In 2010, Filippo Candio became the first Italian to ever reach the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Primarily a cash game player, the Cagliari native finished fourth in the championship, earning $3,092,545 for the biggest payday of his life. What he did with a portion of the winnings reflects a growing trend among successful poker players—he used it to realize his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
In Candio’s case, his passion for business led him to launch his own line of poker-themed clothing. After being accorded widespread recognition in Italy almost overnight, he parlayed the fame for his feat into a marketing opportunity. As every gambler knows, when you’re hot, you’re hot, and the notoriety Candio was able to bring to his clothing line was priceless.
Success Goes Both Ways
Using poker to pave the way to an entrepreneurial dream isn’t new. David Sklansky won three WSOP bracelets in the 1980s that gave him the credentials for becoming a successful author of thirteen books on gambling theory and poker. Dewey Tomko banked on his three bracelets to buy a casino in Costa Rica. And Bobby Baldwin turned his 1978 WSOP championship into the foundation for a career in casino management, rising to the top as CEO of MGM’s multibillion-dollar CityCenter complex in Las Vegas.
But it’s a two-way street that runs between poker playing and business building. Many players have used early success in business to finance their ascent as professional card sharks, such as 2004 WSOP bracelet winner Hasan Habib, whose entire life is testament to what’s possible when one has a competitive spirit.
At the age of 14, Habib developed an appetite for success early, as a tennis champion in his native country, Pakistan. He immigrated to the United States in 1980 and soon gained success by running a chain of video stores. His first WSOP cash came in 1999 and he’s had 20 more since then, worth $1.4 million in total and aptly demonstrating how the desire to excel can carry over from one activity to the next.
Many of the world’s wealthiest cash players are entrepreneurs who see poker as a pastime. Bob Safai made his money in real estate investing, while billionaire Andy Beal is a banker and Guy Laliberté runs Cirque du Soleil. But many pros keep a day job outside the poker room, too, such as film producer Jamie Gold who still makes programs for television and David Einhorn who continues to manage hedge funds at Greenlight Capital, the company he founded before ever cashing at a WSOP event.
The “Most Interesting Man” in Poker
Much like others, Barry Shulman made his way in business before honing skills at the card table. Born in Seattle, Washington in 1946, he began playing poker while a college student in the 1960s, but his career path took him from partnerships in a wholesale liquor and oil & gas to forming a securities brokerage business and an SEC-registered investment advisory firm. From the 1970s onward, Shulman played no poker at all, instead focusing on income-producing real estate for 25 years.
Then at age 51, the entrepreneur rediscovered his love of the game and got his first cash in a major event, winning the WSOP’s $3,000 Pot Limit Hold’em tournament for $25,500 in 1997. Since then, he has cashed in 18 more events, including a pair at the 2012 WSOP, for over $1.6 million in earnings and two bracelets. On the side, he has written two books on poker strategy, served as a content advisor for a Poker for Dummies” video, and began blogging on CardPlayer.com.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Shulman, who calls himself “the most interesting man in poker.” Ever the businessman, in 1998 the reborn gambler used his retirement funds to buy Card Player magazine, a trusted industry periodical since 1987. To kill off the competition, he also purchased Poker Digest for $800,000, setting up CardPlayer Media and taking over as publisher and CEO; he made his son, Jeff (also a talented poker player), the company’s president.
Besides business and poker, Shulman has other passions in life, too. He loves to travel, staying at the finest hotels, dining at great restaurants, taking over 100 cruises on 36 ships and 16 cruise lines, and writing about it all on his blog JetSetWay. The Man’s other big love is philanthropy; he’s created the Shulman Family Foundation to support some 14 charities, many in his home community of Las Vegas. Most interesting, indeed.