McDonald had won millions playing the game, traveled the world, won an EPT title and taught thousands of new players how to play poker on CardRunners.
It was at this point McDonald decided to do the unthinkable: he announced he was closing the poker chapter of his life and looking for something new.
The idea that McDonald, one of poker’s best and brightest young stars, would retire from the game before he was even old enough to play the WSOP seemed unbelievable to most players.
A thread quickly popped on up on the twoplustwo poker forum titled “Timex Quits Poker” that received thousands of views.
Members argued vehemently on the pros and cons of quitting poker at such a young age.
McDonald clarified that he never referred to it as “retiring” from poker, he just didn’t want the game to define him as a person.
“I still love poker,” he said. “I really enjoy playing it. I think it’s a great game. I wasn’t saying that I was going to retire and never come back.
"I just don’t think I could ever dedicate myself 100% to just poker."
Instead the Waterloo, Ontario, native wanted to go back to school and focus on pursuits outside of online poker.
Part of the reason, he admitted, was just seeing his friends in university having fun and enjoying the social experience.
One year later, McDonald is enrolled in the business program at Wilfrid Laurier University and has significantly decreased the volume he plays online.
The announcement caused a considerable amount of controversy but McDonald mentioned he doesn’t regret posting it.
“I try to be as honest as I possibly can in my blog,” he said. “How I’ve been doing, what emotions I’m feeling, what I dislike. I think regular readers really appreciate that honestly.”
Although he didn't put in huge numbers at the tables this year, McDonald, who is now 21, simply couldn't ignore the appeal of playing his first WSOP this summer.
He ended up playing more events than he thought he would and it's a decision that's paid off.
“Playing the WSOP has helped my motivation,” he said. “Overall it’s just been a great experience.”
McDonald shows no signs of rust, either. He’s already cashed twice and made one final-table finish for $73k.
“Despite not making that many deep runs it’s been a profitable WSOP for me so I’m happy about that,” he said.
Back in 2008 McDonald won EPT Dortmund for $1.4 million when he was just 18 and he barely blinked an eye.
He’s since been able to reflect on the victory and mentioned it seems more significant now then it did at the time.
“I’m starting to realize just how substantial that tournament was,” he said. “Heads-up I was playing for like $600,000. I just had no clue what the money was worth back then.”
As far as the future is concerned, McDonald doesn’t plan on leaving the poker world completely any time soon but that won’t keep him from exploring alternatives.
“Poker is something that I enjoy and I’ll always want as a hobby – hopefully a profitable one – for the rest of my life but not something that I want to be playing all day when I’m 50.”
The 2011 WSOP continues through July 19. For comprehensive coverage live from Las Vegas check PokerListings' Live Updates brought to you by PartyPoker.