Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
Andy Beal may very well hold two distinctions when comparing him to all the other “Where Are They Now” subjects that have been profiled over the last two years. The first one is that among casual fans and observers of the game of poker, he may be the least known among the group. The second is that he has almost undoubtedly played for higher stakes than anyone not only on this list, but in the world, save for those that have played against him – more on that later. In American society most people are impressed to hear about how a once poor man or woman became a self made millionaire. In Andy Beal’s case you will be even more impressed, as he is a self made billionaire.
Throughout his childhood, and obviously into adulthood, Beal has enjoyed poker, but as a youngster he was more interested in finding other ways to make a few dollars. Beal was born in 1952 in Lansing, Michigan, and one of his very first interests was TVs. No, he didn’t enjoy watching a lot of televisions; he began fixing them for what would amount to a tidy profit in the early 1960’s. When he was around 11 years old he began fixing broken televisions with his uncle. When televisions broke, people would either sell them for dirt cheap ($1-$2), or just throw them away. Beal and his uncle would salvage them, generally spend only a couple dollars on parts to fix the televisions, and then in turn sell them for upwards of $40 to $50.
When Beal was 17 years old he founded a security company called Central Security Systems, and operated out of his hometown of Lansing. This company also did well, earning quite a bit more money than his television operation, but by no means making him a rich man. Throughout Beal’s life he has not so much become bored of doing things, but instead he has wanted to try new things all the time. While the security system company was doing well, it was only a year or two into before Beal shut down the operation to move on to bigger things: houses.
At 18 years old Beal began buying houses that had either had some serious damage, or had actually been dislodged from their original locations. In the middle of the night he and a friend would move these houses to a new location if they thought they could be salvaged. Pretty soon Beal began renting out a few of these houses, and they would become the first actual business at which Beal made a profit. During this same time Beal had his first taste of failure as a businessman, a feeling that he would have few and far between, when he bought a local race car track, but was unable to revive it. Luckily this did very little, if anything, to deter the ambitious Beal.
The subject of school was always a bitter subject with his mother. Beal had attended classes at Michigan State and Lansing Community College in an attempt to appease his mother, but his heart wasn’t in it, because in his mind he was already doing what he wanted to do. Beal would eventually drop out of school in Michigan. After moving his business interests to Waco, Texas he decided he would again try to please his mother by attending Baylor University, but once again he dropped out, devoting all of his time to his business. While his mother was upset, it was very hard for her to ignore the success his son was having.
During the 80’s Beal started his own bank in order to have more financing for his real estate doings. By the year 1999, the bank, and Beal, was making $100 million a year.
Perhaps feeling like he had accomplished everything he could on land, he took to finding a way to make his mark on space. In a move that surprised most of his friends and business associates, Beal decided to open Beal Aerospace Technologies in February 1997. His reason for opening it was to provide a cheaper alternative to NASA when it came to launching satellites into space. NASA was spending upwards of $80,000,000 to launch just one rocket, and Beal believed he could do the same while cutting the costs in half. From the start Beal’s plan seemed like a long shot, for no other reason than he was competing as a private sector against the likes of NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.
In the end though, Beal was unable to approve any of the launchings of his rockets. He had tried to get permission from a number of South American countries, but in the end all of them denied Beal. It’s easy to look at what Beal tried to do as a failure when you look at it by the numbers. After deciding he had no way to launch he rockets he subsequently closed the doors of Beal Aerospace in October 2001, after investing $200 million of his own money, without ever receiving a dime from outside sources. However, when he had a test-run near Waco, Texas he became the first private sector to ever launch a rocket in the entire world. Also, many of his ideas about making rocket launching a cheaper endeavor have been used by other companies, most notably the same companies he was in competition with.
Despite losing money on Beal Aerospace Technologies, Beal’s other businesses were doing just fine. In fact, he was still making money, despite the $200 million hit. Perhaps feeling a bit of contentment in his business dealings, Beal began spending more time away from the negotiating tables, and began pursuing other interests. Years ago when he turned 21, he took an interest of math with him to Las Vegas, and successfully learned how to count cards. On some trips he was able to earn upwards of $50,000 playing Blackjack, which in his youth was great money, but now it wouldn’t even make him break a sweat. Instead he began pursuing poker again, and because of that the poker world eventually got one of the best poker stories ever told.
Beal used computers and the help of other known poker players to become a better poker player himself, but he realized he couldn’t compete with the bigger names in the poker world – and that’s who he wanted to play against, the very best. That is, unless he could find a way to even the playing field. After careful consideration Beal was able to find the one way to do just that, and that was to move the stakes up, way up. He decided that if he could make a pro nervous with the amount of money they were playing for it, they would play their very best game. In 2001 he put this theory to test.
As chronicled in Michael Craig’s “The Professor, The Banker, and The Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All-Time,” Beal took on a group of professionals over the course of 2001-2004 known as “The Corporation.” “The Corporation” consisted of Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson, Jen Harman, Phil Ivey, Ted Forrest, Gus Hansen, Chau Giang, and Todd Brunson. Beal took on these players under his terms. They were to play Limit Hold’em, and only heads-up. At the beginning of the four year period the games started at “modest” $10,000/$20,000 blinds, but at times during his battles against the pros they would reach an astronomical $100,000/$200,000. The winning side fluctuated, Beal scored, the Corporation scored, and on it went - but Beal went home loser. Beal came back more than once, at one point leaving Las Vegas with a big win and rumor had it that the members of the Corporation were sitting around playing with a score sheet, trying to figure out how to pool enough money to play against him again. In 2006 Beal played against numerous members of the corporation and the winning side fluctuated once again – until he played against Phil Ivey. That match left the Corporation winner and Andy Beal walked away from poker.
Rumors swirled that Beal was back for yet another round against the professionals at the beginning of 2010. He was spotted in Vegas playing a poker game at Bellagio, but it turned out he was only there for business, and couldn’t help but play a little poker. Rumors always seem to swirl around Beal. Another rumor that has made the rounds is that Beal is indeed the mysterious “Isildur1.” They both share a lot of similarities, but for the most part, these rumors have been shot down.
Away from the poker table Beal, as mentioned, has an interest in math. Despite only taking a few preliminary math courses in college, he has a very gifted mind when it comes to math. He created what is known as “Beal’s Conjucture.” He has put up a reward of $100,000 if anyone can prove or disprove the number theory. To date, nobody has stepped up to the plate.
Beal chooses to keep much of his personal life private. What is known is that he still resides in Texas. He is also married, and a father of six.
*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*
*Andy with the race car photo credit: Matthew Mahon for Forbes*
*Article photo credit: Linda Geenen*