By: Paul Hewson
Canada has long been a source of quality players for tournament poker. Names like Daniel Negreanu, Jonathan Duhamel and Mike “Timex” McDonald roll off the tongue. But none of these players can hold a candle to Alan Ari Engel right now. He was the top Canadian on the 2016 Global Poker Index and has shown no sign of slowing down yet. He’s No. 1 on this year’s leaderboard at press time, well ahead of Sam Greenwood, Mike Leah, and Sam Chartier.
It’s still going to be difficult for Engel to match last year’s performance. After winning the main event at the 2016 Aussie Millions, the Toronto native crashed out on Day 2 of this year’s tournament – as did Greenwood, along with fellow Canucks Mike Watson and Griffin Benger. But Engel didn’t leave Melbourne empty-handed; he finished third at an 8-game event and seventh at a no-limit Hold’em shootout, pocketing just over $30,000 for his troubles.
What Can Brown Do for You?
Engel has taken a much different path to poker glory than his contemporaries. Engel’s father was an Orthodox rabbi, and the family ended up traveling from congregation to congregation, in South Africa and Australia, and eventually in the United States. The younger Engel attended yeshiva (theological school) in Chicago, learning the sacred texts, then spent a year of advanced studies in Jerusalem before enrolling at New York University, where he earned a double major in finance and business management.
NYU also introduced Engel to Andrew Brown, his roommate as a sophomore. Brown was an online Hold’em whiz who became one of the world’s leading Omaha players, winning a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2008. He helped Engel brush up his game, and upon earning his degree in 2004 and entering the workforce, Engel realized he’d be better off turning his hobby into his profession. So he signed up at Bodog Poker, and the rest is history.
Gambling and Orthodox Judaism do not go hand-in-hand, but that hasn’t been an issue for the Engel family. In their view, as it is for many smart players, poker is primarily a game of skill. Without the family’s understanding and support, and a chance encounter with Brown, Engel might not be where he is today: on top of the poker mountain, with over $4.2 million in live earnings. Mazel tov.