of the winningest poker players on the tournament
circuit, Barry Greenstein knows a little something
about attaining balance in life. He embodies generosity
in every sense of the word. Between finishing
his upcoming new book and saving the world's children
one tournament at a time, Barry sat down with
the Lizard for some small talk...
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PokerLizard: You are known as the “Robin
Hood” of poker, due to your donating of
the majority of your tournament winnings to charity
(over $2 million last year). Your primary charity
is Children Incorporated , that assists impoverished
children all over the world. How did you first
get involved with them? How do you decide which
charities you select?
Barry: It really started a result of my bad parenting.
I had spoiled my kids and I was trying to show
them that other kids aren’t as fortunate
as they are. I wanted to sponsor a boy and a girl
the same ages as my two youngest children. Most
of the sponsoring charities had a religious agenda
and I didn’t want that. I wanted to feed
and clothe children, not save their souls. Although
I know these religious people mean well, I don’t
like it when food or medicine are given to poor
children in return for adopting the giver’s
Anyway, I found the sponsoring charity Children
Incorporated. They have many religious people
working for them, but that isn’t their agenda.
Too many people only give of themselves if it
is part of their religious ethic. We don’t
have enough non-religious people who realize that
you can have good morals and ethics even if you’re
The people who helped get the clothes and money
to the kids I sponsor are called coordinators.
I won a tournament and gave $1000 to each coordinator
who worked for Children,
Inc. These people were not too well off either
since they lived in these impoverished areas and
additionally they were underappreciated in my
view. I kept winning tournaments and I used the
money for disaster relief and rebuilding of orphanages
around the world. Children, Incorporated has more
than 15,000 children in 21 countries on their
I made so much money in tournaments that I decided
to branch out. I now give half to Children, Incorporated
and half to other charities. I decided to help
where I came from and where I live. I gave money
to my high school in Chicago and the math department
at University of Illinois where I did my graduate
work. I gave to schools and a shelter near where
I live. My next plan is to give money to shelters
and orphanages near wherever I win a tournament.
I have a trick up my sleeve: I think this is the
best way to get the hosting casino to match my
I usually give to charities where I have personal
contacts, so I can track how every dollar is spent.
I have also given money to some charities suggested
by other poker players. I feel like I carry the
flag for all poker players, who as a group are
very generous people, but who aren’t fortunate
enough to be in the financial position that I’m
PokerLizard: How did you first get interested
in poker? How long have you been playing serious
poker? Who was most influential in your development
as a poker player?
Barry: I’ve been making money at poker
since I was twelve years old. I have always been
the biggest winner in every organized game in
which I have played for more than a year. I learn
from everyone, sometimes copying things they do
right and often guarding against things they do
wrong. I break poker down into components. If
I see someone bet a hand better than I would have,
I take note. I am very good at analyzing hands
after they are over. Most of my learning came
from correcting my mistakes after thinking about
different approaches I could have taken.
PokerLizard: In your opinion, what 3 characteristics
does it take to become a “World Class”
Player? Do these characteristics differ if one
wants to be a world class tournament player vs.
world class cash game player?
Barry: I give 25 characteristics, in order, in
my book. I also discuss the difference between
tournament skills and cash game skills.
PokerLizard: I’ve always heard that great
poker players will not leave a game if there are
favorable conditions. What is the longest session
of poker you have ever played and how do you keep
focused for such a long period?
Barry: I have probably played for three days
straight. I used to take cat naps at the table
if I could. I also was in top physical shape,
which helped. I am not as strong or as driven
as I was when I was younger, so I rarely play
more than 20 hours at a clip now.
PokerLizard: Most of the High-Limit games you
play in are “mixed” games. Do you
think varying the game helps you maintain focus
and keep the game interesting?
Barry: It just gives me a bigger edge. I am pretty
equal at all the games, but most players have
weak games and strong games.
PokerLizard: You have a new poker book coming
out in the near future - what type of book is
it? Who do you believe will benefit most from
this book? Do you fear you may give away too much
information in the book?
Barry: It is the first advanced poker book ever
written. I think it will help everyone, although
the advanced poker ideas may go over the heads
of beginners. I don’t have a beginner’s
section. I assume the reader knows how to play
poker at a reasonable level. If he doesn’t,
he can skip the poker and read the psychology
and philosophy. The books holds its own as a novel
about high stakes poker.
I probably give away too much. Many advanced
players who read it say, “You’re not
really going to publish these examples, are you.”
