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10 Surprising Sports Stars Who Found Success Playing Poker

Richard Seymour is one of many famous athletes who found success playing poker.

Why is it that many athletes flock to the poker table after their sports careers are finished?

One of the primary reasons is that poker doesn’t take much of a physical toll — finally giving athlete’s bodies a bit of a break — but is still fiercely competitive and mentally challenging.

In fact poker requires so little physical effort that it’s one of the only forms of competition that athletes can take part in on the side when they are still in their playing career.

That’s why it’s not a complete surprise that numerous athletes have had success parlaying their ultra-competitive instincts into poker. It might surprise you, however, just which athlete have posted big scores.

It’s worth noting that cash-game poker — which many athletes prefer — is not tracked so there’s no telling which athletes have crushed private games. It could be Alex Rodriguez or Michael Jordan for all we know. Tournament results are tracked, however, and we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 athletes with tournament results according to poker database Hendon Mob as of 2019.

10. Ronaldo (Soccer) — $45,760

Ronaldo, AKA Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima or “Brazilian Ronaldo”, is easily one of the greatest footballers of all time with two world cup victories for Brazil and over 200 goals for club and country.

After football, Ronaldo formed a friendship with noted Brazialian poker pro Andre Akkari who taught him the game. Eventually PokerStars decided to sign Ronaldo as one of its sports stars.

Getting signed by PokerStars does not guarantee success (as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. can attest) but the older Ronaldo shocked everyone with a deep run in the 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $10,000 buy-in Main Event.

Ronaldo created quite a stir with Brazilian poker fans before finally finishing in 26th place for a nice payout of $42,180. He added another modest score at the PCA the next year to bring his total to just shy of $50,000 in tournament earnings.

9. Martin Kampmann (MMA) — $54,540

Online poker and MMA have had a very close relationship over the years and their rise in popularity followed a very similar trajectory.

There have been a large number of MMA stars to sit at the poker table including Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffen and more. Even UFC announcer Bruce Buffer has been known to play some poker.

There aren’t many UFC fighters that have actually had success on the felt, however.

Danish fighter Martin “Hitman” Kampmann is an exception. Kampann received coaching from popular twitch.tv poker streamer Jason Somerville and would go on to win the Nevada Poker Challenge $1,000 buy-in Main Event for $52,740 in 2014. Not a bad score for a guy with multiple fight of the night honors over the years.

8. Orel Hershiser (Baseball) — $98,632

Baseball is a deeply strategic sport, with plenty of breaks in the action, so it makes sense that players from the MLB would find success playing poker.

Orel Hershiser, who was a three-time all-star for the LA Dodgers, is an interesting case in the poker world. He actually came to the game naturally when he moved to Summerlin, Nevada, and befriended a poker instructor.

Hershiser got the attention of PokerStars and the brand decided to bring him on as an early ambassador. Hershiser shocked everyone in 2008 when he finished fifth in the elite NBC National Heads-Up championship for $75,000. He added another $23,000 in poker winnings over the following years.

7. Boris Becker (Tennis) — $111,416

Legendary German tennis star Boris Becker is yet another athlete that garnered post-career sponsorship from PokerStars and managed to parlay the deal into significant winnings.

Becker had a number of notable scores on the PokerStars-hosted European Poker Tour over the years but his biggest win came on the World Poker Tour.

The German finished 40th in the 2009 WPT Five Diamond World Poker Championship for $40,855. That’s nothing compared to the $25 million in prize money he earned playing tennis but a nice retirement perk.

Tennis actually has a lot of similarities to poker in that it’s a mentally taxing sport and you’re playing for yourself. Famed poker pros Patrik Antonius and David Benyamine were both involved with professional tennis in their early years.

6. Shane Warne (Cricket) — $137,258

Poker has had a huge following in Australia ever since Joe Hachem won the 2005 WSOP Main Event and cricketer Shane Warne proved to be a solid competitor at the game.

The majority of Shane Warne’s results in poker have come at his home casino Melbourne, Australia. The spin bowler’s biggest result came in 2010 when he finished third in the Victoria Poker Championship $10,000 buy-in High Stakes Tournament for $35,899.

He is a huge proponent of the Aussie Millions, which remains the biggest poker tournament in the southern hemisphere and haven for high rollers.

5. Audley Harrison (Boxing) — $228,039

The outspoken Audley Harrison became the first British athlete in boxing to win an Olympic gold metal in the super heavyweight division in 2000.

A-Force would go on to have a number of highlights in the boxing world but would follow his boxing career up with a very successful stint in poker.

