Is poker player the sort of career your parents envisioned for you after winning the Bee?
Definitely not. [Laughs] And it’s not something I envisioned for myself either. It’s something that happened more toward my last years of college [at Duke]. My parents have always been supportive of me no matter what. I think when I graduated they thought it would be one of those things that I did for a year and would then eventually go get a job. It started going really, really well, and they’ve been super supportive, and I can’t thank them enough.
What do other players say when they find out you’re a bee champ?
People love it. People love talking about it, love asking about it. They ask me to spell words. People find it interesting just because it’s a little bit of a different background than most poker players. It’s probably the question I get asked most about at the table.
Is there anything about the Bee that prepared you for high level poker?
The idea that helped me is that I could be the best at something if I worked hard at it. That’s something the spelling bee has done for me throughout my life. No matter what I do I could look back and say, ‘Okay, I was the best in the country at something, I can do it again.’ Especially poker. Whenever I’ve felt particularly down or not sure if I could become as good as I wanted to be, I could think back to the bee and what happened there and think, ‘Okay, all you have to do is work harder, be better and get better resources and you can get there.’
Does poker ever get as nerve-racking as the bee did?
I don’t know why, maybe I was just too young and dumb to understand what was going on, but I didn’t feel nervous at all about the spelling bee. With poker, there are definitely times where I’m not nervous exactly, but the stakes are pretty high and there’s more pressure because it’s financially involved. At the bee I didn’t have that much time to think about it.
What has been your biggest payday in poker?
I think I got third at a tournament in Macao last year for 840k
Is that more than you won at the bee?
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah.