Nearly 10 years later, very little has changed.
Buddiga went on to win the 75th Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2002. Just 13 years old at the time, Buddiga survived 11 rounds and eventually spelled the word prospience – meaning foresight – to take the trophy and $12k.
These days Buddiga has traded National Spelling Bees for the World Series of Poker and he was deep in the $1,500 Shootout event on Thursday when PokerListings caught up with him.
Poker was a natural transition from competitive spelling he says.
“In high school, I needed another competitive outlet,” Buddiga said.
“One of my best friends from back home started looking at Pocket Fives and was getting into poker. I started going over to his house and playing.”
Buddiga was born in New Zealand but grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After graduating high school he attended Duke University in North Carolina.
“I dropped poker for a bit when I was going to college because I was so busy but then I picked it up again during my junior year,” he said.
Buddiga started playing online and in the last year had started to find a significant amount of success.
“I started to do really well online just before Black Friday,” said Buddiga. “It was bad timing because I felt my game was just beginning to peak.”
Knowing that he had to play the WSOP, Buddiga saved some cash and found several friends that were willing to stake him in a few events and got on a plane to Las Vegas.
“I think a lot of the skills I learned from the spelling bee – putting in a lot of hard work, determination and never giving up – have really helped me with poker” - Buddiga
Although he hasn’t had any huge scores yet, he’s already guaranteed over $4,000 for making it into the second round of the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout tournament.
It’s a very different beast from the National Spelling Bee, but Buddiga likes to think competitive spelling helped prepare him for tournament poker.
“I think a lot of the skills I learned from the spelling bee – putting in a lot of hard work, determination and never giving up – have really helped me with poker,” he said.
“The biggest thing was that after the spelling bee I really felt like I could be the best at anything if I really try.
"I’m not trying to be egotistical – I feel anyone can apply the same principal – but having the spelling bee in the rearview gives me confidence that I can do it.”
The 22-year-old mentioned he found playing in big buy-in poker tournaments to be even more stressful than competing in the National Spelling Bee.
“The spelling bee was super stressful but it was just one competition,” said Buddiga. “In live tournaments it’s so much more stressful because of how much longer it is.
"I also don’t feel I’m as good a poker player as I was a speller back in the day.”
Having graduated from Duke two weeks ago, Buddiga is still deciding what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
He’s already working with a couple of entrepreneurs back in Colorado Springs but has plans to play 13-15 events at the 2011 WSOP.
“If it goes well I might jump into poker,” said Buddiga.