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Barry Greenstein alias "The Robin Hood of Poker"

Last Update: 26. March 2014

"Adults will always justify fighting, so I do my part to help children."
Barry about his charity work
Chicago, US
Nathaniel (*1987), Melissa (*1988) and 3 adoptive children including poker player Joe Sebok
Rancho Palos Verdes, US
Degree in computer science and mathematics at the University of Illinois
Author, mathematician, software engineer
His family, golf, online-bridge, going out for dinner, going to the movies
His hometown Chicago
Rain Man, Being There, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Steak, lobster the age of 4, playing with his father
Mathematical, analytical, conservative
"He was the most remarkable student I’ve had in my 30 years of teaching.” (Barry's former thesis advisor Ken Stolarsky) would be for there to be no more war
Skipped a grade in primary school because of his academic achievements; developed his first software program at the age of 15; donates his net tournament winnings to charities every year

Start as you mean to go on

Barry Greenstein was a very intelligent young boy. In primary school he already stood out because of his academic achievements and, as a result, he skipped a grade.

Barry was first introduced to playing cards at the tender age of four when his father, a gym teacher and veteran of the US army, taught him the game of poker. Jack Greenstein had been a successful poker player during his time in the army and was able to account for many poker achievements during World War II.

At the Greenstein home card games such as Gin Rummy, Hearts, Canasta and Poker were sometimes played all afternoon long and even back then it was already evident that young Barry was particularly gifted at poker.

When he was seven years old he was already beating the other kids from the neighborhood at diverse card games, and at the age of eleven he was winning against much older kids from his high school. Barry’s parents encouraged him to develop his talent and become a cool and analytical player. By twelve he knew he could make a living playing poker. One year later he took part in a private poker round for the first time. As a teenager, he was winning up to $ 50 a night, whereas his friends were working for minimum wage at fast food restaurants.

Between university and Las Vegas

What impressed both his parents and teachers though was not his poker talent, but rather his quick wit when it came to numbers and figures. While Barry attended Bogan High School he displayed incredible mathematical talent and did not have any problems at all working with computers. Barry craved more intellectual stimulation and, by the age of fifteen, had created his own computer software. He received a sensational SAT score on the math component.

Yet even at this time he already spent every evening playing cards and winning nice sums of money. After graduating, Barry enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to study computer science. Even while working on his education at university he stuck to his routine: during the day he studied, and by night he played poker – earning thousands of dollars. With the money he won he paid back the money his father had lent him to pay his university tuition. In just three years, he earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science.

After receiving his undergraduate degree, he spent the next ten years working towards his doctorate degree in mathematics. He was still playing poker on the side, earning more and more money and even travelling around the world to participate in poker games. His unusual lifestyle eventually attracted attention. More than once Barry did not show up for class for several weeks at a time and nobody knew why.

His former thesis advisor Ken Stolarsky recalls,

“He was smart but approached his work almost nonchalantly. It was almost as if he didn’t really need us.”

Which he clearly did not: after one of his longer absences he returned to school in a tailor-made designer suit, driving a Jaguar. When Stolarsky confronted him about all of this, Barry let him in on his secret: he had taken part in a poker tournament in London and had earned more money in three weeks than Stolarsky would earn in two years.

Only a little while later, Barry himself was giving seminars at the University of Illinois while writing his doctoral thesis. The seminar rooms were always packed with students, which soon made Barry Greenstein a legend at his university. Even Stolarsky now admits,

“I had so grossly underestimated him. While he was earning a good income at poker he was pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. He was the most remarkable student I’ve had in my 30 years of teaching.”

Marriage and career at Symantec

Shortly before finishing his studies, Barry met his (now ex-) wife Donna and married her shortly after. Donna had three children from a previous marriage that Barry wanted to adopt. He was still studying at this time and earned more than enough money playing poker, so he was not pursuing a regular nine-to-five job.

