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A Poker Life: Eric Froehlich

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jun 01, 2012

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Eric FroehlichIn the last seven years, Eric Froehlich has earned over $3 million in both online and live poker tournaments, yet poker may not even be his best game. In fact, the 28-year-old pro spent a good portion of his teen years as one of the top ranked Magic: The Gathering players in the world.

After following in the footsteps of many other successful Magic players such as good friends David Williams and Brock Parker, Froehlich turned to poker and at one point became the youngest World Series of Poker winner in history.

This is his story.

A Hunger For Competition

Froehlich was born on February 9, 1984 in Philadelphia, but moved along with his family to Northern Virginia, about five miles outside of Washington D.C., just before entering the first grade. He’d always been competitive, taking up baseball, basketball and football before he discovered Magic when he was 11.

“I discovered that I had a real knack for the game early on and it didn’t take me too long to figure the game out at a level where I could start competing against other top players,” Froehlich said. “At my peak, when I was about 17, I was rated the number one player in the world. I was rated number one in the United States for a slightly longer period of time after a German player overtook me internationally.”

Though he was able to make quite a lot of money for a teenager during his days on the international Magic circuit, there’s no comparison to poker when it comes to the amount one can earn by playing.

“It’s definitely challenging to make a living playing Magic: The Gathering. The first-place prize in one of the larger, invite-only events is just $40,000 and there are only three of those each year that have fields as big as 400 players. Even the best players in the world will only clear about $30,000 to $40,000 in competitions and perhaps supplement that by writing strategy articles and teaching other players how to play the game at an elite level. Personally, I probably made about $60,000 during my teen years. More than anything, it paid for my trips around the world and even for part of college.”

Discovering The Game Of Poker

Froehlich more or less turned his back on the Magic world when he entered his freshman year at the University of Virginia.

Traveling was paramount to maintaining his status as a top Magic player, but Froehlich had all the tools he needed on his computer to become the next great poker player.

“The first time I ever played poker was in an online $5-$10 limit game,” he admitted. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know enough to start small. A friend of mine transferred me $600 and a word document filled with all of the good starting hands in hold’em and I just jumped in head first. Despite having no idea what I was doing, I won enough to keep me interested.”

Froehlich began thinking that poker was the next logical step in his life, at least as a profitable hobby. Knowing nobody in the poker world, he turned to a former Magic player who had successfully made the transition.

“Brock Parker, who won two bracelets at the 2009 WSOP, lived just across the state line in Maryland,” he said. “We had played Magic together since I was 13 and he agreed to teach me and even let me watch him and his roommates play online. By that time, he was already playing $100-$200, so obviously I had a very good resource that allowed me to progress my game fairly quickly.”

The Youngest Bracelet Winner Ever (For One Year, At Least)

After taking some time off from college because of a family member’s health concerns, Froehlich found himself living in Los Angeles with a few other Magic players, learning more about poker and getting himself geared up for his first World Series of Poker.
“I wound up winning my main event seat the day after I turned 21, so I decided to take my bankroll, all $5,000 of it, and play some WSOP events. I guess you could say that I didn’t plan it out very well.”

To say that Froehlich didn’t plan it out very well is a huge understatement. He was downright reckless and nearly went home broke after just three days of play.

“I actually played in the first and second event and failed to cash in both,” Froehlich said. “So after two tournaments, I was already down to my last $2,000. My two roommates then decided to play event number 3, the $1,500 limit hold’em tournament. I told them I wasn’t going to play, because, obviously I needed money to eat for the rest of the summer. They left to register and I was left alone in my room, thinking about my options. I wound up telling myself that if I went and played, there was a 99 percent chance that I’d regret it, but if I didn’t play, there was a 100 percent chance that I’d regret that as well. That was enough for me, so I played.”

Froehlich not only played, he played well. Well enough to win the whole damn thing, along with a gold bracelet and the first-place prize of $361,910. To top it all off, he broke the record for the youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history, a record broken by Jeff Madsen the next year and Steve Bilirakis the year after that.

“I’ve always lived pretty modestly, so I wasn’t about to go crazy spending all of that money. That score was just about getting some stability in my life. Obviously, it meant I could play a lot more poker and take the game more seriously, but more than anything, it allowed me some financial independence.”

