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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Princeton Grad Online Poker Millionaire

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With all the recent publicity surrounding Black Friday, even people who have never placed a bet online know that Internet gambling is officially illegal, due to the processing of deposits and withdrawals as poorly defined by law, in the United States. In spite of the legalities involved, up until April 15th, officially known as Black Friday among the poker community, millions of US players still played poker online and made a good living. Some even became millionaires - like Princeton University graduate Matt Hawrilenko from Boston.

By 2003 when the ‘poker boom’ started, Hawrilenko was a junior public policy student and varsity wrestler at Princeton. He was also playing poker online as “Hoss_TBF,” using his meager $100 deposit to play at the $0.25/$0.50 level. “Between wrestling and my studies, poker was really just a hobby at Princeton,” he said. “I played with friends and online a bit, but toward the end of my senior year, when most of my school work was out of the way, I started playing online more and more.”

Then in 2004 everything changed when Hawrilenko won an online satellite for the 2004 World Series of Poker’s Main Event, “and that’s pretty much how everything got kicked off,” he commented. Since then, he has become one of poker’s most respected pros and at only 29 years old, had a coveted WSOP gold bracelet and a sponsorship from Full Tilt Poker on his resume.

“Winning a bracelet is on every poker player’s list,” Hawrilenko said. “The bracelet is a way to prove to your aunt and uncle and people on the outside that you’re not a schmuck, or just a degenerate gambler. But the true test is how you do at the cash games.”

Proving he could take down the cash games as well as live tournaments, Hawrilenko moved up and starting playing at limits of $2,000/$4,000 where he slaughtered the games; earning $1.8 million playing online in just the first three months of this year. Then, Black Friday hit and Hawrilenko, along with thousands of other American players who depended on online poker to earn a living lost that income and were forced to rethink their future.  Many former online poker players, including Hawrilenko, are stepping away from home to play in more live tournaments and high stakes cash games inside brick-and-mortar casinos. “There are several things I have wanted to accomplish outside of poker for a very long time,” Hawrilenko said, “and this will give me the opportunity to do that.” Currently a research assistant of clinical psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., Hawrilenko wants to continue his academic pursuits and get his doctorate.

Looking back on Hawrilenko’s phenomenal success over the last few years, it is amazing what he has accomplished. His first job out of college was with the Susquehanna International Group (SIG), a technology-powered financial trading firm based in the Philadelphia suburbs. Some called Hawrilenko lucky when he landed the gig at SIG, but it was more likely astute insight from a company that was founded by poker players that led to hiring Hawrilenko. “I am at the company three months and all of a sudden I am flying out to Las Vegas on one of the partners’ private jets and they are staking me to play in the World Series of Poker. So, that was pretty awesome,” he said.

While on the flight to Las Vegas, Hawrilenko started talking about poker analytics and strategy with fellow Susquehanna employee Bill Chen - one of the most respected high stakes players in the world. They soon realized they both shared a mathematical approach to poker and shared similar views about the game. Recounting this discussion, Hawrilenko said, “We found that we could take a more academic approach and achieve success at the highest levels bit by bit. So, yeah, that is when I realized I could really make some money.” Commenting on his success, he added, “That first year, I made a fair bit more playing poker than I did at finance and by the second year I was making a lot more at poker than at finance.”

The online shutdown has sent many players scrambling to find ways to garner the income they used to make playing poker online. Hawrilenko admits he is one of the lucky ones who already has a future planned away from the virtual tables, “I am just so happy I had other things going on and had already started working on my transition when ‘Black Friday’ went down.”

One of those things Hawrilenko has going on is his seventh consecutive trip to Las Vegas, to try to add to his previous WSOP cashes and estimated $1.7 million in live tournament winnings. He is currently competing in several bracelet events, where so far, he has cashed three times: Event #15  $1,500 Pot Limit Holdem, he finished 62nd for $3,408; Event #21 he had a 16th place finish in the $10,000 seven-card championship for $20,916 and he finished 13th for $24,060 in Event # 27, the $10,000 Limit Holdem Championship event.

As for the future of online poker, until Black Friday, Hawrilenko, like thousands of other poker players, had hoped that over the past two years that the legalization of online poker was making headway, “Playing online in Canada and just about every other country is still legal, but I am fortunate in that I already had one foot out the door and started planning for my life after poker.” As for the future, he says, “One of the main goals I have is to one day go back and enjoy poker again without having to worry about a bank account.”

Information on Matt Hawrilenko found at

The goal of being able to play online poker again is shared by millions of poker players across America and hopefully they can reach that goal. According to a recent update courtesy of

“The (Nevada) state Assembly passed a stripped-down Internet gambling bill calling for the state to develop a licensing process for online poker businesses, a month after the U.S. industry melted down amid federal indictments.

Members of the Assembly unanimously passed the measure, which calls on Nevada regulators to design rules that would only take effect after the federal government legalizes online gambling.

It now goes to the Senate, and the sponsor said he expects it will pass on that side.”

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