No matter the sport, even the greats eventually have to call it quits at some point – Michael Jordan in basketball, Joe Montana in football, Pele in soccer, and Wayne Gretzky in hockey.
Even boxing legend George Foreman finally called it quits after 81 fights and two comebacks. But poker is a bit different. While there may be some physical and mental elements involved in the game, those may not come into play when it comes to leaving the game.
Players may leave poker behind for a variety of reasons – from being bored with the game to pursuing other career choices and family goals. For others, business opportunities might take them in an unexpected or different direction.
Some still dabble in the game, but no longer make it their full-time profession. Some may tire of the variance, the travel, and the natural financial swings that can come with being a full-time poker player.
Life as a professional can be tough, and several have sought out other options over the last decade or so.
Here’s a look at some of those players who’ve decided to leave the game behind for greener pastures.
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The most successful female player in the history of the game, Selbst announced at the beginning of 2018 that she was leaving the game as well as her sponsor PokerStars. Selbst had become one of the best-known players in the game with almost $12 million in live tournament winnings. That record includes three World Series of Poker bracelets, two World Poker Tour final tables, and numerous other championships.
The 34-year-old New Yorker accepted a job at Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund firm, but still planned to play occasionally. Her decision and transition to a job outside the game was even profiled in an article in the New York Times.
Selbst was obviously excited about her new career. However, she had reservations after expressing anti-capitalist views in the past about players who left the game to enter the world of finance. Along with a desire to travel less, she and her wife also had plans to start a family.
“You have no job security, no health insurance,” she told the newspaper about life as a poker pro. “You’re travelling, constantly. You have no stability in terms of your life. And there are huge swings because if more people now have a chance to win, it’s very easy to have a losing year.”
Beyond accepting a position at the firm, the Yale-educated lawyer expressed some disillusionment with the changing face of the poker world in a post on her Facebook page. She still plays occasionally, but a 9-to-5 has taken the place of life at the poker felt.
A mainstay on television during the height of the poker boom, Gordon already entered the poker world as a successful businessman. He began playing poker after making millions of dollars in the tech industry. He is now the CEO and founder of Chatbox.com, an “integrated messaging ecosystem where businesses create and automate personalised, results-oriented conversations across texting, chat, and social channels.”
At the poker table, Gordon has almost $2.8 million in live tournament winnings. In 2001, he finished fourth in the WSOP Main Event for $399,610 and took home a WPT title in 2004 after winning the $5,200 Bay 101 Shooting Star. Gordon’s WPT win is memorable after he knocked out his final two opponents at the same time, including 2003 WSOP Main Event champion Chris Moneymaker.
Along with his business interests and poker, Gordon is also the author of several books on poker and served as a co-host of ESPN’s Poker Edge podcast. He also provided commentary for the Bravo network’s Celebrity Poker Showdown. Gordon is the founder of Bad Beat on Cancer, a charity where players donate 1 per cent of whatever they win in a tournament to the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
It’s not exactly clear why he left the game, but Gordon hasn’t cashed in a tournament since 2011. One reason may be Black Friday – Gordon was a member of Team Full Tilt and helped design the company’s software. Another reason may be that he is married and raising two sons.
He possibly just became bored with the game and disillusioned a bit with Las Vegas in general, as he noted a bit in a blog post in 2014. With so many business, family, and philanthropic interests, Gordon may have just decided to put the game on hold for a while as he outlined in 2014 in a blog post about poker.
“While ‘retired’ officially from playing, I think there are still plenty of things I can add,” he wrote. “I want to start a weekly Google Hangout to talk poker. I miss my weekly radio show on ESPN radio. I want to bring some of that back.”
Running Chatbox seems to keep him busy, and it doesn’t look like Gordon has quite made it back to the poker table or poker media much in the intervening four years.
Tony Gouga (Tony G)
A popular player on televised events during the poker boom of the 2000s, Gouga was known for his frequent table talk and occasionally needling opponents including Phil Hellmuth. This Lithuanian has $6.1 million in live tournament winnings with numerous wins and final tables. That number includes two memorable final table appearances on the World Poker Tour.
A technology business entrepreneur, Gouga founded the European gaming and poker site TonyBet.com in 2009. The company was acquired by Swedish gaming operator Betsson in 2016. Gouga left the poker behind in 2014 after becoming a member of the European Parliament. Much of his work focuses on bettering the business climate in Europe, particularly in the technology sector.
Gouga recently made some news after partnering with Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” host and investor Mark Cuban on the Lympo blockchain fitness app. The app rewards users who complete walking and running challenges with crypto tokens to exchange for sports and fitness products.
“We want people to be healthy,” he told the Dallas Morning News while visiting the Mavericks training facility. “We want people to be motivated. That's what Lympo tokens are all about. It's basically frequent-flier points for staying healthy, on your phone. We want people to be tracking their data and owning their health data. Whatever exercise they do, we will track it."
While he may have left the game to get more involved in politics, Gouga jumped back in the game at least a bit in 2017, and 2018 with his first tournament cashes since 2013. In just four scores in high roller events, Gouga secured a win, a runner-up, and two fourth-place finishes for $1.25 million.
Poker may not be his main focus anymore, but it looks like he’s still got plenty of skills.
One of the biggest names in poker over the last few years, Polk made some big news in September by announcing that he was leaving the game behind. One of the most successful players in the game over the last few years, the 30-year-old has amassed $9.5 million in live tournament winnings including three WSOP bracelets. The biggest score of his career came in 2017 when he took down the $111,111 High Roller for One Drop at the WSOP for $3.7 million.
