For anyone who wants to become a millionaire, reaching the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event is certainly one way to get there. Making it to the podium means instant wealth, while winning the coveted gold bracelet comes with fame and an eight-figure paycheck.
But for many who vie for the title of World Champion, getting rich at the table is not the goal at all. For the following players, it’s the competition that fuels their passion for the game more than any monetary rewards. That’s because their financial success has already arrived outside the poker room. They are self-made men in the world of poker.
Barry Shulman – The self-proclaimed “most interesting man in poker” found success in wholesale liquor, oil and gas, securities, investment consulting and real estate before retiring and discovering professional poker in 1997. Nineteen cashes and two WSOP bracelets later, he’s earned over $1.6 million at the tables, owns Card Player magazine and has written two books on poker strategy.
Bobby Baldwin – Atypical of the others listed here, Baldwin’s “self-made success story” came after winning the WSOP Main Event. In 1978, at age 28, “The Owl” pocketed his $210,000 in winnings and went to the other side of the poker table, taking up a career in casino management. His poker play suffered some as a result, but he rose to the very top of the Las Vegas entertainment scene as CEO of MGM’s multibillion-dollar CityCenter complex. “Bobby’s Room” at the Bellagio is named after Baldwin, who last cashed in the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
Bob Safai – After attending USC and getting his broker’s license, this real estate investment specialist went on to found Madison Partners in 1996. He soon became one of the “Top 20 Most Influential Brokers in the U.S.,” according to Commercial Property News. Safai says playing poker is a hobby, but as proven on television’s “High Stakes Poker” series, few pros can keep pace with him in cash games, where he can easily afford a $500,000 minimum buy-in.
David Einhorn – This New Yorker made his money the old-fashioned way—on Wall Street. The successful hedge fund manager is the President of Greenlight Capital, a company he founded in 1996 with $900,000. Einhorn gained a lot of that investment back when he cashed for $659,730 at the 2006 WSOP Main Event. He’s perhaps best known in sports circles as the guy who tried and ultimately failed to buy a one-sixth ownership in the New York Mets.
Gabe Kaplan, Starring in the 1970s television hit “Welcome Back, Kotter” brought this actor financial success. He’s remained a familiar face on the small screen by serving as co-host and commentator for TV’s “High Stakes Poker,” too. As a player, Kaplan has made WSOP final tables and won the Super Bowl of Poker twice. He has also claimed a Low-Ball championship at the Commerce Club.
Guy Laliberté – According to Forbes Magazine survey of 2012, this Canadian is the 464th richest person in the world, worth $2.6 billion. He started out as a street performer and made his fortune as the founder of Cirque du Soleil. In 2007, Laliberté tabled at the World Poker Tour Season Five event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, winning $696,220 for finishing fourth—just a drop in the bucket for the man who conceived of the WSOP’s latest philanthropic event, the $1,000,000 Buy-In “Big One for One Drop.”
Hasan Habib – As a teen, this native of Pakistan was a tennis champion. He immigrated to the United States in 1980 and made his way by owning and operating a nationwide chain of video stores. By the time his first WSOP cash came in 1999, Habib was already a successful businessman, so adding $4.5 million in poker tournament earnings and a WSOP bracelet over the years has only verified his competitiveness in all endeavors he undertakes.
Jamie Gold – This American film producer started out as a talent agent, even before he reached the age of 21. His clients have included comedian Jimmy Fallon and actress Lucy Liu. Gold made headlines by winning the 2006 WSOP Main Event and now has over $12 million in poker earnings to his credit, but he still maintains a day job, making television shows and keeping active in charity work.