The "whale" is the holy grail of poker - a big-moneyed, amateur poker player with a bottomless bankroll, an eye for the gamble and next-to-no sense of what's truly happening on the felt. In honor of the Discovery Channel's now-infamous Shark Week guest blogger James Guill is breaking down some of poker's biggest-ever donators in a five-part series we've dubbed #WhaleWeek. Next up: Dallas banker Andy Beal
Andy Beal is perhaps the best known whale in poker history. His battles with an elite team of poker pros dubbed "The Corporation" are the stuff of legend with the Texas billionaire wagering - and losing - more in one pot than many people will earn in their lifetimes.
From Broken TVs to Beal Bank
Andy Beal had an aptitude for business at a young age. In high school, he would acquire broken televisions to repair and resell for a nice profit. Shortly after graduating high school, he began to buy and renovate business properties. He sold those properties for a substantial profit.
By the early 1980's, Beal had graduated to renovating and reselling apartment complexes and began flipping them for millions. In 1988, he opened Beal Bank and six years later opened another branch in Las Vegas. Those companies have assets exceeding $9.5 billion. Throughout the years Beal has made money from financing casino properties to buying up airline debt. He's a shrewd businessman that has accumulated a personal net worth of $8.5 billion.
Beal's Poker Funded Early Business Ventures
Andy Beal has played poker since his college years. It has been widely reported that he was a fairly successful player during college and it may have helped fund some of his early business ventures.
His journey into poker history came after a visit to the Bellagio poker room in 2001. He played in games against several professionals and finished his stay up over $100,000. Beal was smart enough to know that his win was likely the result of running good, so he began to work on his poker game.
In time, Beal decided that he had the ability to take on the best in the world. The only thing he needed was a way to get them to play him. Ultimately, he put up so much money that the pros had no choice but to play him.
Andy Beal vs. the Corporation
Beal wanted to test his poker skills against the very best players in the world. And proceeded to challenge them to a series of heads-up Limit Hold'em poker matches. Starting in 2001, Beal took on a group of pros known simply as "The Corporation." This team consisted of Jen Harman, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Ted Forrest, Chau Giang, Gus Hansen, Todd Brunson and eventually Phil Ivey.
For the next three years, Beal played the pros in a series of matches with varying results. Limits first started at $10,000-$20,000 and moved up steadily to $100,000-$200,000. The book The Professor, The Banker and The Suicide King, written by Michael Craig, chronicles the matches between Beal and the Corporation until March 2004.
One of Beal's biggest accomplishments against the pros was taking down what was considered one of the largest hands in live poker history. A pot worth an impressive $11.7 million. Beal would ultimately lose $16 million to the Corporation as a whole and vowed never to play against them again. However, that changed in a big way in February 2006. Beal returned to battle the Corporation.
After a series of matches at the Wynn Casino he decimated the pros to the tune of $13.6 million. This prompted the pros to pool their resources in an attempt to recoup their losses. When Beal returned a week later the pros decided to put their fate into the hands of Phil Ivey. Over the course of three days, Ivey proceeded to embarrass Beal and emerged from the tables having won $16.6 million.
The $16-million loss prompted Beal to discontinue his challenge against the pros and he has yet to issue a new challenge.
Beal Still Plays Poker, Still Loses
Beal has kept true to his word and has not reopened his challenge to the pros, but he may still have dropped large sums elsewhere. According to reports in 2011 Beal took part in some underground poker games including actor Tobey Maguire and billionaire Alec Gores. Some reports claim Beal lost over $50 million in the course of three days while others claim that those losses may be inflated. If those reports are true, then Beal is quickly approaching losses of $100 million lifetime in poker.
While that pales in comparison to his overall wealth it's more money than most pros will ever hope to make in their career. Beal still plays the game today but on a recreational basis. He has been spotted in Vegas poker rooms while in the city on business but still stays away from playing the Vegas pros. Of course, should he ever decide to give the Corporation another crack at his money, a chair will be available.
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