Poker? As A Career?

Froehlich had little interest in taking up poker as a career, even after he won his bracelet. In fact, he didn’t even play another tournament after his first WSOP wrapped up until the following summer. Here, he was approached by Full Tilt Poker for an endorsement deal. ESPN decided to film Froehlich’s final table, giving him the exposure necessary to become a rising star in the poker world.

Of course, he justified all the hype by having another solid series, earning three cashes and his second WSOP bracelet, this time in a $1,500 pot-limit Omaha with rebuys event for $299,675.

“I had my doubts about being a professional poker player even after I won my second bracelet,” Froehlich confessed. “I had all of these news outlets such as Card Player and the like saying that I was two for two and asking me if I was going to be the next Phil Ivey. I knew better. I thought of myself as a decent to solid player, but I knew that I was far from being one of the best. It wasn’t until about a year later after some serious study and some more consistent success that I really decided to make poker my career. At the time, I had a good sponsorship deal and a number of people interested in backing me for big buy-in tournaments, so it really felt like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Froehlich jumped out onto the tournament circuit head first and although he continued to win online, he struggled with some of the bigger buy-in, deeper-stacked, live events on tour.

“My WSOP results have always been pretty good. In 2008, I actually managed to finish 12th, 12th, 13th and 13th in a period of just three weeks. So even though that was frustrating, I knew I was dialed in when it came to those summer events. But the way that I was playing World Poker Tour events, and frankly, anything with a deep stack, was just horrible. I just didn’t have the experience to adjust for those types of tournaments and that’s why I struggled to even make the money in those bigger buy-in main events. I started talking to some players like Justin Bonomo, Isaac Haxton and Scott Seiver and they really helped me with some changes in my game. A few months later, I was able to final table the WPT World Poker Finals at Foxwoods for a nice $232,000 score.”

Black Friday Hurts Poker Economy

Froehlich was consistent over the next couple years, racking up decent finishes live and online when all of a sudden Black Friday put a significant dent into his money making opportunities.

“My life was completely turned upside down in more ways than one. Almost immediately, my sponsorship money stopped coming in. I had played in a high roller event at the Mohegan Sun, and was supposed to be compensated for that as well. Then you add in the money that was still frozen online and all of a sudden we’re talking about a big number. Honestly, I haven’t done the exact math, just because I think that would be too depressing.”

The timing couldn’t have been any worse. Black Friday hit right before the WSOP, which had historically been Froehlich’s most profitable time of the year, and now threatened to derail his funding. But fortunately, the young pro was able to rebound in a big way thanks to a little help from his friends.

“I was in a weird situation going into the $25,000 heads-up event. Black Friday made a lot of people gun shy with their staking, so a lot of the people that normally bought action from me were suddenly telling me that it wasn’t going to happen. I understood, since this was undoubtedly going to be one of the toughest tournament fields of the year, but I still wanted to play. I started selling pieces of myself a month before the event at no mark up and discovered that a lot of my Magic friends and non-wealthy friends I had met in Las Vegas were more than willing to support me. The vast majority of the total stake bought came from friends putting up one to two percent, so it was great when I was able to finish third and give them a nice return on their investment.”

Froehlich earned $283,966 for himself and his friends and parlayed that success into another final-table finish in the $5,000 triple-chance event for another $240,876. Poker had been cruel, but it had also given back to him in spades.

Moving Forward

The 2012 WSOP will not be a make or break year for Froehlich, despite what so many other poker players have stated in the past.

“Everyone said that last year,” Froehlich explained. “Everyone told themselves that if it didn’t happen, they were going to look elsewhere. This year, I’m going to take a different approach. At the end the day, poker is poker and the WSOP is still just a tournament series. A good run, or even a bad run, isn’t going to change my opinion about my game.”

Froehlich still isn’t sure poker is what he wants to do for the rest of his life, but now he is focused on making decisions that are good for his overall well-being, not just his wallet.

“The future is up in the air at the moment, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with my chosen profession. For me, it all comes down to my level of happiness. If I can come home to the right person, a real bright spot in my day, then I think I could handle the monotony of a 9 to 5 job. But until that happens, I’m pretty content with how things currently stand.” ♠