Barry was advised by his attorney to get a respectable job with a steady income to get custody of the kids. So he gave up his university career shortly before finishing his dissertation and moved to Silicon Valley with his family, where he was hired as a software programmer by a start-up company, now known as Symnatec. Today, this company is famous for creating the Norton Antivirus program, as well as other internet security products. Barry was eventually able to adopt his wife’s children; in 1987 and 1988 they had two more children together, Nathaniel and Melissa. From 1984 to 1991 Barry worked as a software designer. Although he had negotiated a clause in his contract allowing him to finish his PhD while he was working, Barry decided to take a different route. He simply just did not have enough time to finish his studies. So he stayed at Symantec and, together with his colleagues, worked feverishly on a software program called Q&A, software that makes computers more user-friendly.

In 1986, Q&A was voted the “product of the year” almost unanimously by industry magazines, and to this day Q&A is one of Barry Greenstein’s proudest accomplishments. Besides that, the success of Q&A also made Symantec one of the top computer software companies in the world and allowed Barry to get satisfaction from his job working for a world-famous corporation. Furthermore, this experience taught Barry the maturity, discipline, and patience needed to see a long-term project through to the end; skills that still help him survive a long night out playing poker today. While living with his family in California he regularly played poker at the Cameo Club in Palo Alto, California, where he played no-limit Texas Hold’em events.

Barry Greenstein is part of Team PokerStars and spends a lot of time fulfilling the responsibilities that come with this position.

Blows of fate

In the late 1980s Barry’s wife Donna was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a severe disease that attacks the central nervous system. And as if that were not enough, their daughter Melissa was suffering from liver problems that were so serious she required a transplant.

In 1991, at the age of 36, Barry Greenstein retired, having earned enough money from the success of the Symantec software to allow him to live comfortably. Furthermore, time-management was easier when playing poker and so Barry was able to spend more time with his family taking care of his sick wife and daughter.

So in 1991, Barry started playing poker full-time. From then on he earned his livelihood playing various high stake cash-games (non- tournament poker games) in northern California. Barry was extremely successful and his bankroll quickly grew; maybe just due to the fact that, almost every day of the week, he spent about twelve hours at a time at the Cameo Club, always improving his poker game.

In 1992, Barry finally decided to take part at a World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas for the first time. Undaunted by an opposition of 200 other participants, including poker pros such as Johnny Chan, Todd Brunson and Berry Johnston, Barry ploughed through the competition and placed 22nd, for a payday of $ 8,080.

It was at around this time that the divorce from his wife cast a dark shadow over his life: Barry and Donna had realized that their marriage was no longer working. Barry offered his wife everything they had, if only he could get full custody of their children. Although Donna was not capable of raising the children due to her illness, she still decided to fight for her right to see them and hired a lawyer. Barry ended up winning the three-year battle over the custody. During this difficult time Barry met Mimi Tran, who would be his girlfriend for a long time and who he is still close to today.

They cut an infamous deal: Barry would teach Mimi how to play poker in exchange for Vietnamese lessons. Barry hoped this would help him communicate with the many Vietnamese players he faced. Thanks to Barry’s teachings, Mimi Tran is now one of the most respected female poker players in the world. Barry now is proud to have a Vietnamese vocabulary of a five-year-old. There still is an on-going debate about who the better teacher out of the two of them was: While Barry insists that it was him, Mimi says that this was only possible because of her being a better student. Considering the different results of both their efforts, she might have a point…

Barry on the road to success

The following years Barry played more and more limit Texas Hold’em events, building up his reputation as one of the best poker players in the world.

For years Barry Greenstein mainly played cash-games (real money games, where players buy in and cash- in whenever they wish) and worked to improve his game play. When he finally entered the tournament circuit, he continued to be successful. Barry Green’s big breakthrough came in 2003 when he won the “Larry Flynt’s $ 1,000,000 Seven- Card Stud” event at the Hustler Casino, winning $ 777,000 in prize money. In addition to that, he won the 2003 “California State Championships” and “The Fifth Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open”.

