Singapore’s Bryan Huang had a decision to make – become a fully-fledged poker professional or start a career as an accountant.
Back in 2009, global firm Ernst & Young offered him a job at the same time Pokerstars.net put a sponsorship contract in front of him.
At that stage, Huang had been playing poker part-time and doing well enough to pay his way through university.
“I was going to start with Ernst & Young but thought I’ll try poker for a year. Before I knew it I was going pretty well.”
That’s something of an understatement.
In six years, including the last three-and-a-half as a sponsored Pokerstars professional he’s amassed $2 million in winnings.
Take away his expenses and Huang estimates he’s cleared about $1.2 million in cold hard cash. Now that he’s sponsored, he gets his accommodation, airfares and entry fees covered.
But according to Huang being a top card shark is no lark, and he says he plays about 300 days a year – sometimes for 12-hour stretches and can endure months without winning much.
“It’s not easy. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s different to working. You get to manage your own time and yourself a bit more.
“I decided to stick with poker not just for the money but it’s amazing to travel and meet people and do something I really love.”
His biggest single pot was $200,000 for a third placing overseas but despite the rich reward he wasn’t happy.
“I was very upset … it hurts when you get third. So close.”
Huang, recently married, says he’s used some winnings to pay off his family’s mortgage and has his own apartment in Singapore. He also hopes to return to university in the future for a Masters of Business Administration.
This is Huang’s third visit to the Wakatipu, and second playing in the New Zealand Poker Tour’s lucrative $500,000 tournament at SkyCity Queenstown Casino. Last time he played he made the final nine – this year he’s facing 150 other entrants and the biggest local contingent in its four-year history.
Locals include Queenstown businessman Matty Yates who was runner-up last year.
“It’s getting more competitive here,” Huang says.
Huang says his number one tip for aspiring players is to never think you’re good enough.
“There’s a fine line between confidence and over-confidence.
“A lot of guys don’t like to ask people about things but if you have a willingness to learn and ask for people’s opinions, you never stop improving.
“The number two thing that’s really important is mental strength – people say it’s about luck in poker but it’s actually about variance. It’s really easy to go six months without a score, and you’re playing day in, day out. You have to have mental strength,” he says.
“I play the odds – I think it’s a science and art. Psychology comes into it, understanding people. But in the long run, it’s about managing your money and not turning it into a gamble.”