Jackpot

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Tiger of the Week: Matt Hawrilenko ’04

Matt Hawrilenko ’04 doesn’t really like casinos, which may seem like an occupational handicap for a professional poker player. But Hawrilenko makes his living online, playing high-stakes cash games against some of the world’s top players. A few times each year, he also tries his hand on the tournament circuit, and on July 3, he scored big, winning more than $1 million in the World Series of Poker $5,000 Short-Handed No-Limit Hold’em tournament.

Hawrilenko, our Tiger of the Week, started playing poker in his senior year at Princeton, when the online poker craze was hitting its stride. His first full-time job was at Susquehanna International Group, an options-trading firm that uses poker as a training tool. After two years, Hawrilenko realized that finance wasn’t for him, but he also found that he could make good money playing poker.

Hawrilenko, a Woodrow Wilson School major, says that he subscribes to an “academic” approach to poker, using mathematics and game theory to gain insights about how to play more effectively. He also strives to learn more about strategy with each game he plays, drawing partly on his college experience.

“A classroom at Princeton can be pretty humbling, and no matter how well I thought I argued a paper, I was constantly being shown strong counter-arguments, always having to challenge my preconceptions and reformulate better arguments,” Hawrilenko says. “This is an invaluable skill in poker. … When you give your opponents the benefit of the doubt and try to understand what they were trying to accomplish — regardless of whether their play actually worked — you start to learn from every hand you play, just like you learn from the guy across the room in precept.”

While Hawrilenko concedes that his World Series of Poker win was his biggest payday, he still prefers playing online games, which are less volatile in the long run. Competing online offers a better lifestyle — Hawrilenko can play from his home in Boston or while traveling the world with his wife, Emily Kroshus ’04 — and so far, it has been more lucrative.

“TV poker is a lot sexier,” he says, “but it’s not where the money is.”

 

(Photo courtesy Matt Hawrilenko ’04)

 

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