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A Poker Life With David Paredes

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Apr 15, 2015


David Paredes loves the game of poker, but to call him a poker player would be to sell him short. The New York native has his life as a chess player, video game prodigy, child actor, and fiction writer. He’s also worked on Wall Street, graduated from Harvard and NYU Law, and played a major role in uncovering the UltimateBet cheating scandal.

Despite that abundance of hobbies and interests, Paredes has managed to become a force on the tournament circuit. Although he considers himself to be much more of a cash-game grinder, he has amassed live tournament earnings of nearly $1.5 million.

Here’s a closer look at one of the poker world’s rising stars.

An Eclectic Childhood

Although he was just a child, Paredes was spotted by an agent in New York City who asked if he ever wanted to be an actor. Not one to turn anything down, Paredes jumped in head first.

“My mother took me to an agency, where they took pictures and set up auditions,” he remembered. “Little by little, I started landing parts. The majority of the parts that I got were voice overs. I guess they liked the way I sounded at the time. I also did some commercials for stuff like Pepperidge Farms and Hess Trucks. Toward the end, I got to be in a couple of movies such as Crocodile Dundee 2, Enemies A Love Story, and Married to the Mob. Every year I still get a check from MGM for something like $8.”

Paredes was just eight years old when he told his mother that he wanted to quit show business.

“One day I had to go to a movie shoot at like five in the morning. I just told my mom that I’d rather be home watching G.I. Joe cartoons. She was really supportive and soon after that, I quit.”

With an English teacher for a mother, it’s no surprise that Paredes found success in the classroom as well. He was ultimately accepted into a specialized elementary school in Manhattan that featured a nationally-renowned chess team.

“They basically threw a bunch of chess boards in front of the elementary school class, and whomever stuck with it, they put a lot of time and effort into helping them get better with great coaches,” Paredes recalled. “I used to travel around the country playing in chess tournaments. I fell in love with the competition and became really good at studying and concentrating for long periods of time.”

After chess, Paredes moved on to video games. But unlike most other children, Paredes took his new passion to the extreme.

“The movie The Wizard with Fred Savage had inspired the Nintendo World Championships in New York City,” he said. “We competed in three games. There was Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris. I excelled at Tetris, especially. I ended up finishing third in my age group and won some prizes.”

His fascination with games naturally led him to poker, and while in high school, Paredes found himself playing for relatively high stakes with his friends. It was clear that he caught the gambling bug early, but he managed to avoid the temptations of the cardroom until after college. Paredes was thrilled to find out that he had been accepted into Harvard College. He was able to find one poker game while enrolled there, but it didn’t last long. Instead, he focused on his studies.

“Going to Harvard was one of my biggest accomplishments for sure. Because of my mother, I loved learning, and I was very happy to find myself surrounded by like-minded peers who were some of the best in their respective fields. There was one poker game I found in the dining hall, and they were nice enough to let me play. I ended up setting the record for the biggest win and I wasn’t ever invited back because I was too good.”

Poker As A Networking Tool

After graduating, Paredes returned to New York to get a graduate degree in creative writing at NYU. He had a passion for writing fiction, but quickly realized that it was hard to make a living as a writer.

“I didn’t want to be broke for the rest of my life,” he said. “I was teaching a freshman writing course, but it wasn’t really paying my bills. It was more like a stipend. So I started going to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut on the Chinatown bus. They would give you a $30 voucher to play. I started doing well and was soon playing $20-$40 limit hold’em games. I wouldn’t pay for a hotel room. I’d just play all night, come back the next day and teach my class.”

Poker was going well, but not well enough to rely on for the long term, so Paredes opted to enter law school as well. He wasn’t very interested in law, but NYU allowed him to study both creating writing and law at the same time, which Paredes did knowing law would provide a steady job if he ever needed one. It was then that he discovered the underground games in the city.

