While athletes have a limited shelf life for greatness and peak financial gain, poker players can continue to crush at any age–providing they put the work in to keep up.
Yet despite poker’s disregard for age or physicality, many famous poker players have stepped away from the game in order to pursue other ventures. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what some ex-poker players are up to now having left the greatest game on earth behind.
Throughout their careers, top poker players often acquire a certain set of skills which makes it easy for them to transition into other business ventures. After all, being a pro poker player is a business in itself. You set your own hours and work shifts grinding and studying, manage your own finances, and even gain experience in hiring people, be it poker coaches or players to back.
It’s not surprising, then, that we’ve seen many ex-poker players set up their own businesses when stepping away from playing poker, while still remaining in the poker space.
Mike McDonald remains the youngest player ever to win an event on the European Poker Tour (he was 18 when he won the EPT German Open, a No Limit Texas Hold’em event, for $1.3 million in 2008) and went on to have a hugely successful career with $13.3 million in live earnings and millions more won online. He founded PokerShares–a sports betting site specifically for poker–in 2017 and as the business has grown, he’s played little to no poker.
Others, like Doug Polk and Fedor Holz, set up their own training sites before they “retired” from poker, helping to teach others the skills they learned throughout their poker careers. That being said, can you ever really retire from poker? Polk returned for his recent high-profile heads-up duel versus Daniel Negreanu, while Holz (who announced his retirement from full-time play in 2017 after one of the hottest streaks in poker history) is now back on the grind and a permanent fixture in the toughest and biggest buy-in tournaments running under the name “CrownUpGuy”.
Pratyush Buddiga has enjoyed a lifetime of success, from his early goings as a national spelling bee champion to becoming a full-time poker player with $6.4 million in career winnings. These days, Buddiga has left poker behind to pursue a role as the chief of staff at a start-up named Volley, which builds voice-controlled games for Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
For Alex Wice, formerly known as “AWice” on PokerStars where he once reached the prestigious Supernova Elite status three times in one year, it was the world of cryptocurrency that he switched his focus to. Wice is now a successful Bitcoin investor, blockchain engineer, and self-proclaimed “crypto nomad”. Meanwhile, former heads-up poker specialist Jason Les is now the CEO of Riot Blockchain, a Bitcoin mining company.
Swedish ex-poker pro Ramzi Jelassi, who won EPT Prague in 2012 for just shy of $1.1 million, is now running his own business too, having established a network of psychotherapists in Sweden named Din Psykolog.
When you find success in poker it’s natural to want to pursue your other passions too.
That’s exactly what former PokerStars Team Pros Luca Pagano and Eugene Katchalov did when they set up their own esports team, Qlash, in 2017. “We consider ourselves a new kind of Media company building and supporting Gaming & Esports Communities at global & local level,” says the company, which now boasts one of the biggest gaming houses in the world (2,000 square meters and expanding) hosting live events, pro player boot camps, streamers and influencers in the world of esports.
Another former PokerStars pro is Liv Boeree who, like Pagano and Katchalov, has left poker behind. Boeree earned a First Class Honours degree in Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Manchester before becoming a poker sensation when she won EPT Sanremo in 2010 for €1.25 million (at the time the largest tournament ever held on European Soil). After a decade-long career as a poker pro, Boeree is now a full-time YouTuber. She’s gone back to her first love, science, and produces videos on counter-intuitive thought experiments, game theory, space, physics and embracing uncertainty.
Then there’s Hendon Mob member Ross Boatman, who was always a successful actor even whilst he was a successful poker pro. Boatman appeared in the UK drama London’s Burning from 1988 to 1995 and since retiring from poker has appeared in the massively successful film Paddington as well as classic British TV shows including The Bill, Holby City, and Casualty.
Perhaps the best reason to stop playing poker, albeit temporarily, is to raise a family, and that’s exactly what Jason Mercier has been doing alongside his wife Natasha. Mercier is widely considered one of the greatest poker players to do it, but these days he’s happiest playing with his two young sons.
That doesn’t mean Mercier hasn’t dabbled in poker though. Even when he hadn’t played for a long stretch, he rocked up to a $50K buy-in tournament in his home state of Florida and took it down for $715K. Mercier has also been a prolific poker staker over the years. Both he and Garry Gates were public about their arrangement at the 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event, where Mercier staked Gates who went on to finish fourth for $3 million, netting Mercier $2 million.
Poker can be what you want it to be, a lifelong pursuit or a vehicle to get you where you want to go. It all goes to show the tree of life for poker players has branches far and wide.