At the 2004 World Poker Tour, Barry Greenstein was more than successful. He won the “WPT Jack Binion’s World Poker Open” and finished fifth at the “WPT Party Poker Million 3”. He also won the WPT $ 10,000 No-Limit Hold’em event and prize money worth $ 1,278,370. His 5th place finish at the 2004 WPT $7,000 Limit Hold’em Championship, earned him $ 194,763.

That same year, Barry won a Golden Bracelet at the World Series of Poker no-limit Deuce to Seven event, along with $ 296,200 in prize money. At the 2005 WSOP Barry won $ 128,505 thanks to his first place finish in $1,500 pot-limit. Barry’s success at this tournament went down in poker history: Shortly before the tournament, he had heard of a 26-year-old poker player named Charlie Tuttle from Tennessee, who was suffering from cancer in the final stages. Barry was so touched, that after winning the tournament, he dedicated his victory to this young man. After he had won the last hand, he was evidently overcome by his emotions so much that he grabbed the microphone from the tournament director to tell everyone in the room Charlie Tuttle’s story. Sadly, Charlie Tuttle lost the battle against cancer only a short time afterwards.

In 2006, Barry placed 13th in pot-limit Omaha and won prize money worth $ 20,492. Furthermore, he finished 12th at the HORSE event (which includes Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Seven-Card Stud High and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better) and won $ 205,920. He was also successful at the 2006 WPT Invitational at the Commerce Casino so that by now, Barry Greenstein is ranked among the top winners of the World Poker Tour.

Barry Greenstein has won more than $ 5,000,000 since the beginning of his career in tournament winnings.

The "Robin Hood" of Poker

Barry Greenstein is considered to be an especially charitable person with a big heart. He demonstrates his generosity by his many donations. After winning “Larry’s Flynt’s $ 1,000,000 Seven-Card Stud “ event at the Hustler Casino, Barry donated, for the first time, almost all of his winnings to Children Incorporated – Barry has been lobbying for this charity for a fairly long time now. He had already sponsored several American children through this organization but now that he had won such large sums of money he decided that it was time to take the next step. So he donated a large part of his winnings to the organization, which provides for more than 15,000 children in 21 countries.

When asked why he specifically supports “Children Incorporated” he responds:

“It really started as a result of my bad parenting. I had spoiled my kids and I was trying to show them that other kids aren’t as fortunate as they are. I wanted to sponsor a boy and a girl the same ages as my two youngest children. Most of the sponsoring charities had a religious agenda and I didn’t want that. I wanted to feed and clothe the children, not save their souls. Although I know these religious people mean well, I don’t like it when food or medicine are given to poor children in return for adopting the giver’s religion…”

Since then he has cashed in at numerous tournaments and donated millions of dollars to countless charities, including “Children Incorporated” and “Guyana Watch”, which is the preferred charity of Barry’s poker pro colleague Victor Ramdin. Over the years, Barry realized he needed to make a change in order to continue being able to donate money and also ensure that he himself would stay afloat financially. He had to figure out a sustainable solution and came to this conclusion:

“I will be donating my net earnings from tournaments at the end of each year. Until now, I was donating the pay-off each time I cashed but I can’t afford to continue doing that. I didn’t anticipate the growth and expense of tournament poker.”

Today, he donates half the money to Children Incorporated and the other half to other charities. Not only that, but he also wanted to give something back to the places that have shaped him—as a result, his old high school in Chicago and the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Illinois have also profited from his winnings. He says in an interview,

“I usually give to charities where I have personal contacts, so I can track how every dollar is spent. I have also given money to charities suggested by other poker players. I feel like I carry the flag for all poker players, who as a group are very generous people, but who aren’t fortunate enough to be in the financial position that I’m in.”

For this reason, Barry Greenstein is also known as the “Robin Hood” of poker. He donates his entire net tournament winnings to charities, so it is easy to wonder how he manages to pay his bills. Yet while he donates all his winnings from tournaments, he still successfully takes part in cash-games, from which he still makes a good living.

