Why the World's Richest Business Leaders Obsess Over High-Stakes Poker

Paul Newey 2
Paul Newey had no problem coming up with the $1 million to play the Big One.

For as long as high-stakes poker games have existed wealthy businesspeople have been taking on the best, and the best have been trying to take their money.

The river of funds is undeniably flowing towards the poker pros so why do some of the richest, and smartest, business minds in the world continue to play high-stakes poker?

From the legendary grudge match between Texas banker Andy Beal and “The Corporation” to Guy Laliberté's eight-figure online poker losses, rich amateurs are drawn to the games by their desire to test themselves against the very best.

$1 Million "Didn't Make Much Difference" to Paul Newey

UK entrepreneur Paul Newey has played the biggest tournaments in the world in places like Macau and Las Vegas. He even put down $1 million to play the biggest event ever last summer at the World Series of Poker.

Paul Newey 3
Newey is ready to play the next Big One for One Drop in 2014.

Newey, who founded and sold the debt-consolidation company Ocean Finance, is rumored to be worth roughly £220 million.

“A million dollars is a lot of money to anyone I guess but to be honest it didn't make much difference either way,” Newey told PokerListings during the $25,000 PCA High Roller event.

“I didn't feel too greatly about the buy-in,” he said. “It's all about proving things to yourself and when the buy-in's bigger and you're playing against the best it makes it more exciting.”

Newey fired two bullets in the $100k Super High Roller just days before, and finished a few spots out of the money in the PCA main event.

“I've only been playing poker for two and a half years so I need more experience. There's no question about that,” he said.

According to Newey playing against the best players in the world is the quickest way to get that experience.

“I think I'm improving and it's going to take some time but I think the money I've invested so far has been well spent,” said Newey.

Esfandiari Battles Businessmen and Wins Big

Last summer Antonio Esfandiari won the biggest prize in the history of poker, over $18.3 million, when he took down the Big One for One Drop.

Newey was one of the amateurs who ponied up the seven-figure buy-in, and it was only because of players like him that Esfandiari even considered playing.

Antonio Esfandiari
Esfandiari might as well be hugging Paul Newey.

“I think it's incredibly important that amateurs are buying into a tournament like the One Drop because I really don't want to deal with a million-dollar buy-in if I'm going to be playing against a bunch of pros,” Esfandiari told PokerListings.com.

“But you really can't underestimate these business guys. They're extremely good at whatever they did to get that wealthy and they're almost always better than people give them credit for.”

Hedge fund manager David Einhorn finished third in the Big One and donated the $4.35 million prize to charity.

Canadian billionaire and One Drop founder Guy Laliberté finished fifth for a $1.8 million payday.

And while Esfandiari conceded that amateurs are always going to be taking the worst of it when they play against professionals, it's no guarantee that the pros are going to walk away the winners.

“These guys understand that there's a lot of luck involved in one game of poker so if the money doesn't matter to you, why not take a shot at beating the very best?” said Esfandiari.

And despite still looking to recoup some of his poker investment, Paul Newey assured us he's ready to take another shot at the next Big One for One Drop in 2014.

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