5 Pro Gamers Who Went Pro Poker

5 PRO GAMERS WHO WENT PRO POKER

Poker and Esports have a lot in common; they both require a lot of focus, skill, strategy and concentration. They were also both considered obscure entertainment outlets that have since exploded into billion dollar industries with huge tournaments that attract players from all over the world.

The people who excel in both games share many similarities as well; most are intelligent and approach their game of choice like a puzzle, putting the pieces together more efficiently and effectively than their opponents. There have been many successful Esports players, especially in the last few years, but some made a choice to leave it all behind and try their hand at poker instead. Here are five gamers who made the switch from Esports to poker.

1. LIM YO-HWAN

Nationality: South Korean

Games Played: StarCraft, StarCraft: Brood War, StarCraft II

Screen Name and Nicknames: SlayerS_BoxeR, BoxeR, ManofOneway, The Terran Emperor

Esports Earnings: Over $20,000

Poker Career Earnings: Over $500,000

Listed Net Worth: $1.5 million

Short Bio

Lim Yo-hwan first rose to fame as a professional gamer playing the real time strategy game StarCraft and its expansions and sequel. Lim Yo-hwan dominated the game for many years using the Terran Race, which earned him the moniker, The Terran Emperor. Using his innovative strategies, many of which are still used by players today, he was able to gain a reputation as a player who could win matches, regardless of the odds stacked against him.

His entertaining matches earned him many fans in the Esports world. At the same time, his victories scored him more than a few accolades, including two Starleague championships, two WCG championships and a KPGA Tour championship. In addition, Yo-hwan was also ranked as one of the all time leaders in games played and won.

This is why it came as a surprise when he decided to walk away from his successful career as a gamer in 2013 and try his hand at becoming a professional poker player instead. His reason for turning his back on Esports was simple; he found poker far less demanding from a physiological standpoint. Since 2014, he has played both online and live poker professionally, collecting a small fortune in prize money along the way.

2. PAULI ÄYRÄS

Nationality: Finnish

Games Played: Counter Strike and Starcraft 2

Screen Name and Nicknames: Fiilismies, Namutin

Esports Earnings: Unknown

Poker Career Earnings: $1,650,132 listed as casino winnings, and $853,352 listed as live earnings

Listed Net Worth: Unknown, but it's safe to assume it’s over $1 million

Short Bio

Pauli Äyräs started as just another competitive gamer playing Counter Strike and Starcraft 2. He worked his way up the ranks and became one of the top Esports players in Finland, which ultimately saw him compete at the 2011 WCG Finland Qualifier Finals. Äyräs quickly realized there wasn’t a lot of money in gaming at that point in time; it would still be many years before the Esports boom, so he started looking for other avenues to make money, eventually finding his way to poker.

After transitioning away from Esports, Äyräs once again worked his way up the ranks in his new profession and became a top-notch poker pro, competing against some of the best in the world. During his years playing poker, Äyräs has cultivated a reputation as one of the toughest No-Limit Holdem players in the world.

His hard-won skills have also seen him take home some very large paychecks, including his all-time career record of $298,027 from one tournament. Nobody can say for sure if Äyräs would have continued to excel in Esports, but he has undoubtedly made a name for himself as an excellent professional poker player.

3. DOUG POLK

Nationality: American

Game Played: Warcraft 3, StarCraft

Screen Name and Nicknames: WCG_Rider, T-Rider

Esports Earnings: Unknown

Poker Career Earnings: Over $9 million

Listed Net Worth: $10 million

Short Bio

Like a lot of pro gamers, Doug Polk grew up playing strategy games. By the age of 15, he was a competitive Warcraft 3 player and competing in World Cyber Games tournaments. Under the name T-Rider, he achieved a great deal of success, but it wouldn't be until college that he found his true calling, poker. Starting out in low stakes cash games, he turned his initial $20 deposit into $10,000 before deciding to embark on a professional poker career.

Using the name WCG_Rider, Polk dominated online heads up sit and go poker games and climbed to the top of the world rankings in online profitability. After conquering the online poker world, he switched to live games and managed to match his online success, capturing three gold bracelets in World Series of Poker events and amassing millions in prize money. He also started one of the most successful poker channels on YouTube, and the poker training site Upswing Poker.

