From the Ivy League to the Big Leagues; a Story of a Champion Poker Player

Did you see the story in a recent edition of the Trenton (New Jersey) Times?

It’s the story (I want to give them full credit for digging it up) of a former Princeton student, former varsity wrestler, who’s made a ton of money playing poker.

He began in 2003, about the time the poker craze took hold on TV and online.

His name was Hawrilenko and he used the online name “Hoss_TBF. Online he began playing at 25 cents and 50 cents.

“Between wrestling and my studies, poker was really just a hobby at Princeton,” he told The Times. “I played with friends and online a bit, but toward the end of my senior year, when most of my school work was out of the way, I started playing online more and more.”

Then he won an online satellite tournament for the 2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, “and that’s pretty much how everything got kicked off,” he said.

Hawrilenko eventually moved up to much higher stakes, of $2,000 and $4,000, and has since earned millions of dollars from online gaming.

In February of this year alone, he won an amazing $1.7 million online, according to the poker tracking site Highstakesdb.com.

The 29-year-old has become one of the game’s most respected pros, the winner of a coveted gold bracelet given to WSOP event winners, with a paid sponsorship from Full Tilt Poker, a leading gaming website.

Even his parents didn’t mind.

“My parents were awesome and so supportive,” Hawrilenko said. “They know that I have always been a pretty good decision-maker, and it’s not like the poker thing came as a shock to them. I had spoken to them for quite a while about it.”

Despite his tremendous success, Hawrilenko has started to carefully assess his future aspirations following the upending of the online poker world earlier this year, when the U.S. Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York handed out indictments and seized the domain names of three largest internet poker companies in the world.

On April 15, the federal government shut down the sites — Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker — and froze an estimated $500 million in player assets.

“Suddenly, many players and a lot of my friends had no source of income,” Hawrilenko said.

“Literally, on that Friday, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs.”

Internet gambling is officially illegal in the U.S., but the sites are registered overseas, and many players have prospered.

Then the system crashed.

The U.S. government is seeking $3 billion in penalties and up to 65 years in prison for some of the 11 defendants named in the indictment.

Meanwhile, American players who depended on the legal gray area of online poker to earn a living were out of work and casting about for new careers.

Many of those players, including Hawrilenko, are venturing out to play more live tournaments and high stakes cash games inside brick-and-mortar casinos, which still is legal.

“There are several things I have wanted to accomplish outside of poker for a very long time,” Hawrilenko said, “and this will give me the opportunity to do that.”


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