than the game? What Did Garrett Say? Nearly six months after the infamous J4 hand, Garrett has finally broken his silence and spoken out about what happened that night, amongst other things, on Doug Polk's podcast . When asked about whether he thought he was cheated, Garrett said, "In essence, I stand by the statement I made on 2+2; I think it's extremely likely that I was cheated in that poker hand; it's as simple as that.” Doug also pressed Garrett on what should be done in situations like these, specifically the money that Robbi refunded him. Garrett flatly said, "No, no, I will not be refunding Robbi any money. Period.” However, that doesn't mean he's completely happy with how he handled himself during this situation . He brought up the process of arbitration as a possible way of improving the optics of the situation and even said, " retrospect, that may have been the better business decision at the time.” He also denied any accusations that he forced Ryan Feldman, the current showrunner for HCL, into making certain line-ups for streamed games and denied ever banning any other pros from appearing on the stream. In short, while he thinks he could have handled it better, he didn't do anything wrong that night, and he hasn't done anything to hinder anyone's access to the games at HCL. No Surprises But really, is anyone surprised by this? Despite the Hustler Casino investigation turning up no evidence that Robbi cheated, there was a close-to 0% chance that Garrett would hold his hands up and say, "I got it wrong; she didn't cheat; here's the $130K.” You don't take the refund, leave the game, and disappear from poker live streams for 6 months if you don't think something dodgy happened. If we're honest with ourselves, we knew this before we started watching. Everyone's already made up their minds on the J4 hand, and there was never going to be any groundbreaking evidence released by Garrett or any admission of any wrongdoing. Garrett himself knows this and said on the stream that "no matter what I say, there's gonna be a ton of backlash to answering this question [on the subject of whether or not he was cheated]”. In fact, he likened the whole situation to politics, saying about his situation that "people put their stick into the ground, and they're like ‘this is my team, everyone else is other'.” If that's the case, why have over 160,000 people viewed the stream within the first 10 hours of its release? The Airball Factor It's because no one was watching the stream for the J4 hand anymore; the focus has switched to finding out what Garret is going to say about Nik Airball . After roughly six months of near radio silence, Garrett has started to talk more publicly about what he's been going through this past half a year. However, it's not the four-page notepad tweet that people are talking about the most; it's the quote tweet where he said, "Airball is a bad poker player and a much worse human being. F*ck that guy.” While shit-talking is nothing new in the poker world, it was a shock to see the man who has been held up as the shining example of how to conduct yourself as a professional just fire a random shot at someone he admits he barely knows. After being blindsided by the tweet, Nik Airball went on Doug Polk's podcast to "give the truth” about Garrett Adelstein. To give you the cliff-notes version, Nik went on a tirade about how terrible of a person Garrett is, only taking a break to fire shots at Matt Berkey. The day after that podcast was released, Garrett announced that he would be having his say on Doug's podcast, seemingly as a response to the recent Twitter beef between Nik and himself. The Need For "Personalities” What this recent Twitter exchange, among others, has highlighted is that there seemingly is no room in the spotlight for people who just want to be good at the game . Players like Chidwick, Adamo, and others all quietly go about their business in the background, playing stellar poker but not gaining much notoriety for it. While the die-hard poker fans among us recognise these people for their obvious talent, it seems like the current landscape of "big name” poker players are the ones with the biggest mouths rather than the biggest brains. Don't get me wrong, it can certainly be argued that that's always been the case in poker - the fame of Mike Matusow is a great example of that. But the big-name players from the 90s and 00s were, arguably, the best of the bunch . Sure, they had a gimmick that people could market; but they were still the players at the very top of the game. Nowadays, all it takes to become one of the biggest names in the poker world is to splash around on a couple of live streams and show yourself to be one of poker's "personalities.” Robbi played one stream, made a ridiculous call-off with jack-high, and has been able to turn that into months of poker live-stream appearances and media coverage. It's to her credit that she's been able to make so much happen from one poker live stream, but it's a good example of how commercialized poker has become. Garrett was known for years as being the "ultimate professional.” You could even say that his gimmick was that he had no gimmick - he just showed up, played an awesome game, and went home - and people tuned in religiously for it. But is that enough in today's game? Can you make it as a poker personality by just being good at the game without any additional gimmicks? How Streams Have Changed It wasn't too long ago that many people were clamouring for the return of the "poker personality,” claiming that game was full of robots who made for a terrible viewing experience. This may be the poker purist in me, but I always thought there was something mesmerising about watching the very best players ply their trade for hundreds of thousands of dollars - even if they didn't say very much. Now, that's not to say that I don't see their point. For the average person, watching a group of people sit around, not saying anything, isn't very engaging content. You need people who are going to stir things up and create controversy if you want the average person to watch, which is why "personalities” are needed. If the table was full of players like Garrett, your average poker content watcher would probably turn over after half an hour - if that. That's why he's been paired with other players who have been able to provide that kind of content during his time at Hustler Casino. There's no doubt Garrett is a big part of the show, but he's not the only part. Players like Mikki, Nik Airball, and others provide the other half of the equation - the engaging personality. You may not watch these people for their poker skills, but you tune in just to see what they're going to do this week. Soon, you get as many people tuning in every week to see these guys play as you do people tuning in wanting to see players like Garrett crush the games. The Show Must Go On Part of the issue is that big poker streams like HCL and Live at the Bike have a big schedule to fill. This isn't like the old days of High Stakes Poker, where you could get the world's best players to play for a couple of days and make 2-3 months of content from it - nowadays, people want 5-6 hour streams multiple times a week. Committing to a schedule like this is another factor that's fuelling this push towards "poker personalities” rather than "poker professionals.” Poker is a delicate ecosystem, where the money can soon dry up if there isn't enough balance in a game . If you stick a few good professionals in a game with a bunch of recs, that game will dry up in a matter of weeks unless the recs have unusually deep pockets. However, fill your game with a bunch of "personalities” that aren't as good at the game, and you can keep that game going for months, as everyone is just passing the money back and forth. At the end of the day, poker streams are a business . They need to keep their games alive for as long as possible to ensure they retain the viewership they've built and try and bring new viewers to their platform. So, how do they do this? Well, one of the best ways to do that is to stack their game full of people who are more known for their entertainment or controversy rather than their poker skills. Poker's Toxicity You can't deny that this is a recipe for entertaining content. It's the same formula that has made reality TV so engaging - people love watching drama, and if huge sums of money are involved, even better. The problem is that the inevitable end of this cycle of rewarding the biggest "personalities” is a world where everyone feels like they have to be the most toxic human being to even have a chance of making it. Up-and-coming players will see that being an asshole to people on Twitter or at the table will get them more attention. More attention means more stream time and more steam time means more access to good games. It will reach a point where everyone will keep ratcheting up their "personalities” until the whole game is full of people you'd wish to never hear from again. We're already seeing the early stages of this - just look how toxic poker Twitter has become . Admittedly, this drama has shone a spotlight onto it, but in the past week, we've had Berkey call Doug Polk a c**t , Nik Airball call Berkey a scammer, and the once paragon-esque Garrett call Nik Airball a terrible human being. What is going on? Have we always been this toxic? What Can We Learn? Aside from the fact that Twitter is a toxic place, the main thing we can take away from this past week is that drama sells a hell of a lot more than poker . This past week, we've had a $750K pot, AA vs KK, vs KK and Doug playing a high stakes heads up match against Bill Perkins where multiple 6-figure pots were played, but that's barely been mentioned compared to the drama between Garrett, Nik, Berkey, and others. At some point, you have to wonder what the main draw is - do we really care about the game or just the drama that goes with it? Drama is all well and good, but it should complement the poker rather than replace it. Poker as a game is fascinating enough, and it's about time that we remember that. With all the talk of heads-up matches between Berkey and Nik, and Garrett's possible return to streamed games, it will be interesting to see how big the buzz will be when poker is actually played or if people will have already moved on to the next piece of drama. Only time will tell, but let's hope that when all the drama passes, people are still interested in the actual game of poker.

