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David Williams has been a professional poker player for more than a decade. With more than $8.6 million in live tournament earnings and significant online poker performances, Williams is a familiar face to fans who have been following the game since the days of the poker boom.

The former Magic: The Gathering player stepped on to the big stage of poker not long after he got into poker. Williams won an online satellite to the World Series of Poker $10K Main Event in 2004, and he not only made the final table but finished in second place only to Greg Raymer. Williams captured $3.5 million for his runner-up spot but also a sponsorship with Bodog, which lasted for several years until he transitioned to a higher-profile position as a Team PokerStars Pro in 2010.


Among Williams’ biggest poker accomplishments, he won a WSOP bracelet in 2006, a World Poker Tour Championship title in 2010, and trophies in events from the Bellagio Cup to the WSOP Circuit, from the European Poker Tour to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He also won a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) on PokerStars in 2009.

Not His First Television Rodeo

There has been a trend in the past few years of poker pros joining the casts of reality television shows. Jean-Robert Bellande was on Survivor, Vanessa Rousso nearly won Big Brother, Maria Ho and Tiffany Michelle took a run on The Amazing Race, and Fatima Moreira de Melo won the Dutch version of Survivor. So, when David Williams announced that he was on primetime Fox cooking show MasterChef, the only surprise to most was that he had such an interest in cooking.

In fact, this wasn’t even Williams’ first appearance on a television show. Spike TV aired a show in January of 2006 called King of Vegas as a competition of gamblers who had to show their skills in eight different casino games. There were some amateurs in the lineup, but among the poker pros was Williams, alongside Mike Matusow and Evelyn Ng. He made it to the tenth and final week of that show, ultimately eliminated in Mini-Baccarat in third place.

Admittedly, parts of the poker boom were not our proudest moments in this industry. But I digress.

Williams was also on poker television shows numerous times. Of course, his poker debut came in 2004 at the WSOP Main Event on ESPN, but he also appeared on shows like Poker Royale and Poker After Dark, as well as other televised tables at WSOP and WPT events. He was no stranger to the lights and cameras when he headed to the MasterChef kitchen. He admitted that he was afraid he would be nervous when he first cooked on the set, but his experience in TV poker erased that anxiety.


Poker Skills in the Kitchen

The use of strategy helped Williams in numerous situations on MasterChef. When he made it to the top 20 chefs, he put his odds knowledge to work right away. “With 20 left and one going home, that meant I was 95% to make it to the next stage. With only 5% chance at elimination, the proper strategy was to play it safe, so I made the decision to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid (like serve raw meat) and not take any risks.” That worked.

In Episode 7, he knew that despite being a part of a team challenge, each player has to look out for themselves. In poker, there is only one winner. He put that to use. “The goal is to win. If any of you reading this are ever in a competitive game with one winner, you better do everything you can (within the rules) to get ANY advantage offered.” Two episodes later, he admitted how tough the team challenges were. “I prefer to work by myself. One of the things I enjoy best about being a professional poker player is that you don’t have to work with anyone, it’s every man or woman for himself at the tables.”

Williams also used tilt against his opponents, though he became the victim of it as well. In his attempt to put other chefs on tilt, he did that in Episode 10 to opponent Nathan: “I saw he was very frustrated and it was clear now was the time to go back at him and put him ‘on tilt.’ Tilt is a poker term for when you are not thinking clearly and making bad decisions because of that frustration.” And it worked. But in later episodes, he allowed it to happen to him. In Episode 14, he threw a champagne bottle to the ground. “You might think for a second of throwing your mouse into your computer screen (I know many that have done this) when you lose a big pot playing online poker, but usually your brain is quick to tell you that nothing good comes from this and you’ll just have to buy a new monitor. Well I’m no different. I have never thrown or broken anything in frustration in my 35 years of my life, until now. In this moment, I decided to let loose.” Despite his moments of tilt in the later episodes, however, he never tilted enough to lose a spot on the show.

In the finale, in which Williams was up against two other chefs for the win, he kept his cool and had fun with the meals he prepared. As a true poker professional, he played for the win and put all of his chips into the pot with his course choices. He did not emerge as the ultimate victor, but he did enjoy the experience.

Moreover, Williams was inspired to do the show by his love of cooking and from the encouragement of his daughter, Liliana. “She told me I was the best chef in the world (she’s easy to impress), and she was sure that I could win a white apron. Ultimately, I decided to audition and here I am. Thank you, Liliana!” She appeared on one episode mid-season and became the star of the show, as everyone was captivated by her. And she appeared again on the finale, as did Williams’ mother, and they were clearly proud of him.

Poker is proud of him, too. Thanks for giving us a fun television experience, David!

Note: All quotes from Williams were taken from his MasterChef Facebook page, where he wrote notes about nearly every episode to give insight into his thoughts and actions.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.