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7 Poker Success Stories That Will Inspire You

Dominic Field

Apr 27, 2023

Las Vegas Casino Chips

Successful poker players have a lot in common with each other. After all, it requires a lot of talent, dedication and sacrifice to make it to the top of the game. But despite their similar characteristics, the world’s best players come from a wide variety of different backgrounds. Each one has their own tale to tell. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most inspirational poker success stories.

#1 – Chris Moneymaker

It’s true that Chris Moneymaker is a successful professional poker player these days. But he didn’t always play poker for a living. Moneymaker was a humble accountant from Atlanta, Georgia when he won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, changing the face of poker forever.

An amateur at the time, Moneymaker famously bought his way into the World Series of Poker Main Event via an $86 satellite online. The fact that he went on to take down the entire tournament for $2.5 million was a truly incredible result. The shockwave that followed led to an online poker boom, as millions were inspired to play online by his unbelievable achievement.

Although this tale is very well-known today, it would not be possible to compile a list of inspirational poker success stories without including Moneymaker. What this man accomplished literally steered the course of poker history in a totally different direction. 

#2 – Sam Trickett

With well over $20 million in lifetime earnings, British pro Sam Trickett has undoubtedly enjoyed tremendous success in his poker career. Known these days as a fearsome high-stakes tournament player, Sam had originally wanted to play football.

As a young man, he was on the books of some pretty big English clubs, such as Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest. His future in the sport looked bright until a serious injury left his fledgling career, not to mention his mental health, in tatters. Reduced to working as a gas fitter, he started playing poker after learning the game from friends in a pub. 

In 2008, Trickett jetted off to Las Vegas. There, he finished fourth in a $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event for his first-ever WSOP cash. A bad downswing, money troubles, and personal problems, including separating from his partner, immediately followed. But after a breakout year at the 2010 World Series, he’s been on an upward trajectory.

#3 – Annette Obrestad

This young Norwegian player burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, causing quite a stir online. The story behind her screen name Annette_15 is that she started playing at the age of 15. It’s claimed that she never deposited a single penny online, instead building up her bankroll entirely from winnings in freeroll events. An impressive feat indeed.

In 2007, she famously won a $4 tournament with 180 players despite only looking at her cards once, after facing an all-in. The experiment was to prove the importance of watching your opponents and playing in position. However, her biggest achievement came a few months later, at the World Series of Poker Europe. 

In September of that year, Obrestad won the £10,000 Main Event in London for £1 million, a day before her 19th birthday. Despite not being old enough to legally play a card game in the USA, she had won a WSOP bracelet

These days, she no longer plays the game, but instead runs a YouTube channel about cosmetics. Nevertheless, she simply has to be included in our list of poker success stories.

#4 – Viktor Blom

No list of poker success stories could possibly be complete without mentioning the Swedish phenomenon Viktor Blom. In late 2009, an unknown player joined Full Tilt Poker using the screen name Isildur1. After just a few weeks, he was challenging high-stakes poker professionals like Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius, and Brian Townsend at nosebleed stakes.

The poker world was rocked. Who was this mysterious online poker player? Speculation was rife, as Isildur1 continued to contest million-dollar hands. At that time, he was involved in all ten of the biggest online pots in poker history. His earnings peaked at $5.98 million, but he would later lose $4.2 million to Brian Hastings in just five hours. 

That proved to be highly controversial, as it later emerged that two other high-stakes pros had shared information with Hastings, in breach of the rules. Apparently, that was the only way to stop this fearless and ultra-aggressive 19-year-old who’d seemingly come from nowhere.

Blom actually learned the game as a 14-year-old, and within a year, he’d earned more than $275,000 through playing online Sit and Go. After losing it all, he chose to focus on No Limit Hold’em, spinning $2,500 up into $200,000 in just two days. Soon after, an incredible run saw him claim over $1.7 million in just two weeks. An inspirational story for any budding player.

#5 – Sam Holden

Next up in our collection of poker success stories is another young British player. Sam Holden started out playing at the University of Kent poker society, but he quickly found fame at the 2011 World Series of Poker. That year, he made it to the November Nine, for his first WSOP cash.

The payday of $782,115 far surpassed anything Holden had achieved in his poker career at that point. However, he proved that it was no fluke by taking the Late Night Poker title and a further $150,000, just a few months later. 

What’s more, another incredible run in the 2012 WSOP Main event saw him finish in 55th position, for $128,384. That result meant Holden was the last British player standing in the Main Event two years running. 

Sam Holden’s stint as a professional player didn’t last too long. Instead, he went back to university, graduated in Philosophy, and these days, he runs a pub in Canterbury. That perhaps explains why he is not one of the best-known names on our list of poker success stories. Nevertheless, his story remains an inspirational one, particularly in his native country.

#6 – Phil Hellmuth

Everyone in the poker world has undoubtedly heard of Phil Hellmuth. The “Poker Brat” has been a regular fixture at every televised tournament or high-stakes cash game for decades. And for that reason, it’s possible that poker lovers take him a little bit for granted.

When you look at what Hellmuth has achieved, it’s hard not to be impressed. He reveals in his autobiography that he had problems in high school and was very much the black sheep of the family. After dropping out of university to take up poker on a full-time basis, he was soon grabbing headlines. More so when he won the 1989 WSOP Main Event at just 24 years old, becoming the youngest player ever to do so. 

He quickly established himself as one of the best No Limit Hold’em tournament players in the business, despite his notoriously short temper. In 2006, he won his 10th World Series title, tying Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most-ever bracelets. Since then, Hellmuth has not looked back and continues to cement his credentials as one of the biggest-ever poker success stories. 

When he claimed bracelet number 11, it made him the undisputed best performer in WSOP history. But he now boasts an incredible 16 titles, has more final table finishes than anyone, and shows no signs of stopping. It’s entirely possible that nobody will ever come close to his WSOP achievements again.

#7 – Daniel Negreanu 

The last of our poker success stories is another well-known but truly inspirational character. Canadian Daniel Negreanu also had a difficult time at school, repeatedly finding himself in trouble and threatened with expulsion. At the age of just 15, he aspired to play professional snooker. But he was also spending a lot of time hustling cue sports, betting on games, and learning to play cards.

He quit high school early to gamble professionally, but he famously had trouble maintaining his poker bankroll. He left for Vegas at 22 but returned to Toronto broke and looking to rebuild. However, it wouldn’t be long before he finally got his breakthrough. 

In 1998, he won his first WSOP bracelet, a $2,000 Pot Limit Hold’em event. In doing so, he became the youngest player ever to win a WSOP title, earning him the nickname “Kid Poker”.

These days, Negreanu continues to play at the highest level, in both tournaments and cash games. He’s since acquired five more pieces of World Series jewellery, including one in Europe and a Main Event title in Asia-Pacific. At the time of writing, he sits in the second position on the WSOP all-time money list.

Negreanu is primarily known for his uncanny knack for putting opponents on a hand. But his all-around tournament poker game is especially feared. This is underlined by the fact that he’s the only player to ever claim the WSOP Player of the Year crown twice.

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