I have given it to the highest stakes players
in the world and they have all admitted that they
have learned from my book. Just recently, Tuan
Le read it and promptly won the Foxwoods WPT tournament.
Then he gave it to his friend Nam Le who unluckily
got knocked out in sixth place at the Bellagio
WPT with King-Queen all-in against King-Jack before
PokerLizard: Originally, the book you wrote was
going to be part of Doyle Brunson’s Super
System II. Which section of the book did Doyle
ask you to write? How flattering was it to have
the biggest name in Poker ask you to contribute?
Barry: I turned Doyle down for two years and
I started to feel guilty. Then I said “I’ll
take some notes about how I make money at poker
and I’ll see where it leads me.” The
result is my book. He gave me the option of keeping
it for myself instead of paring it down to be
a chapter in his book.
PokerLizard: When people talk about the biggest
games, to what limits are they generally referring?
Barry: We normally play $4,000-$8,000 limit and
some no-limit games with a $100,000 cap. That
is, $100,000 is the most anyone can lose on any
PokerLizard: What kind of tournament style do
you favor? Do you tend to play aggressively early
knowing that you can just move over to the lucrative
cash games if the tournament doesn’t go
Barry: I like starting off at bigger limits than
most tournament players would prefer. Yes, I do
play more aggressively than I might if I didn’t
have a side game to play in. I don’t want
to get worn out, because I will generally be playing
for big money later that night.
PokerLizard: What advice would you give someone
hoping to become a great player (not necessarily
a pro player)?
Barry: Normally, I advise people not to play
poker. I think my book will help people decide
if they are capable of becoming winning players.
PokerLizard: Are you blown away by the sudden
popularity of Poker? Do you get recognized much
by poker fans due to your success on the WPT broadcasts?
Barry: It’s amazing. I can’t go anywhere
without being recognized, especially by males
from 17 to 25. I also get many hugs from women
who thank me for helping children.
PokerLizard: Do you ever play online? If so,
how does your strategy vary from live games?
Barry: I only played online while I was writing
the short internet chapter in my book. I can’t
use all of my skills when I can’t see faces
and body language, but I still won more than $20,000
during the week I played.
PokerLizard: What do you like to do for fun when
you’re away from the tables?
Barry: Since I have done so much traveling to
tournaments lately, I am always happy to be home.
When I’m home, I spend time answering mail
and at this time I am going through the editing
and publishing stage of my book. I get a lot of
poker related phone calls and e-mail: interviews,
new television ideas, and new software ideas.
For fun, I play bridge on the computer. I would
like to get back on the golf course, but I haven’t
had the time.
PokerLizard: Which players do you most like to
match wits with? Are there any unknown up-and-comers
that we should be on the lookout for?
Barry: The young tournament players don’t
look too swift to me. But they all have a chance
to win a tournament. High stakes players salivate
at the thought of these players playing in the
big cash games.
PokerLizard: Have you ever thought seriously
about giving up poker, why?
Barry: I quit a few times when I thought I had
enough money to retire. I never needed much for
myself. Funny how having a family changes that.
PokerLizard: What do you enjoy most and least
about the professional poker lifestyle?
Barry: I always have had to be my own boss. I
quit for a while to work at Symantec, but that
was a condition even then. What I liked least
is that I felt like I was letting my life slip
away with out doing anything productive. Now that
I give money to charity, I don’t feel like
PokerLizard: If someone you knew was determined
to become a pro, what advice would you give them
any what pitfalls should they avoid?
Barry: This is a major part of my book. (hint
PokerLizard: If a rank amateur wanted to win
a bracelet at the WSOP
which game would your recommend he/she learn,
Barry: Razz is probably the easiest game to learn.
PokerLizard: Obligatory PokerLizard Question:
If you were Matt Damon in “Rounders”
how long would it have taken you to kick your
girlfriend to the curb and get with Famke Janssen?
Barry: I have never kicked a girlfriend to the
curb. I am still on good terms with every girlfriend
I have ever had. Someone once said, “Most
poker players go through girlfriends, you seem
to acquire them.”
PokerLizard: Congratulations on your success
and Thanks for your time. Next time were in Vegas
will drop by the Bellagio to say Thanks, that
is, before security kicks us out of the high roller
area. Looking forward to that book!
To keep up with Barry check out his website BarryGreenstein.com
this and other interviews in the Lizard Lounge
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