“I was playing one night at Foxwoods and started chatting with this guy who turned out to also be a writer in the city,” he explained. “He told me there were games I could play in New York, and I was shocked. All this time I thought I had to travel two and a half hours by bus just to play poker and here it was right next to my law school. So he got me into one of the clubs, and it was great. This was the heyday of New York City poker clubs and everything was super professional with lots of security, dealers, waitresses and food. It was like a poker oasis.”

It took a while for Paredes to get used to the no-limit hold’em games that were regularly spread in the clubs, but after a few more trips back to Foxwoods to replenish his bankroll, he settled in as a regular and began winning. In the clubs, he met former poker pro and current hedge fund manager Jason Strasser, who told him to get started playing online. That transition proved to be very valuable after the New York clubs began to get raided and shut down.

“There was a really nice club called Broadway and Alex Rodriguez, who was in the playoffs with the Yankees at the time, was photographed playing poker,” said Paredes. “The guy sold the picture for like $5,000 to the New York Post and, all of a sudden, all of the clubs were getting shut down. Luckily, I had started playing online and one day I got invited to a private game by someone on a poker forum. The game was in a fancy hotel suite with catered food and was filled with nothing but guys who work in finance on Wall Street. I did okay, as I recall, but the connections I made were more valuable.”

Paredes believes that the networking aspect of poker can be very valuable and gets annoyed when younger players are quick to criticize and make fun of recreational players.

“These guys have better things to do than study a proper four-bet calling range,” he explained. “There are a lot of very smart people that play poker and enjoy the challenge, but there’s no need to treat someone like they are a fish. Odds are, they are way more successful in life and business than you are and you never know who you are going to meet at the table.”

Finding His Own Success

After graduate school, Paredes entered the finance world, but his timing couldn’t have been any worse. It was 2007 and the economy was crumbling. A number of people at his firm were laid off and, eventually, he was as well. He turned his attention back to online poker, where he began to play high-stakes cash games.

“It just wasn’t clicking at the time,” he said. “I lasted about two years, but it was very hard to raise money. After that, I knew I needed a change in my life and I wanted to give poker my full attention.”

In 2008, he and Michael Fosco, were credited with being one of the first players to notice irregular play from certain accounts on UltimateBet and even appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes, thanks to his poker tracking software. With his information, and his willingness to blow the whistle on what he saw, the poker world took notice. To this day, Paredes says that using his statistical analysis and logical reasoning skills to bring down the UB cheaters is by far the proudest accomplishment of his career. Unfortunately, U.S. online poker died in 2011 with Black Friday.

“I was devastated,” he admitted. “I had bought an apartment in Boston and I was forced to go back to Foxwoods to continue playing. At least this time I could afford to get a hotel room and, pretty soon, I was putting up consistent results on the live circuit.”

He had his first taste of success in early 2010, finishing fifth in the North American Poker Tour Venetian main event in Las Vegas for $184,816. In 2011, he took fifth in the $25,000 heads-up event at the WSOP for $138,852, then finished third in the Isle Open main event later that year for another $51,040.

In 2013, he went deep in the WSOP main event, eventually busting in 90th place for $71,053. Then in January of 2014, he finished runner-up in the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open for $499,549, the largest score of his career.

Moving Forward

Paredes has learned quite a bit in his few years as a poker professional. He’s made poor investments in other players that didn’t pay off and vows to practice better bankroll management and learn from his past mistakes.

He now resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, and when he’s not traveling on the tournament circuit, he grinds the live cash games at Mohegan Sun. He’s also started taking on students and hopes to keep teaching people the ins and outs of poker, but his next project will combine his love for poker and writing.

“I’ve always loved to write,” he said. “I kind of put it on the back burner when I was in law school, working and playing poker. But now I’ve been starting to get back into it. I’m authoring a book. I would say it’s semi-autobiographical in the sense that one of the lead characters was a law student and poker player who got into finance. But I would call it sort of a financial thriller, where poker had a small part in it. But I’m going to use a lot of my experiences that I had in my life, because I’ve had an interesting one so far.” ♠