Shy and quiet at the poker table - appearances are deceiving

Watching Barry Greenstein play poker is impressive. His shy appearance at the poker table is a stark contrast to the other sociable and presumptuous players such as Phil Hellmuth. While others continuously try to control the course of the game, Barry sticks to his conservative game and patiently waits for his chance to shine. Barry has a very calm persona and always gives the impression of being insecure. Nevertheless, all this is just a façade to hide what is really a brilliant intuition for winning. With his mathematical background, it is easy for Barry to calculate the winning odds of each hand he holds. He knows how to read other players and then adjusts to their game. It almost seems as if he knows which hands all the other players are holding throughout the game—of course, this is an especially lucrative gift.

What is almost even more impressive, though, is Barry’s ability to be able to recognize his own weaknesses and his ability to work on fixing them. He himself admits that he learns something new with every hand he plays.

What Barry loves most about poker is winning. It is not just about victory though, but rather the freedom he gets when he wins enough to support his family. He says,

“It’s a job that’s allowed me to make money and to have a lot of freedom. Whereas most people go to work nine to five and struggle, although I’ve played a lot of poker, probably more than I wish I had needed to, if I wanted to take time off, I’m able to take time off.”

This is exactly the reason why he describes every tournament he loses as a disappointment. When he was asked what his biggest disappointment ever was, in tournament play, he answered,

“I’m disappointed whenever I don’t win. It’s hard to rank the disappointments, but I have had a few shots in the WSOP main event, and it always hurts to get knocked out of that.”

What sets Barry apart from other poker pros is that he actually does not have a favourite poker game variation – he likes them all. He prefers playing mixed games or cash-games with as many games in the mix as possible. His best friend among poker players apart from Mimi Tran and his stepson Joe Sebok, is world-famous Phil Ivey.
His stepson Joe Sebok is also a professional poker player today. Barry could not be more proud of his children:

“I was a little surprised when Joe decided he wanted to learn how to play poker. I sensed it in my younger son Nathaniel. Nathaniel is 18 and he’s already asked me to teach him how to play, but I told him I wouldn’t until he got his college degree. But then, Joe’s always been competitive and involved in team sports. But up until a few years ago, he didn’t show any signs of interest in poker. I believe he was 27 when I first explained to him the ranks in poker – a flush beats a straight, and so on.”

Success in the "real" as well as the virtual poker world

He often takes part in online tournaments and plays under the screen names “crazyplayer” and “barryg1”. Furthermore, because of his experience as a computer programmer, he also helped design and create the PokerStars website and its software. If you want to play against Barry Greenstein right now, sign up at PokerStars and claim your exclusive welcome bonus. Go and find Barry at one of PokerStars’ numerous tables and compete against him!

He regularly plays the most important cash-games in California and Las Vegas, including – of course – the “Big Game” at the Bellagio. He has appeared on several televised poker tournaments and TV shows such as “High Stakes Poker”, “NBC’s Heads-Up Championship” and “Poker Superstars Invitational”. In an interview, Barry mentioned that he does not think that internet poker will overshadow bricks and mortar games, although the internet now is a huge part of the poker world.
The money for televised poker mainly comes from internet poker rooms, explains Barry.

Together with his stepson Joe, Barry also works on several poker-related projects including a company called GreenBok Productions. The result of this venture is an entertaining, interactive internet website focusing on the topic of poker. “We call it 'pokertainment'. We don’t feel like we are competing against anyone… We just wanted to add to it. We have a lot of entertaining stuff. I’ve got an audio blog where I talk about what’s going on. Gavin (Smith) and my son Joe (Sebok) have their radio show…There’s a lot of fun stuff”, Barry explains.

Furthermore, Barry has already made a name for himself as an author. He was asked to write a chapter for “Super/System 2, the much anticipated sequel to Doyle Brunson ’s poker bible “Super/System”. What started out as a chapter, became a book. The end result, called “Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide” appeared on bookshelves in 2005. This book does not talk so much about poker strategy but rather focuses on the poker lifestyle and what professional poker player have to go through. Meanwhile, copies of this book have come to be seen as a sort of trophy at the tournaments Barry also takes part in. This is because he always keeps a copy of the book under his chair when he plays at tournaments and signs a copy for the player who beats him. Apart from his autograph, he also gives a short description of the hand that he was beat with.

