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WSOP Gold -- Law Student Outclasses the Competition

Leo Wolpert Wins the Prestigious Heads-Up Championship


Leo WolpertIn the back of his computer science lab, Leo Wolpert found himself spending more time reading Supreme Court cases online than doing anything of note in his classes. Disinterested by his studies, Wolpert decided he needed to go in a different direction.

“Some of those (Supreme Court) opinions kind of outraged me,” said Wolpert. “I thought that maybe I could do something, affect some good change, and fight the erosion of civil liberties.”

So Wolpert dropped out of his computer science graduate program and entered law school at the University of Virginia. After completing his first year of law school, he accepted an offer to intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada this summer.

It’s not all that crazy that a summer internship opportunity in Vegas enticed the 26-year-old law student, given his poker background. Wolpert had eight cashes in the last two WSOPs, including a third place finish in a $1,500 shootout bracelet event last summer for $187,812. He also says that he’s made “in the six figures” while playing online poker, which is being used to finance his law school education.

The thought of doing his part for civil liberties while perhaps playing a little poker on the side was simply too good to pass up.

While interning for the ACLU, Wolpert decided he would take a shot in Event No. 29, the $10,000 world championship of heads-up no-limit hold’em. The tournament attracted 256 of the greatest players on the planet to compete for one of the World Series of Poker’s most prestigious titles.

The overall champion would need to beat eight opponents and win nine matches (the final heads-up championship was a best-of-three format). Wolpert didn’t exactly have an easy start to his tournament — drawing Michael Mizrachi, John Juanda, and David Pham in his first three matches. His first three opponents had a combined six bracelets (four for Juanda, two for Pham) and had won Card Player’s Player of the Year award three times (one for Mizrachi, two for Pham).

But incredibly, the law student was able to beat each one in lengthy matches.

“The goal was to just play against whoever I was going to play and run good against them, see if they had some leaks, and try to exploit those,” said Wolpert, who admitted his first few opponents didn’t have many leaks at all in their games. “I happened to run really, really good during the entire tournament.”

His run took him all the way into a championship matchup against European Poker Tour co-founder, John Duthie. Crediting his opponent’s skillful play, Wolpert finally captured his bracelet after more than eight grueling hours of play — beating Duthie in two out of three matches.

“I can’t even really describe it,” said Wolpert. “I actually didn’t really expect to win.”

Wolpert’s background is an interesting one. Before ever finding poker, he lived in many locations — California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, England — because his parents were in the Air Force and moved around a lot. He first gambled for the first time playing blackjack while living in Michigan.

“I really wanted to find a way to make easy money, so I got into blackjack,” said Wolpert. “I figured I’ll just learn how to count cards and be a genius and be like that M.I.T. blackjack team.”

That didn’t last long. Wolpert had some initial success, turning his first $100 into $1,300, but admits it was mostly luck rather than any ability in counting cards. And the money didn’t exactly last.

“I spent it like most college kids spend their money — booze. I bought some Grey Goose and felt like a huge pimp. But then I realized this blackjack play wasn’t very tenable,” said Wolpert. “But a friend of mine who’s now getting his PhD in psychology was talking about the psychological aspects of poker, how it’s really interesting to try to out-think your opponent, and that kind of stuff. So I picked up some books about poker and started to learn the game.”

Although he struggled with poker at first, his sharp mind quickly adapted to the intricacies involved in the game. He chose “pechorin” as his username on PokerStars and Full Tilt, a nod to one of his favorite Russian novels.

“That’s from a Russian novel called A Hero of Our Time. He’s the main character, and it was kind of like an apropos name for poker,” Wolpert explained. “He’s kind of devious, and he’s always outsmarting people. So I decided if I was going to model my poker game after a fictional character that nobody’s heard of, it should be Pechorin.”

Even with his $652,682 payday, Wolpert says he has every intention of going back to law school and getting his degree. After receiving his bracelet, he immediately went back to his ACLU internship.

“I really feel like I’m helping out and helping protect people’s rights,” said Wolpert.