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A Poker Life: Shawn Cunix

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jun 27, 2012


Shawn CunixShawn Cunix has seven figures worth of poker tournament earnings, but his story is not that of your typical poker professional. He owns 82 Verizon Wireless stores and three car lots, but he is not your average businessman either. The 38-year old has been married for 19 years and has three children, and it is the drive and passion for providing for his family that compels this intensely driven man.

This spring, Cunix experienced an emotional roller coaster, surviving a dangerous ATV accident and saving his son’s life in the process. Weeks later, he found himself the last man standing in the World Poker Tour Jacksonville main event, hundreds of thousands of dollars richer. That series of events fits perfectly into Cunix’s narrative, as he has spent a lifetime taking on adversity, coming back at it with determination, and emerging as a stronger and more prosperous man. This is his story.

From Jolly Ranchers To A Cell Phone Empire

Cunix was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. His parents separated when he was 3 years old. His family was poor and dysfunctional.

With his mother, who was battling health issues, unable to provide, Cunix took it upon himself. He took to buying Jolly Rancher candies in bulk and selling them to schoolmates. At the age of 12, Cunix had saved $17,000 and decided to move out.

“My family has lost every house that they ever owned. I own the house that they live in now, and take care of my family and just feel very blessed from God to be able to do that.”

Cunix graduated from Ohio State University in 1996, and went to work for a Fortune 100 company.

“I was making $35,000 and a company car, which was good in 1996. I heard that people were making six figures a year selling cell phones, and I said, ‘Well, put me up against any man after what I’ve been through, and I can compete in anything if I’m motivated enough.’”

Cunix quit his job, and made over $100,000 in his first year selling cell phones, becoming one of the top representatives in the country for AirTouch Cellular before it became Verizon Wireless.

“I did that for four years, and then in 2001 I went out on my own. I started out of my basement; I didn’t have enough money to buy my first store yet. After six months of beating the streets I had sold thousands of phones and saved enough money to open my first store. Now I have 82 stores and I take care of a lot of people.”

Providing For His Own Family

Cunix’s unstable childhood had a lasting effect on him, so much so that he vowed to always provide for his family.

He met his wife of 19 years, Chris and immediately fell for her, the only problem was that he was in a long-term relationship with another woman.

“I had been dating a girl for almost four years, and I feel bad for the girl I had been dating, but when I saw my future wife I said ‘I would treat her like a queen.’ Somehow we both broke up with our multi-year relationships, and now 19 years later here we are, madly in love.”

Shawn and Chris have three children now, but that does not mean that Cunix takes anything for granted.

“I still peek around the corner to see her naked, and she wouldn’t be mad if you print that because that’s the joke everywhere we go.”

A Lucrative Hobby

Shawn CunixWith a growing business and a happy family, Cunix began to play tournament poker as a hobby, but only found small success in his early going. Mostly, he played poker for entertainment.

“In all reality, it’s an out for me. I very much love my time with people. I treasure any time that I have with people, and that’s why I like the game. I really like the social aspect, so if everybody was an asshole, then I wouldn’t play anymore.”

Cunix plays only seven or eight events a year typically, and did cash eight times from 2006 through 2007.

“I had played a couple of events, and one day my son and I were sitting on the couch watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN, and he said to me, “Dad, you’ve got a job. How do you ever expect to win one of these things?” He’s only seven, but it kind of pissed me off (laughs.) But after he said that, I took a figurine off of his birthday cake as my card protector, and with that I won the very next event I entered, a $3,000 buy-in event at Bellagio.”

Cunix cashed for $127,370 there, and has had numerous six-figure scores since then.

From Fear To Victory

The spring of 2012 has gone much like the rest of Cunix’s life, with hardship and fear inspiring effort and success. On Easter Sunday, Cunix and his son were riding an 850-series ATV weighing roughly 900 pounds. Going up a hill, the vehicle flipped and they were thrown to the ground. To Cunix’s horror, he saw the gigantic machine coming back on them and with a rush of adrenaline, was able to push it off and allow his son to get clear. The subject brings fresh waves of emotion to Cunix’s face.

“I actually have nightmares about [what would have happened] if I wouldn’t have been able to stop it.”

Thankfully he was able to, and with the relief of having his family safe, Cunix’s world was truly in perspective as he entered the 2012 World Poker Tour Jacksonville main event roughly a month later, his arm still in a cast from the accident.

“I now feel no intimidation from any player, regardless of who they are. After surviving and saving my son’s life in an ATV accident, I realized just how irrelevant anything else in life can be.”

Cunix went on to win the event, topping a 196-player field to win the $400,600 first place prize, his biggest achievement in the poker arena.

In The Darkest Hour, You Can Fight

“I do not think I would have won the Jacksonville tournament without [the accident] happening. I would rather not have experienced that, with all due respect to poker, but it did motivate me.”

Shawn CunixCunix was laid-up for weeks after the ATV accident.

“It was a driving mode that said that even in the darkest hour, you can fight. Cinderella Man is my favorite movie, for those who have seen it, you know that fight and drive for family and survival.”

Much like that story of a washed-up boxer returning to the ring in order to provide for his family, Cunix has taken inspiration from those he loves, and used that drive to achieve great things. As Cinderella Man’s main character James Braddock said, “I have to believe that when things are bad I can change them.” Shawn Cunix knows that he can. ♠