On his website ( Barry offers his fans a platform for discussion or general questions. What is especially amusing is that Barry lists pros he has played against according to levels of Aggression, Steam Control, Best Game, and so on. Better yet, he picks a specific song for each of them. For Phil Hellmuth, for example, he explains his choice of “It’s My Party” because “…Phil often acts like he is the only one who loses with the best hand, which is so well stated in the line, ‘You would cry too, if it happened to you.’”

Away from the poker tables

When he is not playing poker, he likes to spend as much time as possible with his kids. He also likes to play golf and online bridge, to go out to dinner or the movies.

Today Barry calls California home. He lives with his girlfriend Alexandra (Alex) Vuong, also a poker player, in Palos Verdes where he owns an amazing property in one of the USA’s most desirable locations, into which he has put a lot of love and hard work. Precisely because he does not have a lot of free time, he enjoys spending any spare time he can muster with his girlfriend and children,

“I don’t give them enough time, so that’s where my free time goes. It’s funny, when I was first going with my girlfriend, she said she’d like to travel and see the world, and now, we just hope to be able to stay home.”

Barry is also owner of a condo in Las Vegas, where he spends a large part of his time, mainly because of all the poker tournaments he participates in there.

His favorite movies are “Rain Man”, “Being There” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In an interview Barry explains that he is not really a day-type person but more of a night owl, seeing as he gets up at around noon and goes to bed as late as four a.m. One of his favorite foods is steak and lobster.

In Barry’s opinion the United States is the best country in the world; nevertheless, he also says he enjoys visiting other countries. His favorite city is Chicago, but he also loves travelling to New York, Paris and Tunica (where he had his biggest tournament win). When asked what poker player he respects most he answers that he, “…wouldn’t want to give any of my opponents an indication that I respect their play since it could diminish the psychological edge I might have.”

If he could change something in the world, it would be for there to be no more war, “…but that won’t happen since adults will always justify fighting, so I do my part to help children.”

Barry's fans love him

Because of his increasing popularity Barry is being recognized more and more often.

“It’s amazing. I can’t go anywhere without being recognized, especially by males from 17 to 25. I also get many hugs from women who thank me for helping children”.

When asked what the worst part is about being recognized he replies, “I don’t think there has been a bad part. Poker celebrity is the best kind of celebrity I can see—where people recognize you and are nice to you, but we don’t get hassled like real ‘A-Line’ celebrities. For a poker player, it’s great because we’re now given a sense of respectability that we didn’t have before. So, I haven’t seen a negative side of it. It’s all good.”

Of course, a legend like Barry Greenstein has a huge community of fans who worship their “hero”. The following quotes give a glimpse of what Barry’s fans think of him:

“Barry is without a doubt the best cash-game player on HSP (along with Doyle Brunson). Every hand he plays in he never seems to make a wrong decision. He’s completely tuned in the every hand. LEGEND!”

“Barry is a legend. Absolutely one of the best poker players in the world.”

Because of his modest manner and humble appearance Barry is not very intimidating, yet his opponents know to beware and not underestimate this man. Barry is extremely intelligent and can assess odds like no other. He is one of the best poker players in the world and by now is actually considered a living legend. There seems to be no end to his skills. Like wine, he seems to get better and better the longer he ages. Not many poker players can seriously say that they have the sense, the mental and physical stamina, and the required funding needed to stay cool, clam and composed enough to be able to participate in high stakes poker games. One of the few who can is Barry Greenstein…

Barry is an extraordinary man; one who supports ethical principles, is modest and in no way arrogant, who is kind-hearted, generous and sympathetic; all attributes that should in no way be taken for granted in the poker scene. Most importantly, though, he is honest when it comes to his own weaknesses, and so Barry Greenstein remains one of the most remarkable and endearing personalities of the poker world.

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