28 Mar
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Win a VIP Poker Experience at the Malta Poker Festival With Guts Poker

Guts Poker is offering the trip of a lifetime to the Malta Poker Festival to the lucky winners of their weekly satellite. Every Sunday, you can play a €100 satellite to win a package worth over €2000 and have your shot at the €300K guaranteed Main Event plus a €150 side event. The €2000 package not only includes entry to the €550, €300K guaranteed Main Event and a €150 side event, but €200 in travel expenses, plus a five-night stay at the luxurious 5-star Hilton Hotel for two people! If that wasn't enough, you'll also be invited to the Malta Poker Festival VIP Player Parties , where you can rub shoulders and boogie down with some of the biggest names in the industry. The Malta Poker Festival will run from the 24th of April to the 1st of May at the fabulous 5-star Portomaso Casino in St Julian's, Malta, and players will have until Sunday the 23rd of April to win their way into this fantastic event. Guts Poker is offering satellites for as low as €1 and even gives you the chance to win your way into the event for free with their Daily Freebuy. There are three stages of satellites to play, with the final stage offering one guaranteed €2000 package every Sunday. Check out the tables below for more information on each of these satellites. Stage 1 Satellites Event Buy-in Days Times Tournament Type Prize pool Daily Freebuy €0 Mon-Sat 12:30/18:30/23:00 CET Rebuy+Addon 1x/2x Daily €11 ticket Daily Flip €1 Mon-Sat 19:50/21:50 CET Flip 1x Daily €11 ticket Daily Feeder €1 Mon-Sat 17:30/21:00 CET 2x Re-Entry 1x Daily €11 ticket Stage 2 Satellites Event Buy-in Days Times Tournament Type Prize pool Sunday Flip €11 Sunday 19:50 CET Flip 1x €100 Sunday Final Ticket Sunday Super €11 Sunday 17:30 CET 2x Re-Entry 2x €100 Sunday Final Ticket Daily Turbo Feeder €11 Mon-Sat 22:00 CET 2x Re-Entry 1x €100 Sunday Final Ticket Daily Feeder €11 Mon-Sat 20:00 CET 2x Re-Entry 1x €100 Sunday Final Ticket Stage 3 Satellites Event Buy-in Days Times Tournament Type Prize pool Sunday Final €100 Sunday 20:00 CET 2x Re-Entry 1x €2000 MPF Package As you can see, no matter the size of your bankroll, you have a chance of winning a once-in-a-lifetime poker experience . If you're lucky enough to win your satellite, make sure you can play the event, as the tickets cannot be transferred or exchanged for cash. Players can expect to receive their €200 in travel expenses in their account within 72 hours of winning their package. Satellites for this event are already running, so what are you waiting for? Sign up to Guts Poker today to give yourself a chance at winning this amazing prize! If you want to keep up to date with the biggest and best promotions from around the poker world, follow us on Facebook and Instagram .

17 Mar
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On Your Marks, Get Set, Play! PartyPoker Launches $3M Grand Prix Tournament Series

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