Devonshire was a river card from calling it quits

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By Todd Lamansky

Pro poker player Bryan Devonshire loves the outdoors and wants nothing more from life than to have a family, “retire on a ranch, and live happily ever after.” Poker, which he views as little more than a job, is his means to that end. “Of course, it is work,” he said. “The whole point of poker right now is (purely) financial.”

He dropped out of USC in 2003 as a psych major (something that’s aided in his poker career) and moved to Colorado with the intention of resuming his education. He even found a job as a whitewater rafting and wilderness guide but was fired.

“It was at end of the season and I was looking for a job,” he said. “I was playing online in my free time and making more money than I could at any job I was looking for, so I eventually stopped looking.”

He worked as a prop player at a casino in Cripple Creek as well, laying the foundation of his poker education. “That was right before I became full time. I would take a bus up the hill to Cripple Creek and read books along the way.”

It was also the catalyst that ultimately kick-started his career.

Devonshire burst onto the scene in 2006 when he finished second in the World Series of Poker’s $500 casino employees event, cashing for $66,528 (and he wasn’t even working in a casino at the time). He was living in Minnesota, earning a living as an online cash-game grinder, playing $15-$30 and $30-$60 limit hold’em.

“I hadn’t really played tournaments at all, but I decided to go out. I’d been going to the series for a long time, too, just for the cash games, but that was the first World Series event I ever played. Since I had a current gaming license for the state of Colorado that expired in 2007, they let me play the casino employees event.”

Once a devoted cash-game grinder, he’s since shifted his focus to tournaments.

“After ’06, I decided I wanted to make a run at some sort of notoriety for obtaining endorsement deals. I felt like that was the easiest way to make a long-term living at poker, having passive income. That’s why I was pursuing tournaments so hard. I think, ideally, I’d rather just be a cash-game pro, but I don’t think I’m good enough to do that exclusively at this point. I think I can make a lot more money playing tournaments. I’m just better at them. I haven’t nailed down why. I think it has something to do with the aggression I learned from limit games growing up.”

Judging from his resume, it was a wise decision.

Devo, as he’s known in poker circles, has more than $2 million in live earnings, $661,354 from online tournaments, 12 WSOP cashes and even procured an endorsement deal. The past several months have been especially good to him. He won the $1K Omaha/8 event at the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond Classic in November, earned his first ring at the WSOPC Caesars (Las Vegas) in January, finished second in the $1,070 NLHE at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza in February, and followed that up with a third-place cash two weeks later in the $2,080 8-Game Mix at the Commerce Casino’s L.A. Poker Classic.

Winning the WSOPC at Caesars gave him enough points that “it would be kind of foolish to not try to get the extra 30 or so” he needed to qualify for the national championship this summer. He cashed twice at the WSOPC stop at Harrah’s Rincon, including a third-place finish in the $355 NLHE six-max event, so it looks like he’ll be adding one more to the 31 events (and $102K worth of buy-ins) he was planning to play, giving him 32 opportunities to take home his first bracelet at this summer’s WSOP, a good bet given the year he’s had.

Still, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Black Friday wreaked havoc on his livelihood, costing him at least 20 months of a lucrative endorsement contract with UltimateBet as well as $30,000 that remains in limbo, not to mention the convenience and profitability of playing online. But that wasn’t his lowest point. On his blog (devopoker.com) he once wrote, “I was a river card away from retiring in 2008.” Was he serious?

“It was March 2008,” he said. “I was in Reno with a bunch of the gool ol’ boys. I was on my way to Brokeville. It had been a frustrating past many months. I was pretty buried in make-up. I was cash broke. Then I lost credit-card roulette for dinner, then I lost my ass at Chinese poker. I had to borrow money to pay for the room. Come the main event, I played this pot for the chip lead with 18 players left and I got it all-in on the flop with pocket 10s vs. 5-5 and 6-7 on a board of 10-9-6. The turn was an eight, giving one guy the straight, and I’m like, ‘I quit. F— this game. It’s rigged. I’m going to the river to live in a tent and you’ll never see me again.’ Then I paired the eight on the river and, yeah, they still see me now.”