It just might be the poker world's worst-kept secret: David Williams is kind of geeky.
The young gun poker pro does a good job of concealing it with his good looks, stylish clothes, sunglasses and aggressive approach to card play. But he's the first to admit that he loves science and math, was a compulsive university student with a 4.0 GPA, and enjoys the Discovery Channel and playing the not-so-chic card game "Magic: The Gathering" in his spare time.
"I guess you could say I have this cool guy image, but deep inside, I'm a geek," he says.
Williams was born June 9, 1980, in Dallas, Texas. The product of a short-lived relationship between his African-American mother and a man of Iranian descent, Williams never knew his dad and was raised by his mom, Shirley, alongside a half sister named Tina who is eight years his junior.
The self-discipline and responsibility that would come to characterize Williams' poker play and bankroll management later in life first showed up in childhood. His mother was a flight attendant who was away for days at a time and a young Williams stayed with his grandparents. But he didn't like it and, by the age of 12, he would stay home alone while his mom was gone, cooking meals and getting himself ready for school.
David Williams, from Magic to poker champion
In his spare time, he started playing "Magic: The Gathering," a fantasy-based strategy card game where players attack each other using tactics available in their deck of Magic cards, which include creatures and spells. He was a natural and eventually became a top-ranked Magic player competing in tournaments around the world.
But his ultimate goal was to attend an Ivy League school. After mailing out applications, David Williams received acceptance letters from some of the best universities in the United States: Harvard, Stanford and Princeton. He chose Princeton.
Life as a student on the east coast, however, was lonely and cold for the Texas native. Eventually he quit to attend Southern Methodist University in his hometown, where he earned a 4.0 GPA and is now only a few credits shy of a degree in economics.
Back in Dallas, Williams transferred his math and logic skills to playing poker. He competed in illicit cash games and started playing online. In 2004, while playing at the Bodog.com poker room, Williams won a seat at the World Series of Poker.
There the unknown player made it to the final table of the WSOP main event and caught the attention of the professional poker world by placing second to Greg "Fossilman" Raymer and winning $3.5 million. It was the best ever WSOP finish for an African-American player.
His confidence was shaken after the big win, however, when he failed to perform at several tournaments following his WSOP break out. But four months later, Williams proved he was no fluke by placing second at the World Poker Tour Borgata Open, winning an almost $600,000 pot.
That same year he earned his inaugural first-place tournament finish at the Limit Hold'em Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas where he picked up a $121,000 pot.
He continued tournament play into 2005, but failed to make any final tables at the WSOP. However, by 2006, Williams was a final-table fixture, regularly picking up six-figure pots. At the WPT No-Limit Hold'em main event at the Bay 101 Shooting Stars in San Jose, he earned $280,000 for his fourth-place finish. He claimed the H.O.R.S.E. event of the 2006 WSOP Circuit Series at Caesars Las Vegas for $91,250 and another fourth-place spot in a WPT main event that year handed him $221,958.
But his biggest poker accomplishment to date came at the 2006 WSOP, when he won his first gold bracelet and $163,000 in the $1,000 Seven-Card Stud, followed up with a $256,000 second-place finish in the No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball event.
When not on the tournament trail, David Williams can be found playing poker online - he is a spokesman for Bodog.com - or competing in side cash games. He is featured in the poker video game "Stacked" alongside players Daniel Negreanu, Evelyn Ng and Erick Lindgren.
Though he is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in poker, he can't entirely put his inner nerd to bed. Some day, he hopes to return to finish his economics degree and run his own business. But for now, he's sticking to the poker table, with his mom cheering him on from the sidelines.