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Gaming Guru

Phil Hevener
 

Poker's Very Own Robin Hood

21 May 2004

CALIFORNIA -- Californian Barry Greenstein has become poker's best-known philanthropist, winning big-money tournaments and then turning most of that cash over to charity.

He's been called a Robin Hood because of the gifts he makes after winning events such as those sponsored at several U.S. locations by the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe.

Robin Hood or not, others know the 49-year-old Rancho Palo Verdes resident as one of the best high-stakes players.

Greenstein, who retired in 1991 at 36 after making a fortune in the software business, now makes his living playing in side games at other gambling tournaments.

He has played in a number of the Horseshoe's World Series events. He was also at the Bellagio's recent World Poker Tour championship. Greenstein doesn't worry about trying to hang around in any single tournament event if the flow is not going his way. He'd rather get out and concentrate on side games where a single pot may be worth six figures.

Greenstein does, however, make time for tournaments specifically to earn money for charity.

His tournament prize money so far in 2004 totals more than $1.7 million. Last year's wins include $1 million in a stud event at Hustler magazine Publisher Larry Flynt's Hustler Casino.

The publicity generated by his giving also has helped produce additional aid for some of charities he supports.

Greenstein explained that his charitable efforts began as an effort to teach his kids a lesson.

Although they had more than they needed, the gambler wanted his children to understand the squalid conditions that define life for millions of other children around the world.

So the Greenstein family decided to adopt two children, a boy and a girl to whom they sent monthly support.

Greenstein's research eventually led him to his "primary charity," Children Inc., a child sponsorship program affiliated with orphanages, schools and similar facilities and services in the United States and around the world.

Greenstein notes that his large donations to Children Inc. and other needy groups also provide a helpful rationale for his time away from home.

"The kids can tell people their father is out trying to do some good, rather than, `He's in Las Vegas playing poker,' " he said.

When he's not playing for charity, Greenstein can usually be found in private games with poker legends such as Bellagio President Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese and Johnny Chan.

Bellagio poker boss Doug Dalton likens Greenstein to the late two-time World Series champ Stu Ungar who jumped right into the big time, not finding it necessary to develop his skills in the small games.

"With Barry there never seemed to be any $3-$6 hold`em on the way up. A lot of people have the feeling he just sort of burst on the scene. It's just kind of amazing," Dalton said.

A head for math has probably helped Greenstein's poker playing.

Greenstein was a few hours short of a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Illinois when a combination of business and professional issues prompted him to abruptly change course. But he dismisses the notion he has been a consistent big winner in both tournaments and side games merely because of his math background.

"It doesn't hurt to have a certain streak of fearlessness. Success in the big games is more a matter of psychology than it is the math," he said

Brunson, a two-time World Series winner, said: "Barry's just a good player. He reads people about as well as anyone."

Veteran poker executive Eric Drache, who has played in some of the games where Greenstein was present, also credits Greenstein's record to his "excellent sense of when to be aggressive."