Professional poker players are typically known for being good with numbers, adept at figuring out percentages and the likelihood of winning various pots dependent upon a number of variables. But one particular poker pro has skills that go beyond the numbers, dealing more with words found on the printed page.
Pratyush Buddiga, a recent winner of the $25,000 Aria High Roller that earned a payday of $543,683, is a former Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. Buddiga won the spelling title in 2002 as an eighth-grader, claiming victory in heads-up competition by going all-in on the word “prospicience.”
For that victory a dozen years ago, Buddiga took home an engraved winner’s cup, $12,000 in cash, up-to-date volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, and a set of Great Books of the Western World. Somewhere along the way, he likely picked up a poker book or two, as Buddiga’s lifetime earnings in live tournaments have now surpassed $3.2 million.
Spelling champ turned poker champ
His half-a-million score at the Aria just a few days ago followed the biggest cash of his career last month when a 3rd place finish at the HK$500,000 Super High Roller at the APPT 2014 Asia Championship of Poker in Macau was good for $ 844,571. Macau has been good to the Colorado pro during his poker career, as he also cashed for $772,870 for landing in 8th place at the HK$1,000,000 GuangDong Asia Millions last year.
With regard to WSOP events, Buddiga has been going deeper each year since his first cashes in 2011. He knocked on the door of a gold bracelet in 2014 by finishing 13th, 11th, and 7th at the Rio in Las Vegas, adding more than $100,000 to his bankroll.
The 25-year-old has spent the last few years traveling the world to play poker, with cashes in Barcelona, the Bahamas, Monte Carlo and Berlin listed on his Hendon Mob resume. His journeys and destinations are likely well-known to Buddiga, as he also won the AAA Travel High School Challenge in 2005 as a high-schooler.
That competition focuses on geography and travel, and allowed Buddiga to win a $25,000 scholarship. He used his winnings to earn a degree at Duke University, choosing that institution of higher learning as much for his love of basketball as for academic reasons.
Started playing online in college
During his junior year at Duke, Buddiga began playing online poker tournaments, starting at lower stakes and gradually working his way up to higher buy-ins. Following graduation, he made the transition to live tournament action.
The talented poker star has come a long way since those champion spelling bee days that required more than 20 hours a week of studying. After nailing down the spelling title, Buddiga gained even more fame by appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
The talk show host invited Snoop Dogg to the same show, which resulted in a comedic spelling bee between Buddiga and Snoop that employed a rap theme. Although not often on the losing end of competition, Buddiga had a bit of trouble with Snoop’s language, bombing out on the word “fo’ shizzle.”
Spelling prowess apparently runs in the Buddiga family, as his brother Akshay finished in third place in 2004. Spelling bee fans may recall that the younger Buddiga fainted during the competition, which resulted in Akshay being “easily a bigger celebrity than I am,” his older brother told the Duke Chronicle.