Anchorage’s Adam Hendrix started taking poker seriously while he was in college, but his love for the game was fostered in the Last Frontier when he was just a kid.
“It was just something different,” he said. “I was playing little card games with my uncles and parents growing up, but when you turn on the World Series of Poker, especially back the early 2000s, you see a bunch of characters. People you’d probably never see or never meet just playing this one game at a table for hours on end.”
His interest was piqued by watching players engage in what was essentially nationally televised mind games.
“People were getting into psychological aspects of the game like making reads off people, looking at them, and all the banter,” Hendrix said. “Something just drew me.”
He attended Virginia Tech University, where he earned a degree in economics and a minor in statistics, and started forming the early stages of a career by hosting and playing $5 games in his dormitory with his friends and fellow residents.
Since he went pro in 2017, Hendrix has been one of the game’s fastest-rising stars. He’s coming off his best year to date and is set to play in the same tournament he watched growing up — the World Series of Poker, which starts next month in Las Vegas, where he currently lives.
“I have a few trips lined up but I’m really excited for the World Series of Poker,” Hendrix said.
He has been ranked as high as No. 2 and is currently ranked in the top 10 on the Global Poker Index. Hendrix is a member of the World Series of Poker Thrill Team that’s promoting the game in light of the recent 10-year anniversary of the World Series of Poker free-to-play app.
“We’re promoting poker and teaching a little bit about strategy in poker and just showing different lights of how a professional poker player does what they do beyond just playing at the table,” Hendrix said.
Other notable players on the roster include Vanessa Selbst, who is the first and only woman to ever reach the No. 1 ranking on the Global Poker Index, 2022 WSOP champion Espan Jorstad and three-time WSOP final table player Patrik Antonius.
Growing interest in the game
Hendrix and his parents moved out of state when he was 7 or 8 years old but returned to visit since they still had family in the state.
“We go back to Homer where my grandmother lived, and when I wasn’t halibut fishing with my dad or finally had a day off from all the early morning rises, I’d turn on ESPN and they had the World Series of Poker with all, like, the big names and I’d watch that for hours,” Hendrix said.
He loved listening to Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, who he described as “the voices of the World Series,” and from there, his interest in poker continued to grow exponentially.
Through his father’s oil and natural gas company, he was able to live in different countries across the globe, including Scotland and Egypt, where he attended high school in Cairo. He counts himself fortunate to have graduated in 2010 just before the start of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, in which thousands of citizens across the country protested the Mubarak government.
Given the nature of the game for both amateurs and seasoned pros, finding games to play and sharpen his skills while he was coming up in college took leaps of faith.
One time, his desire to find and play in a game took him and one of his college buddies from a local bar near campus to the smoky basement of a house belonging to a stranger he had just met.
“We went to the backside of his house and we’re like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ ” Hendrix said. “He had these basement doors that opened from the ground up and you had to walk down a ladder and it’s a smoky room of between 40- and 60-year-old guys.”
After being apprehensive at first and having just $62 to put down, he ended up doubling up his first hand and winning $160.
“I remember walking in there and thinking, ‘This could’ve been sketchy,’ but now looking at it, I’ve known a lot of people that I played in that room with for years,” Hendrix said.
Making a part-time passion a full-time career
Hendrix graduated from college in 2015 and moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where he remained until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. During that time, he worked as a software engineer and was only able to pursue his dreams of going pro on the side.
“I enjoyed the people I was around, but I just wasn’t super passionate about the line of work I was doing,” he said. “I was doing it to pay the bills, and during nights I would stream YouTube or Twitch for poker content and play those when I was off work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.”
He’d get up for work the next morning and repeat the process all over again with a goal of being able to “become a professional poker player one day.”
While he says that there’s a lot of skill required to excel at the game, there is also a “decent amount of luck” that can’t be controlled.
“You have to withstand the variance of the game, and that’s what I was doing when I was working and playing,” Hendrix said.
He first realized that going pro was a realistic and achievable goal for him while he was in college.
“I was playing a lot in these home games and underground games where people put on a poker game in their houses,” Hendrix said. “Some of them would be old pool halls that after it closed, they’d start a poker game.”
While he has some other hobbies, it’s pretty much “all poker all the time” for him as he continues to advance in his pro career.
“I was just thinking if I want to play poker, I could stay and make money at this other job and play poker on the side,” he said. “But if I really wanted to become a really good professional, I just had to put in all that energy.”
Opening doors to new horizons
Much like the way his father’s occupation provided a way for him to travel and even study abroad, poker has given him a pathway to see even more of the globe. It’s a multi-generation game whose players range from teenagers to octogenarians.
“It just opens you up to different experiences and cultures and all sorts of cool things,” Hendrix said.
That has led to poker games in a waterpark resort in the Bahamas, a casino in Barcelona and in Portugal.
Since going pro, he’s been able to go up against and even best some the top poker players in the world, including some he’s looked up to, such as Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Hendrix said. “I remember sitting down the first $10K buy-in and watching Negreanu next to me like, ‘Am I really going to play with this guy?’ which is the like the equivalent of (playing against) Tom Brady.”
He is coming off the best year of his young professional career. In 2022, he earned $1,538,572, according to globalpokerindex.com. This year he has already earned $300,925 through April.
He still considers his birthplace as his home away from home, and whenever he returns to Alaska, he usually steps away from the game, outside of charity events or small games with family and friends.
“When I come back to Alaska, I don’t play too much poker,” Hendrix said. “I use Alaska as an escape from poker sometimes because being in Vegas, there’s so much going on.”