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A Poker Life -- Sam Barnhart

Barnhart’s Trial Year On The Tournament Trail Has Been A Golden One


Sam BarnhartSam Barnhart is a 50-year-old software analyst and researcher from Little Rock, AR. He has worked in the field of informatics, which combines his knowledge of computer science and biology (He holds degrees in both subjects) for years as his chosen career. He has also played poker since his childhood and it stuck with him as a serious hobby in his adult life.

Barnhart would frequent the casinos in Tunica, Mississippi and the Gulf Coast region, playing in tournaments and playing in limit hold’em games as high as $20-$40 during the years he has been working after college. “I started playing poker when I was a youngster but really when I got serious with it was when I got out of college when I graduated in ’92. Tunica opened up casinos down here. Of course we always had home games with our friends, nothing major, but when the casinos got down here I came in and started to play cash games. And then the tournament circuits caught my attention,” said Barnhart.

He started playing tournaments around the turn of the century, when the World Poker Tour began holding events in the area. “That was when I really started to get interested in poker and reading books on game theory. I really got into the mathematics of it. That was when I started playing in the major tournament circuit events. I started real slow and I played in a few more tournaments each year while I was working,” said Barnhart.

Earlier this year he decided to take his profitable hobby to the next level after a tournament win so he took a year off from work to travel the tournament circuit full time and see how he would do as a poker professional.

Following the Steps to Success in his Poker Career

So far that experiment has been a success, highlighted by the gold bracelet he won as the champion of the inaugural World Series of Poker Circuit National Championship in May. Barnhart had qualified for his seat by winning the WSOP Circuit main event held on his home turf at the Harrah’s in Tunica in February.

Barnhart was inspired by his Tunica victory. It was the win that gave him enough confidence to begin taking poker more seriously and take the year off from working in order to play poker full time. He has now been playing in both cash games and tournaments for the past four months. His tournament success has also been supplemented with the $20-$40 limit hold’em cash games he has played in for years.

“I decided I wanted to see what it would be like to spend an entire year playing poker.
Winning in Tunica gave me enough revenue and bankroll to try and make it playing poker. I have a good resume, so I can always falls back on the research I have done. I know some poker players come into this completely empty-handed, but I want to be backed up both with money and a career if this does not work out,” said Barnhart. He continued, “I’ve always wanted to do this but it is really difficult to leave your job and play full time. I used to play as much as I could with vacation time, but you don’t get as many opportunities as if you played full time.”

He continued the steps up the ladder to poker success he achieved on the WSOP Circuit tour this summer at the WSOP, where he scored the largest cash of his career when he grabbed 17th place in the $10,000 no-limit hold’em main event, which was good for $378,796. “It’s amazing the ladder I have been climbing. Playing in the National Championship, which was an extremely difficult tournament, it was amazing to see how aggressive the young players were. They were firing out three or four bets with nothing all the way down. I learned in that tournament by watching others. Every tournament I get into I try to learn something from it. Always try to learn something from the previous tournaments you play, that way you will always get something out of it no matter where you finish,” said Barnhart.

Since the start of 2011 Barnhart has cashed eight times at WSOP Circuit and WSOP events and he has won $835,379. He hopes to keep the run of success going and he will continue to play in U.S. events for the rest of the year. He is also considering a trip to Europe for WSOP Europe in October.

“This is a wonderful feeling. It’s one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life. To come here and win this is every poker players dream come true,” said Barnhart after his National Championship win in May. He will be chasing that feeling once again during the rest of his experimental year as a professional and if he tastes victory again it could be an easy decision to make the one-year experiment a new career.

Barnhart at 2011 WSOP Main EventFollowing the Steps to Success in his Education and Professional Career

Barnhart has followed a sustained set of steps toward poker success these past few months and they echo the way that he modeled his success in education and in his professional life before poker. He began working as a young man and became a welder while in his twenties. He eventually decided he did not want to do that his entire life, so he decided to pursue a formal education. He earned an associate’s degree in computer science, but later concluded he wanted to learn more. Barnhart returned to college again and earned a B.A. in biology from the University of Central Arkansas.

A major career shift occurred for Barnhart when his two primary fields of study, biology and computer science began to merge. The new field, which was well-suited to Barnhart became known as Informatics. Barnhart became primarily engaged in research, including assisting with clinical trials. He worked on projects at the Children’s Medical Center in Little Rock. Barnhart also worked on various projects with the Arkansas Department of Education. “In my job and my career you really have to multi-task. In informatics you have to be good at attention to detail while doing multiple things,” said Barnhart.

An Informatics Approach to Poker

When Barnhart decided to get more serious about his poker education he naturally played to the strengths that his Informatics background gave him. “I did a lot of statistical work as part of my training and research. The math background really helped me. Later, I started reading The Mathematics of Poker and studying game theory. I am fascinated by analytical things. I think I am more comfortable with the subjects than many people given I have worked in this field for so long,” said Barnhart.

Barnhart went on to say, “I think in some cases it [Informatics] probably did help because you have to be able to focus but at the same time you have to see the big picture and I think that really helped me with poker. When I program I have to go in there and look at the binary code and use those small bits of information together to come up with a final result. In poker you also have to focus on small things like what does this particular opponent have and how am I going to be able to extrapolate extra chips from them using that information. At the same time you have to look at the whole table and how it is playing. Is it loose? Is it tight? How do I adjust my play for it? I think the combination helps.”

While a background in Informatics is a nice advantage Barnhart has learned over the years that it takes more than numbers and analysis to find poker success. “I do not put as much math into tournament play as cash games. I think tournament poker is much more about intuition and observation. There is math involved, of course. But in tournaments you have to use some intuition, also,” said Barnhart.

His Informatics skills did not always help when it came to the patience he needed to accumulate the experience needed to develop poker intuition. He accomplished that by watching others and adjusting his game through a series of trials and errors. “If something is not working for you, you need to change your game. You have to change things up and try this and try that but you’ve got to be your own player. You can’t just play by somebody else’s standards, they’ve got to be your own. You can incorporate other people’s play and some of their techniques but you have to be yourself when it gets down to it,” said Barnhart.

Barnhart has certainly take an approach all his own when it comes to his poker life, and while time will tell if he can make it as a full-time poker professional his hot run in tournaments during the first half of 2011 is promising. He has already won more at WSOP events during his experimental poker year than most players do in a lifetime.



over 6 years ago

I met SAM in Tunica a few weeks ago...SUPER NICE GUY!! Cardplayer got it right for once...wtg and GL Sam.


over 6 years ago

This is the type of guy that needs to be profiled more often. Goes from a welder in his twenties to then getting two degrees later in life, then makes it as a poker pro. Guy seems like a class act. Good for him.


over 6 years ago

Wow this is the first time that I've ever heard that someone has a college degree! Most of the poker pros and champs were undergraduate! Hurray! Now I can say that playing is worthwhile!