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A Poker Life: Harrison Gimbel

Gimbel Started Playing Poker At Just 13 Years Old

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Harrison GimbelHarrison Gimbel is only 25 years old, but he’s already been playing poker for half of his life. While other young adults struggled to find their calling, the Florida native has known he wanted to be a poker player since the Moneymaker boom.

Gimbel didn’t have to wait long for his dream to come true. After getting his feet wet with online poker, Gimbel broke out on the live tournament scene when he was just 19, winning the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in 2010 for $2.2 million. He has since made three World Poker Tour final tables and even added a WPT title in March of 2016. He now has $3.7 million in live tournament earnings, and another $1.8 million online.

Poker Beginnings

Gimbel grew up in Jupiter, Florida, about an hour north of Fort Lauderdale. He always looked up to his older brother Daniel, who was the first Gimbel to get bit by the poker bug.

“I always wanted to be in sports, but I wasn’t blessed with a lot of athletic ability,” he admitted. “I did wrestle in high school, but poker became my main sport, if you can call it that. I’ve always had a sharp mind for strategic games. My brother started playing poker in 2003 with his friends when he was 15. I was just 13, but I would tag along and get to play. It was just $5 games, but I started to realize I was pretty good.”

The elder Gimbel was a pretty good poker player and even took seventh place in the PokerStars Sunday Warmup back in the day, but it was Harrison who took the ball and ran with it.

“I was just a freshman in high school, but I knew I wanted to be a professional poker player,” Gimbel recalled. “I was secretive about it. I know poker isn’t something that most people aspire to in their teens, but that’s honestly how I always felt.”

He attended The Benjamin School, a prestigious college preparatory high school in Palm Beach that boasts a 99 percent college acceptance rate. Gimbel didn’t hurt the school’s numbers, but he knew early on that he wasn’t cut out for another four years of school.

“My brother was the smart one in our family, and I definitely disappointed when it came to my grades. I was actually put on academic probation at one point during high school, just because I was playing so much online poker. By my senior year, I had pulled my grades up to at least be considered for college. I applied to ten universities in Florida and didn’t get into any of them. I ended up getting into the University of Alabama, barely. I was basically doing a couple classes at Alabama and a couple classes at a nearby community college.”

Turning Pro

Gimbel didn’t last long in school. An outbreak hit the state of Alabama and he developed a mild case of swine flu, which kept him off his feet for about a week. After he recovered, Gimbel just never went back to his classes, choosing instead to keep playing online poker. It was a bit of a hard sell for his family.

“They knew I liked poker and that I was a good player. I’ve always had a very supportive family. My grandparents were a little slower to come around, but they were very old school and thought of poker as gambling. My brother, who is now a lawyer, was able to convince them that I knew what I was doing.”

He even managed to win a satellite into the Aruba Poker Classic.

“It was the first real live tournament I had ever played,” Gimbel recalled. “I was so excited to play. I still remember the first hand. I had the button and raised. Jeff Madsen three-bet me on my left and I folded. It was an insignificant hand, but it was kind of the start of my professional career.”

Gimbel got on the board with his first win in June of 2009 when he took down the Florida State Championship for $67,860. Six months later, he made his debut in the Bahamas, and won the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for $2.2 million.

“My brother had been to the PCA a few years before, brought me back a PokerStars towel,” Gimbel said. “It became my mission to play in that event, and I ended winning it on my first attempt. I was only 19 years old at the time and I was being backed, so my backer got half of my winnings. Taxes were… a lot, but luckily I haven’t lost all of it yet.”

Racking Up The Scores

Gimbel continued to do well, both online and live. In November of 2010, he won the Fall Poker Open Championship at the Hard Rock for $330,000. In November of 2011, he finished third in the Rock and Roll Poker Open main event and made final tables on the WSOP Circuit and at the World Series of Poker.

In total, Gimbel has made 19 live final tables and somehow managed to win six times. While other poker players struggle to close out wins, Gimbel has done it during his career with remarkable consistency.

“I think it’s in my genes. You are either a closer or you aren’t. I’ve never been a great basketball player, but I’ve always wanted to be the guy who takes the last-second shot. I take pride in being clutch. I was really struggling with day ones, so that’s what I worked on. I’ve become much better at picking my spots and putting myself in position to succeed. You can’t win these big tournaments on the first day.”

In early 2016, Gimbel nabbed his first WPT title when he won the WPT Rolling Thunder main event in northern California for $275,112. It was a particular special win for Gimbel, given what happened in 2015.

“That win was definitely top three for me,” he said. “The year before, I actually final tabled the same event. I remember that I was in second place with four players left and the chip leader knocked me out in a big hand where I bluffed off my chips. I put in a lot of work, started exercising, started eating right, and made it my mission to put myself back in a similar spot and not repeat those mistakes. I didn’t know it was going to be the exact same tournament, but that’s how it worked out.”

Moving Forward

These days, Gimbel lives with his brother back in Jupiter, although he does spend about six months a year out on the circuit.

“My brother is great to live with, because he gets it. He doesn’t ask me how much I won, or how much I lost. He asks me about how well I played.”

Gimbel already has three final tables and his big WPT win this year, so he’s playing with some momentum, but it’s his desire to get better that will earn him his next big score.

“I think momentum is built by how hard you work,” he explained. “With seven years in this game, I still love talking about hands with other top players. I still love getting that feedback and adding new things to my game. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving poker. I think I’m one of the most passionate pros playing today.”

“If you’ve never envisioned yourself playing poker at Doyle Brunson’s age, then I don’t think you’re really committed to poker. I know some players have lost the passion for the game, or bad runs have soured them on poker. I almost love it more when I’m losing, just because it’s great motivation to get to work.”

With no plans to find a new profession any time soon, Gimbel sees the importance of ensuring that the game continues to flourish.

“We need to do more to grow this game,” Gimbel said. “We need to be nicer to amateurs, and I’m not just talking about what you say to them at the table. If a bad player gets up from a cash game to take a quick break and he gets back and finds out everyone else at the table was taking a break too, that’s not going to make him feel very good. Poker players need to stop being so shortsighted. Nobody should be forced to be an ambassador for poker, but I know that if I won the main event, I would be the best ambassador poker has ever seen. Why wouldn’t I embrace that? It’s like getting to be the face of the franchise for a whole year!” ♠