From felt to felt, John Hennigan has translated his skills at the pool table to a winning career in poker as well.
Many old-school poker pros have come from pool-hustling backgrounds that turned into poker careers. Hennigan's route started in Philadelphia, Pa., where he was born. He still calls the City of Brotherly Love his hometown. He grew up in Philly and Atlantic City where he learned how to play pool at an early age.
His billiards talents led him to becoming a part of the professional pool circuit. There he was known as "Cornflakes" or "Flakes." Fortunately for him, that nickname didn't follow his transition into the poker playing world.
Hennigan said on the World Poker Tour Web site that he got started playing poker while playing pool professionally.
"When I couldn't get a pool game, I found something else to gamble at," he said.
It was that attitude that propelled him into the poker world and earned him the nickname "Johnny World" because he would gamble on anything in the world.
It could be said, though, that the nickname also stands for the world of talent Hennigan exhibits as a professional poker player. As he played more and more poker recreationally in between pool games and other betting, his game skills increased.
Soon he was playing professionally in Atlantic City and poker was supplanting pool as his main profession.
John Hennigan: From pool to poker for Johnny World
Generally a cash-game player, Hennigan has maintained a low profile in the professional poker world. Though his name isn't widely known to poker fans, he's highly regarded by fellow pros.
Both Daniel Negreanu and Gavin Smith have said he's one of the best players they've ever faced.
The regular public has slowly been getting to see some of that talent over the years as Hennigan has entered in more and more high-profile tournaments.
With a few deep spots in tournaments here and there - including a 19th-place finish in the 1999 World Series of Poker Main Event - Hennigan got his first chance at the spotlight during the 2002 WSOP.
He defeated a field of 156 players, including top 10 finishers Phil Ivey and Men "The Master" Nguyen, to win the $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. event for his first gold bracelet. He also capped off the year by winning the 2002 U.S. Poker Championship in Atlantic City.
In 2004, fortune smiled on Hennigan again during the WSOP. This time it was during the $5,000 Limit Hold'em event. Even with a second bracelet win, though, Hennigan maintained his low profile and continued to fly under the radar at tournaments, collecting cashes without drawing the public eye.
However, a World Poker Tour championship event win in January 2007 could change all that. Hennigan came out on top of a field of 571 poker players to win the WPT Borgata Winter Open main event for more than $1.6 million.
Not only was the win his biggest tournament cash to date, but it also tied him for a record held by Negreanu. They are the only two poker players to have won a WSOP event, a WPT championship event and the U.S. Poker Championship. Technically, Hennigan also has the advantage on Negreanu for this honor as well because he has one more WSOP bracelet than Kid Poker.
When asked if he thought the WPT win would make him more well known outside the poker circuit, Hennigan told PokerListings.com, "No, I don't, and I'm OK with how things are."
He may want to stay low-key, but if he keeps meeting with as much success as he has lately, that's going to be harder and harder to do. It's likely we'll continue to see Hennigan at televised final tables as his tournament career continues to grow along with his notoriety.
John is an extremely likeable guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor. John’s A-game is on a par with anyone’s. Unfortunately, he has not only a B-, C-, and D-game, but even letters far down the alphabet. I hesitate to call him a bad steamer, because he actually is capable of managing very well. He just gets down on himself at times and that is the main reason he is not always at the top.
A few years back, John laid me $19,000 to $5,000 against Tiger Woods in every tournament he played for the following two years. Tiger went on a tear, winning five of the next six tournaments he played in.
I was up almost $100,000 and John was calling me every week begging for a settlement. Each week, I turned him down. I was enjoying the bet, especially because it gave me a sweat every week Tiger played.
Finally, he pleaded that as a friend I had to settle because the bet had made him unable to play poker. He said, “I’m sitting here in Atlantic City playing $75-$150 trying to grind out $5,000 to $10,000 a week and every time I look up at the TV, I’m losing another $19,000."
We settled for a total of $200,000 and then Tiger cooled off. I might not have ended up winning anything.