He started posting tournament results in 2006 and quickly made a huge score when he finished runner-up in a $2,500 Bellagio Cup III side event for $76,895 in 2007.

In 2019 Harrison posted his biggest score ever when he came third in a $2,100 buy-in event at the Venetian for $90,298.

Interestingly Harrison recently trained poker pro Antonio Esfandiari for a highly-publicized boxing match against celeb Kevin Hart. Suffice to say, Esfandiari won.

4. Gerard Piqué (Soccer) — $275,640

Poker has a huge following in international football ( or soccer if you prefer) and Neymar Jr. and Cristiano Ronaldo are both big fans of the game.

One player who is underrated in that regard is world-class Spanish defender Gerard Piqué. Piqué has pretty much won everything you can in football including a World Cup for Spain and multiple Champion’s League titles. And he’s married to pop-star Shakira.

He also loves poker and plays it without a contractual obligation.

Fortunately Barcelona, where Piqué lives and plays football, is also home to one of the biggest poker series in the world: EPT Barcelona.

Piqué has made a habit of making huge scores at EPT Barcelona and finished fifth in a €25,500 buy-in high roller event for $152,467 in 2017.

Who knows what the future holds for Piqué as he’s only been posting poker results since 2011 and he’s already racked up $275,000. That’s in addition to still being an active world-class footballer. Once he’s retired it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Piqué rocket up this list.

3. Teddy Sheringham (Soccer) — $329,475

Gerard Piqué might be a fantastic poker poker player but he’s actually not the footballer with the biggest results in the game (at least yet).

That honor instead goes to England’s Teddy Sheringham. The Manchester United legend has been posting poker results going all the way back to 2005 and has been remarkably consistent over the years.

Sheringham has considerable bragging rights over most of his colleagues on this list because he was able to make an EPT final table in 2010. The former striker finished fifth in EPT Vilamoura for an eyebrow-raising $118,346.

Sheringham obviously has a talent for cards but has apparently avoided the tables for the most part since 2014 when he began to coach football.

2. Fatima Moreira de Melo (Field hockey) — $540,099

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Fatima Moreira de Melo unless: 1. You’re Dutch. 2. You’re a die-hard field hockey fan.

That hasn’t kept Moreira de Melo from becoming one of the most successful athletes to ever transition into professional poker.

Moreira de Melo won gold playing for the Dutch squad at the 2006 World Cup and added an Olympic gold metal in Bejing in 2008.

After retiring from field hockey she got the attention of PokerStars who signed her to what ended up being the longest term contract the company has offered to a former athlete.

It’s easy to see why. Outside of being an outspoken ambassador for poker around the world, Moreira de Melo has proven to be a fierce competitor at the poker table.

Instead of getting lucky with one big score, Moreira de Melo has spread her results over the years and been a consistent performer around the globe. She’s had significant cashes on the EPT, WSOP and the Masters of Poker in Amsterdam.

1. Richard Seymour (Football) — $577,041

The #1 on this list is somewhat of a surprise considering he didn’t have any poker results until 2014.

We’re talking about three-time Super Bowl Champ Richard Seymour. One of the best defensive tackles in the history of the NFL, Seymour played in seven Pro Bowls and is considered the best #6 overall draft pick of all time.

Seymour started posting consistent results in 2014 in Florida but started making bigger and bigger scores around the world at WPT and WSOP stops.

Finally, in 2018, Seymour got the attention of the poker world when he finished third in the elite $25,000 Roller event at the PCA. He outlasted several notorious card sharks including Daniel Negreanu and Justin Bonomo to earn $376,360 for his efforts. It’s the single biggest score by anyone on this list.

Seymour might just be warming up as he already has seven significant cashes since his PCA score. For the time being Seymour is in a league of his own.

Honorable Mentions

There are a number of athletes who are incredibly passionate about poker but didn’t quite crack the top 10 in terms of earnings.

First and foremost is likely former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who often played poker in his downtime for swimming and is a huge fan of the game. Phelps has never had a contractual obligation to play poker, he just loves the game.

Next up is superstar footballer Neymar Jr. who is another huge poker fan but actually got a sponsorship deal from PokerStars to promote the game for a couple years. Neymar Jr. didn’t play many official tournaments but did manage to win $21,072.

Former Celtic Paul "The Truth" Pierce also enjoys playing poker and has even been known to play four-card Pot-Limit Omaha at the World Series of Poker.

Finally we have NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo who made a very deep run in the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event, eventually finishing in 634th place for $19,227. He outlasted nearly 7,000 players in the tournament.