Share this on

There’s been a lot of talk during recent years about whether poker should be considered a sport or not. Both groups, those supporting the idea and those opposing it, have their arguments, and they all have some merits. This article will not be dealing with the aforementioned topic, but it serves as an apt introduction to the actual topic. There is one thing that makes poker different than most sports or competitive activities out there; how good you are directly correlates with how much money you’ve won playing.

There are clearly exceptions to this rule and further arguments could be made about it, but in general, people playing poker professionally are in it primarily for the money. Sure, competition is nice, outplaying the best players in the world is fun, but sitting in a game with a couple of guys who are pretty much clueless about poker and have an endless supply of money would probably constitute the ultimate dream of every professional player.

The biggest poker games usually revolve around one or two whales – and they are the topic of this article. The term whale simply describes a person who is far out of his or her league, but still sits down to play because they have a lot of money at their disposal and they don’t mind losing it. So we bring you a couple of the most famous whales of poker known to human kind.

Andy Beal

There are probably very few poker fans who haven’t heard about Andy Beal’s clash against ‘The Corporation.’ A very successful Dallas businessman, Beal’s wealth is estimated to be $11 billion, according to Forbes. While his business capability clearly cannot be disputed, his poker skills are not on a matching level.

Beal started playing poker when he was in college and took a real liking for the game. But in 2001, after spending some time on brushing up his skills, he felt ready to take on the best in the world. He knew what would attract the elites and he put an obscene amount of money on the line as a challenge. He was spot-on in his predictions.

Once the sharks feel the blood in the water, they will not give up until they capture their prey. The only problem pros had was matching Beal’s amount of money, as he was only interested in playing the highest stakes. That’s when The Corporation was born – a team of several professional players who put their funds together to play the businessman. The fact that they were all willing to put in basically most of their net worth into this match should have sounded an alarm bell in his head. But his ego was too big.

Over the course of three years, playing against different professionals from The Corporation that included the likes of Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Ted Forrest and, eventually, Phil Ivey, the billionaire proceeded to lose more than $16 million. He left Vegas and vowed to never play against them again – a promise he would fail to keep.

He returned in 2006 with a new challenge and The Corporation was all over it. This time, however, he started off on a heater, nearly depleting The Corporation’s initial bankroll. But they were all professionals and knew it was just variance. Beal apparently didn’t.

The pros regrouped and decided to send in the heavy artillery. They selected the one player many of the great players consider the best there is. When Beal sat across Phil Ivey, he was drawing dead; he just didn’t know it yet.

Ivey proceeded to destroy the Dallas banker in the ultra high-stakes match, returning all of the previous losses and winning $6.5 million on top. At this point, Beal decided he had enough. He stopped the challenge, returned home, and hasn’t issued a new one again. Although financially this probably didn’t influence him much, it was a huge hit on his ego, causing him to finally quit. The Corporation was certainly sad to see him leave.

Guy Laliberté

I almost feel bad writing about Laliberté. Overall, he is a great guy, devotes a lot of his time to different charities and he seems like a nice person. But when it comes to poker, he cannot be omitted from the list.

The founder of Cirque de Soleil, Guy’s fortune is estimated to be around $1.8 billion, according to Forbes’ list for 2014. Although it seemed he would probably spend his life as a performer, in 1984 he started Cirque de Soleil, which should have been a one-year project, but it turned out Laliberté would strike gold with it, as it soon became one of the greatest spectacles in the world.

His fortune enabled Guy to pursue numerous hobbies as well, amongst which poker takes a special place. The Frenchman enjoys playing in the high stakes games, butting heads with the best in the game. It is quite possible that he doesn’t really concern himself with the losses, but with more than $25 million worth of them (and that’s only online), he is easily near the top of the list of guys who pumped the most money into the poker economy. This number could be greater as there are always speculations about his new screen names. But his online activity lately has really decreased, no doubt to the disappointment of many, as his interest shifted more to the live tables.

My losses were bigger when I used to play online only. I practically don’t play online anymore since my poker passion has evolved to a more social and community-based activity. I hope that my biggest pot will be coming up at the BIG ONE!

Speaking strictly in poker terms, Guy will still be remembered for more than his losses at the tables.  In 2011, he prompted foundation of the ‘Big One For One Drop’ tournament with a $1 million buy-in, $111,111 of which goes toward his One Drop charity organization that strives to provide access to clean drinking water around the globe.

New Breed of Whales – ‘Macau Businessmen’

Every now and then, local waters dry up a bit. At times like these, the sharks have to move to international waters in search of new whales. That’s what happened with Macau. During the last couple years, it has become the new center of high-stakes poker, gathering rich Asian businessmen, and their presence attracts the best in the game to the tables. Getting into the juiciest games isn’t that easy, as these guys can be quite picky about whom they let in, but it is well worth a bother.

Numbers from these games are usually kept from the public and poker fans are grateful for every leaked piece of information about some huge marathon session in which a couple million changed hands. But some of these ultra-rich whales have been finding their way to the online felt and the info usually leaks somewhat easier in the virtual world.

Just recently, a thread appeared on 2+2 forums announcing that identities of two of the big online losers have been revealed. The player hiding behind the nick ‘MalACEsia’ revealed himself as being Paul Phua, well known in the high-stakes Macau circles. According to the HighstakesDB, he is down well over $4 million since his nick was first tracked about a year ago. Not much information is known about Phua, apart from the fact that he is a rich businessman currently residing in Malaysia and, apparently, really enjoying the high-stakes poker action without much concern for losses.

Another player who came forward is Chun Lei Zhou. Although according to some rumors, Zhou is doing well in the Macau live games, his online handles ‘samrostan’ and formerly ‘patpatpanda’ are down nearly $9 million, according to HighstakesDB. How Zhou came into his money or what his day job is remains a mystery, as it is often the case with these guys. While they enjoy a good gamble, they seem to really appreciate their privacy and would rather avoid sharing details of their personal and professional life with the world. Considering the amounts of money that exchange hands, combined with the fact that poker is basically just a hobby for most of these guys, it is not that hard to understand why.


There are many more whales in the great sea of poker, but it’s hard to fit them all into one article, so Part 2 is probably in order. The important thing is that the poker economy never seems to completely run out of whales – as soon as one or two make their exit, a few more enter the scene and it’s what keeps things moving, especially at the highest levels. Speaking strictly about the virtual felt, it is always interesting to try and guess the identities of the faces behind the aliases that regularly drop hundreds of thousands when they sit down to play, so it’s not only the pros who benefit from this, but fans around the globe as well, at least in terms of EV – entertainment value! 

Related Articles

Ivan Potocki

Ivan is an aspiring journalist writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. With a degree in English Literature and a fiery work ethic, Ivan adds a dynamic and flexible element to the PokerUpdate writing staff.