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A Poker Life: Bryan Devonshire

by Erik Fast |  Published: Dec 28, 2011

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Bryan DevonshireIn some ways, Bryan Devonshire is much like many other young professional poker players. He dropped out of college and went on to cash for millions in poker tournaments (more than $2.2 million over the last five years).

Unlike many of his peers, however, Devonshire has little desire to make money for its own sake and even less interest in being a jet-setting playboy.

Devonshire makes time to keep up his love for outdoor sports, spending time after the World Series of Poker each year on a secluded ranch in Colorado.

With experience in youth ministry, Devonshire eventually hopes to return to using his skills as an outdoorsman and guide to help children. Despite a love for the game and seven figures of cashes, Devonshire sees poker as a means to a greater end.

This is his story.

A Nature Boy

Devonshire was born on July 24, 1981 in Arcadia, California. He spent his childhood in the neighborhoods just east of Los Angeles, with his family moving a few times before eventually settling in San Dimas, California when Bryan was in the third grade.

They stayed there until he graduated high school. During this time, Devonshire began to take an interest in the outdoors.

“I had always kind of been a nature boy, one way or another. My dad was into motocross and desert dirt-bike racing. He was actually a professional dirt-bike racer throughout the 70’s — the Baja 1,000, Parker 400 and all of those races.”

Perhaps inspired by his father’s adventures, Devonshire took up his own outdoor hobbies in high school.

“I got into white-water rafting through this church I was working at. They had boats and would take the kids rafting, so they sent me to guide school and offered me a job. I did that during the summers before I moved to Colorado. There is also a camp that I worked at that got me outdoors and working with kids, and I absolutely loved that.”

Youth Ministry

Devonshire had grown up going to church, but his family went less frequently after San Dimas. Devonshire was on his high school wrestling team, and a teammate got him into a local youth group.

“The camp that I worked at starting in the summer of 1999 between high school and college was a Christian-based camp, and that’s where I began to get into the outdoor stuff. I was involved in youth ministry, and worked with a couple youth groups. I guess I could have been considered a youth pastor, but I don’t have any sort of theological training.”

After that summer, Devonshire began attending the University of Southern California. He completed seven semesters before dropping out.

“I wasn’t a very good student. I was just kind of following the path of, ‘Hey you should go to college and get a degree.’ I didn’t really feel like I wanted or needed one. That was around the point where I was really rolling in poker, in my junior year. I was playing online and traveling to Indian casinos.”

Devonshire had grown up around card games, and had been playing poker since 13.

“I definitely grew up playing card games with my family, lots of cribbage and hearts. I can distinctly remember my parents having game nights, and even sometimes poker nights with nickel-dime-quarter betting.”

Fed up with college, and beginning to make more money playing poker, Devonshire decided to move to Colorado in 2003 to take a job as a full time wilderness guide.

Supplementary Income

Devonshire was working as an adventure guide for a faith-based organization called Peak 3 Outfitters.

“The crux of our year was the 12 weeks of summer when we were at camp. Online poker supplemented that income. I only made $900 a month on salary and the rest had to come from somewhere.”

He was playing online, and also working as a prop player at a room called the Midnight Rose in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

After that summer, he was not rehired as a guide so he just kept playing online. In his first month he made $3,000. The next month he made $4,000, and Devonshire decided that he could survive from poker as he looked for more work.

Devonshire was essentially a self-taught player at that point.

“I didn’t know anybody else that was a professional, and I didn’t know where to find them. Everything I did were just plays that I came up with on my own. I thought that if I made $100 a day that was enough to live of off and so I’d wake up at 11 a.m., fire up four tables of $2-$4 limit hold’em and make $100 in about two hours; then go climbing. I don’t care about money, and that has nothing to do with theology. I care about money as a means to an end, for freedom.”

Focusing On Poker

Devonshire was able to make enough from poker to continue his lifestyle in Colorado, keeping up his skills as a guide in service of his ultimate goal.

“My dream was, and still is, to start some sort of a camp for children. I would love to take inner-city kids to the woods or out to a ranch and surround them with adults who care about them. I think that is what I want to be doing, so I decided I was going to make poker a means to an end.”

Devonshire went to Minnesota to get married to his then girlfriend, Shay. It was there that he first met a community of guys who were professional poker players, and it helped Devonshire grow.

“I got a lot better really fast, and finally started moving up in stakes. I decided to head out for the WSOP in 2006.”

Devonshire still had a gaming license from propping, and was able to play in the casino employee event. He finished second in the event for $66,528.

“It was my first taste of the tournament lifestyle, and I had a blast so I decided I wanted to give poker a shot.”

Reconciling Poker and Faith

It was at this point that Devonshire really decided that poker would be his primary job.
He says that it wasn’t easy integrating this decision with his Christianity.

“As far as the faith-based stuff goes, I’ve really struggled with that a lot in my transition from working at a church to being a full-time gambler. My ex-wife Shay would get shot down from jobs at churches because I was a poker player. I really received a negative backlash from the Christian church, and it really turned me off to the church in general.”

Devonshire ultimately did decide to move to Las Vegas to focus on poker, and his decision was not met favorably by his then wife.

“She went nuts at that point, and long story short is that was basically the end of our relationship.”

Devonshire played cash games, and steadily built up a bankroll from $40-$80 limit hold’em at the Venetian, and also doing well in smaller tournaments.

Raising the Stakes

“I was playing a $100-$200 mixed game just before the $25,000 WPT Championship in 2007. A southern gentleman in the game suggested that we all put in $5,000 and we’ll just run it, and whoever wins will play the $25,000. I told them, ‘You should all just give me $5,000 and let me play, because I’m way better than all of you lumps.’ Afterwards he came up and offered to help put me in.”

Devonshire went on to cash for $46,410 in the event, and continued to play larger tournaments with the support of the same backer through the end of that summer. With that deal in place, Devonshire finished second in a $1,500 WSOP Omaha eight-or-better event for $140,336.

The following year was even better on the tournament circuit. Devonshire had two major scores, including a second in the 2008 WPT Challenge for $271,625 and a 12th-place finish in the 2008 WPT Championship, giving him back-to-back cashes in that prestigious event.

It seemed as if Devonshire’s decision to give professional poker a try, though it had trying consequences early, was beginning to pay off.

The Main Event

In the following years Devonshire continued winning.

He won his largest title to date in the 2010 WSOP Circuit $5,000 Championship. But his biggest professional accomplishment came at the 2011 WSOP main event.

The event attracted a 6,865 player field. Devonshire lasted all the way to the final two tables, eventually finishing 12th for $607,882.

“I didn’t realize how much it hurt deeply going broke 12th until I was watching them play seven handed at the final table, sitting 20 feet away as they’re playing, knowing that it so easily could have been me sitting there. The wheels on the bus fell off, and I don’t think I did anything wrong. When I went broke, it was no sweat at all. I’ve played enough online and live that my emotional attachment to a bust out is minimal. This is still sinking in. It was definitely a lot of fun, and one of the coolest experiences of my life.”

Living A Poker Life

Despite the $607,882 being the biggest score of Devonshire’s career, it was not enough to compel him to move on from poker.

“I don’t think I’m ready on a skill level, on a maturity level, or on a monetary level yet to settle in and start a camp. Poker is still my main focus, and it’s pretty exciting to be able to do something on the world stage. I am blessed to have this opportunity, and stoked that people consider me one of the better players. For now, I’m going to keep playing, and after the WSOP I get out of dodge and head out to Colorado to keep up my skills as a guide.” ♠