Although I’m most well known as a professional poker player with over $4 million in lifetime tournament winnings, I’m also a former member and manager of the infamous MIT Blackjack team, a graduate of both MIT and Harvard Law School, and a licensed attorney.
Although I have won over 15 poker tournaments, including a World Series of Poker Bracelet, my most famous poker tournament result was not for winning, but for coming in second. In the first World Series of Poker $50,000 buy-in Player’s Championship in 2006, I won over $1,000,000 finishing second to the legendary Chip Reese after the then-longest heads-up match in WSOP history. After knocking out Phil Ivey to get heads up, I was close to even with Chip and eventually took a big lead. Through the 286 hands of heads-up play, I had Chip all-in 4 times, losing all 4 times. (Until I won my first bracelet in 2012, I used to joke that I had 93% of a bracelet, since that was the probability that Chip would win all 4 of those all-ins.)
Later in 2006, I won $500,000 at the Pro Am Equalizer, which aired on ESPN early in 2007. In 2007, I finished in the top 8 players in NBC’s National Heads Up Poker Championship, and in 2008 I finished 2nd to Chris Ferguson. Three months later I finished second again in a WSOP bracelet event, this time the $10,000 buy-in Pot Limit Hold’em Championship. After years of trying and a dozen top 9 finishes, I was finally able to win a WSOP bracelet the day after my 43rd birthday in June 2012. As of June 2012, I have 28 WSOP cashes for over $2,300,000.
People often ask how I got to be a professional poker player. Here’s my story.
I practically grew up with a deck of cards in my crib. As a young child and throughout high school, I was always playing card games with my friends and family, and winning. I played a little poker with friends, but I didn’t get serious about poker until after I graduated from MIT with two electrical engineering degrees in 1992.
That’s when I got started playing casino poker at the newly-opened Foxwoods casino. I was working as an engineer in a small company in Westchester county, NY, and in December 1992 I decided to visit Foxwoods. There I saw a board listing the tournament winners from Foxwoods’ first “World Poker Finals.” I had no idea what a poker tournament entailed, but I was always good at games and I wondered how long it would take for my name to make it there. I started playing some small $35 weekly tournaments at Foxwoods, making the 2-hour trip maybe once a month. And by the end of the year, my name was on the winner’s board, for a $100 buy-in no-limit Hold’em tournament. That was the first time I ever played no-limit.
In the spring of 1993, I had an argument with my boss and got myself fired from my first job. I jokingly told my parents that if I didn’t find a job I liked I could always play poker for a living. A few months later I did find and start a new engineering job near Boston, while I continued to play poker one or two weekends a month, and joined a weekly poker game in the Boston area, which I had found through the Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling. The discussions on rec.gambling at that time (circa 1993-94) were a great resource for new mathematically-inclined poker players like myself. Partly as a tribute to those who shared with me in those early rec.gambling days, I continue to share strategy tips and advice with others.
While unemployed briefly in 1993, I came across a new game at Foxwoods called “Hickok 6-card Poker”, which was played against the house, similar to Caribbean Stud or Let it Ride. While starting my new job designing computer networking chips for Digital, I wrote some computer programs and developed a strategy for playing Hickok that gave the player a pretty substantial edge of about 6%. Through my weekly Boston-area poker game, I met some fellow MIT alumni who were part of the MIT blackjack team, and we put together and trained a team of MIT students and others to play Hickok. We won consistently for few months, but the casino caught on and changed the rules. A casino gaming newspaper reported that we had won $1,000,000, but unfortunately, that was an overstatement by a factor of more than 10. We won only about $30 per hour played. Hickok was a success, but not incredibly profitable.
More important than my share of the profits, the Hickok experience was my first true foray into the world of professional gambling and my introduction to the MIT blackjack team. I started going to MIT team practices in late 1994 and went on my first blackjack trip to Las Vegas with the team in early 1995. Meanwhile, I grew bored with my engineering job and few months later, I quit my job and began playing blackjack and poker full time while I decided what I wanted to do next.
I moved to Las Vegas in the fall, but decided to apply to law school. Being a gambler, and not entirely sure if I wanted to go, I only applied to three schools, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.
Yale and Stanford rejected me, but I got in to Harvard Law School, so I started law school in the fall of 1996. I paid for my tuition and expenses and more by continuing to play blackjack and invest with the MIT Blackjack Team. I had to curtail most of my poker trips but I still wouldn’t let school prevent me from playing the World Series of Poker in 1997 and 1998, even though I had to miss part of the last week of classes both years. (I had to skip the WSOP in 1999 or I wouldn’t have graduated!) For the 1997 World Series, Tom Sims, a good friend of mine, was looking for a volunteer to “sweat” and record all his hole cards (a low-tech precursor to hole-card-cams). I agreed. His records turned into a 2-part Card Player Magazine article and the entire play-by-play can still be found online at http://conjelco.com/wsop97/bloch.html.
I worked one summer during law school at a major law firm doing high-tech intellectual property work, but I didn’t find it too intellectually stimulating. The second summer I played blackjack and poker and started writing a book. I wasn’t interested in a regular legal job. I graduated from Harvard Law School and passed the bar in 1999, but I hadn’t found a law-related job that would keep my interest. (I’m still “looking” — at least that’s what I tell my parents.) So I went back to playing poker, and I also traded stocks heavily for about 1 year. I was growing tired of the poker tournament world and considered looking for another change, until the World Poker Tour started. In the first WPT season, I finished in 3rd place in two tournaments, and I decided to follow the poker tour more closely.