Polk seems to be a man of many interests. That includes a recent foray into stand-up comedy, investing in cryptocurrency, and even recently launching a comedy and news video channel to go along with his already-popular poker channel.
“I’m unbelievably grateful for the opportunities I’ve gotten in poker,” Polk said on his YouTube channel. “For quite some time I’ve not enjoyed playing poker. It’s felt like a grind. It’s felt like work.”
After playing the game for more than a decade, Polk said he doesn’t find the game as much fun anymore and would be moving on to other pursuits. He said many of his poker friends have also left the game and moved on to other jobs and businesses.
In recent weeks, Polk has posted some poker-related videos but hasn’t cashed in a tournament since September of 2017. While playing poker has been put on hold for now, Polk did leave an opening for returning to the game down the line if the fire begins to burn again.
“I don’t see myself playing poker anymore,” he said. “I don’t know if that means if I’m never playing poker again. I’m not going to be one of the 50 million people who, quote ‘retire,’ and then start playing again next week. I don’t want to do any of that stuff because I don’t want to box myself in like that. I’m just saying for the time being I’m not going to be playing poker. I’m going to take a step back from the game for a bit.”
After a successful career in poker, Duke was involved in two failed entities that left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the poker world – UltimateBet and the Epic Poker League. The latter of these didn’t last a year before filing for bankruptcy, and she hasn’t had any tournament cashes since 2011.
At the tables, Duke has almost $4.3 million in live tournament winnings, and that includes placing 10th in the WSOP Main Event in 2000 while nine months pregnant. She added a WSOP bracelet in 2004 in a $1,500 Omaha Hi/Lo event for $137,860 and won the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship in 2010.
The 53-year-old mother of four and sister of poker player, Howard Lederer, was at one time the leading female WSOP money winner before being overtaken by Vanessa Selbst.
“My win in the Omaha Hi-Lo split accomplished much more than merely securing my position at the top of the heap among female poker players,” she wrote in her 2005 autobiography. “It established my credibility as one of the best poker players, irrespective of gender.”
Following the Epic Poker League debacle, Duke seems to have decided to avoid the poker world altogether. She has repositioned herself as a corporate speaker and strategist. In 2018 she authored the book “Thinking In Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” and continues to work in the business strategy space.
This 34-year-old may have become better known for his dominating performances on the game show “Jeopardy” in 2015 than his play on the felt. Jacob appeared on the show seven times, winning $151,802. Later that year he won the Tournament of Champions for $250,000.
While that may have been a nice haul and garnered Jacob plenty of media attention, his career in poker dwarfs his game show winnings. Dating back to 2005, Jacob has more than $2.6 million in live tournament winnings. His biggest win came in 2006 when he won the $10,000 U.S. Poker Championship for $878,500.
A graduate of Yale University with degrees in economics and mathematics, Jacob left the game in 2012 to become a currency trader. In 2016, he returned to some occasional play and has had three WSOP cashes since.
The tournament was set to air in December 2018 and no doubt plenty of fans will be watching to see if Jacob can bring home the money again. The show’s website even offered fans a chance to select their own fantasy teams – and this poker shark should be in plenty of starting line-ups.
This former Full Tilt poker pro was known as a short stack hit-and-run specialist, He would buy into high-stakes games online with a short stack and then attempting to run it up before exiting the table with a hefty profit. The technique may have angered some players but worked often, and the 35-year-old Australian won millions of dollars before leaving the game behind for the most part in 2011.
As a tournament player, Vos has $1.35 million in live tournament winnings and scored a WSOP bracelet in 2006 in a $2,000 No Limit Hold’em event for $803,274. Vos made use of his expertise at short-stack poker to secure the win and even wrote an article for Hendon Mob describing how he worked his stack up to eventually claim the title.
“The key to my short-stack survival was that I was able to steal enough pots to stay alive,” he wrote. “There was only one play I could use; move in, and hope everyone folded. It worked out for me, despite the fact I was card dead most of the day.
“If your stack drops to the point where you only have five or six big blinds, you’re far more likely to get called. So, you need to be very aware of the size of your stack and the location of the button. If you’re sitting on eight big blinds and you’re in middle position, you should look for a chance to push in and steal before you move through the blinds.”
This player was undoubtedly committed to leaving poker. So much so, that not only did Qureshi stop playing poker in 2013 but only left himself about $10,000 to start a new life. He donated the rest of his $500,000 winnings to charity. At one time Qureshi was a Full Tilt Poker pro but decided to move in a different direction. Unhappy with poker, he set about travelling the world and writing.
“I searched desperately for what to do with myself,” he wrote in his blog. “I lived and worked on a farm, took a ten-day vow of silence, trained myself in meditation, taught English to refugees, went back to university finish my English/philosophy degree, and worked on writing a book.”
That culminated in the publishing of “How to Be a Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker” in 2013. In the book, Qureshi “explores the depths of strategy, psychology, and philosophy within poker, and teaches his uniquely scientific perspective on approaching the game.”
Qureshi has now moved entirely out of the poker world and is a general partner in the firm MetaStable Capital. The company is a cryptocurrency asset hedge fund manager. A firm believer in altruism, Qureshi donates 33 per cent of his income to charity. He may not play poker anymore but seems to have found a life that fits him well and makes him happy.
Living the poker life is tough. Many thrive on the challenge and action while others dream of getting there. Even though some of these players have racked up some significant cashes, other opportunities and ventures attracted them to a different place in life.
Poker is a great game, but even the best occasionally decides to find a different path in life.