He retired from playing professionally in 2018, but it wasn't until 2020 that he formally announced he was quitting the poker industry altogether. Then, only a few months later, he challenged arguably one of the best poker players in the world, Daniel Negreanu, to a high stake heads-up no-limit hold 'em match, Negreanu accepted.

Polk won $1.2 million over 25,000 hands and pocketed $530,000 in side bets, cementing his legacy as one of the best poker players in the game. He has since retired from professional poker, again, but has been seen playing live games at casinos.

Whatever success he achieved as an Esports player, Polk has certainly surpassed it in poker. However, Polk is reportedly getting ready to dip his toes back into the Esports world since returning to semi-retirement. The former poker pro is now trying to build a competitive team to compete in Counter Strike: Global Offensive Esports tournaments.

4. BERTRAND GROSPELLIER

Nationality: French

Games Played: StarCraft: Brood War and Warcraft III

Screen Name and Nicknames: ElkY

Esports Earnings: $16,255.79 From 13 Tournaments

Poker Career Live Earnings: Over $14 million

Listed Net Worth: $13 Million

Short Bio

Easily the most famous poker/Esports crossover player, Bertrand Grospellier is among a select few who have swapped between poker and Esports multiple times. Grospellier initially began his Esports career as a StarCraft player and became one of the top ranked players in the world.

By 2002 Grospellier had switched to WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and finished second in the televised Ongamenet WarCraft Retail League. Then, in 2003, after taking home another paltry first place prize of $1000 at the Euro Cyber Games, Grospellier, like millions of others around the world, saw Chris Moneymaker claim the top prize at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.

Not long after, Grospellier found himself staring at a screen with poker on it instead of video games. After leaving his relatively successful Esports career behind, he won an invitational tournament organized by PokerStars. From there, he signed on with the site to become a sponsored member of the PokerStars team. From there, he carved out a poker career that many dream about and few ever achieve.

Among his first achievements as a poker pro was becoming the first player to reach Supernova and Supernova Elite status on PokerStars. He also set a Guinness World Record by playing 62 sit and go tournaments in an hour. Later, he won a World Poker Tour (WPT), a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet and a European Poker Tour (EPT) title.

In 2015, the highly successful poker pro decided to return to where it all started and returned to Esports, joining Team Liquid as a Hearthstone player. He spent a full year mastering the game before winning his first championship at the Redemption Cup Insomnia Truesilver Championship. Whichever profession he decides to stick with, it's clear Bertrand Grospellier has achieved a high level of success as both a professional poker player and a professional Esports player.

5. RANDY LEW

Nationality: American

Games Played: Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter, and Tekken

Screen Name and Nicknames: Nanonoko

Esports Earnings: Unknown

Poker Career Live Earnings: Over $2.6 million

Listed Net Worth: $1 Million to $5 Million

Short Bio

Randy Lew started playing fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken when he was still in middle school. He would continue playing well into college and achieved success in matches against other high-level players. He had podium finishes at the Evolution Championship Series several times, but like many pro gamers at the time, he didn't see a long-term future in the small paychecks offered in Esports.

He quickly found another game that would offer far more money than he could ever win as a pro gamer, poker. However, Lew's departure from Esports into poker was not a smooth transition, he lost a lot more than he won, but each loss taught him vital skills that he would later use to become a highly successful poker professional.

Lew is known as the ultimate grinder, playing a massive number of hands by multi-tabling up to 24 tables at once. In a superhuman feat, he managed to win over $2.6 million by grinding relatively low $5/$10 cash games. In 2012, he was etched into the record books after finishing 14,548 hands in eight hours in a 24 table extravaganza that left him only $20.72 in profit.

His live skills also proved to be top-notch, with more than $1.4 million in tournament earnings and an Asian Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) title to his name. However, despite his highly successful poker career, Lew decided he wasn't entirely done with Esports. With a whole new generation of players and games, and millions now offered in prize money, Lew made a comeback as a pro gamer.

He signed a deal with Team Liquid and joined up with his fellow poker pro Bertrand Grospellier to compete in the online collectible card game Hearthstone. He made his debut in 2016, but it is yet to be seen whether he can emulate his poker success in Esports.