Poker Pros’ Favorite Pastimes: Magic the Gathering, Chess, and More

Poker players come from all sorts of backgrounds. There are pros from every country, and there are many more kinds of players than the stereotypical card shark or gambler. Some poker pros are ex-athletes, others are chess prodigies, and some are businessmen who’ve made their fortunes outside the game. 

Even though poker pros are incredibly diverse, there are still a few common themes, particularly in what they like to do in their spare time. Some popular activities include card games like Magic: The Gathering, side betting, and more. Today, we’ll look at a few well-known poker pros and their favorite pastimes. 

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Dan “Action Dan” Harrington: Chess

Chess is an age-old strategy game that has been around for literal millennia. It may be surprising that some poker pros enjoy chess, too, given that it’s a game of pure strategy with no luck involved. However, both games can scratch the itch of intellectual competition, and there’s no better example of this than Dan “Action Dan” Harrington.

Harrington picked up chess as a child and not as a casual hobby. He was an incredibly skilled player, even winning the 1971 Massachusetts State Chess Championship. In fact, Harrington was more fond of chess than poker, but the only thing stopping him from pursuing it as a career was the dedication needed to become a chess pro. 

“To be profitable in chess though, you need to be top five or six players in the world, and I wasn’t good enough. Then I went to backgammon and that was more for financial reasons than competitive ones, but there really wasn’t enough money there either, so I made it to poker, which I liked a lot and had a lot of money,” he explained to ESPN.

While he enjoyed chess more than poker, his poker career has been nothing short of successful. With over $6 million in live tournament earnings, he has two WSOP bracelets, one of which was from the 1995 Main Event. He also has one World Poker Tour (WPT) title, making him one of four people to win the WSOP Main Event and the WPT. Finally, he’s a prolific author, writing the Harrington on Hold’em series, which originated the “small ball poker” strategy popularized by Daniel Negreanu.

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John “Johhny World” Hennigan: Prop Bets

Proposition bets, prop bets for short, are side bets gamblers make that aren’t directly related to the game. Some poker pros are known for wagering money on just about anything, and John “Johnny World” Hennigan is the perfect example of this. The nickname comes from his willingness to bet on anything in the world, and he’s certainly earned it. 

His most infamous prop bet was a six-figure challenge for him to stay in the quiet town of Des Moines, Iowa, for six weeks. Des Moines is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the US, so this may not initially seem challenging. However, when Hennigan made the bet, Des Moines lacked one critical thing: Casinos. Hennigan lost the bet in record time, paying the fee and moving back to Vegas after a mere two days. 

While Hennigan may not have the best track record with these prop bets, his poker career is certainly successful. Many pros like Daniel Negreanu and Gavin Smith have called Hennigan the best player they’ve ever faced, and his $8.5 million in live tournaments certainly support this. He has six WSOP bracelets and one WPT title and is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. 

Dewey Tomko: Golf

You frequently hear of pros who were ex-athletes, like Doyle Brunson, who was on track to playing in the NBA when he suffered a freak knee injury. It’s also common for some poker pros to play golf in their free time. However, Dewey Tomko goes above and beyond playing golf as a hobby. 

He’s played with fellow pros like Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson and even recognized his skill by a pro golfer! As Greg Raymer mentioned on the poker TV show Poker After Dark, Rocco Mediate, a professional golfer, has gone on record saying that if he had to pick one person to putt for his life, it’d be Tomko. 

Tomko’s golf skills are only second to his poker. He has over $4.9 million in live earnings and is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. He’s finished second at the WSOP Main Event twice, and has three bracelets, all from different poker formats. Lastly, he’s made two WPT final tables and has numerous other wins at notable tournaments like Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker. 

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Aspiring to become a pro?

We hope you enjoyed reading about what pros like doing off the felt. If you aim to become a pro one day, don’t be afraid to chase your dreams! While becoming a poker pro takes lots of practice and hard work, anyone can become one if they have what it takes. Start by studying the game and applying what you learned through online poker. Good luck!