“In early February 2001, Andy Beal was having a fun evening during his first visit to the Bellagio poker room. The forty-eight-year-old owner of Dallas-based Beal Bank had finished his day’s business and found himself with nothing to do…”
So begins chapter one of Michael Craig’s classic 2005 book, The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King, as does the fascinating true story that inspired it. Andy Beal, professional entrepreneur, banker, philanthropist and keen amateur poker player, had discovered hold’em. The result would be perhaps the biggest poker game the world has ever seen.
When Beal first experienced the thrills and spills of Las Vegas poker, this week in 2001, the game grabbed his attention in ways that many of us can relate to. But rather than find a regular game in which his natural poker talents could grow and mature, he decided to jump right to the end boss.
With little previous experience – barring that first trip to the Bellagio poker room (in which he was a winner) – he challenged the best players in the country to a series of heads-up matches, for stakes that would hurt anyone. Even a billionaire Texas banker on $500k a day.
Introducing The Corporation
That collection of high-stakes pros, which became known as ‘The Corporation’, includes Hall of Famers and elite players whose names we still recognize over 20 years later. The list included:
- Doyle Brunson
- Ted Forrest
- Gus Hansen
- Howard Lederer
- Todd Brunson
- Chip Reese
- Chau Giang
- Hamid Dastmalchi
- Jennifer Harman
- Barry Greenstein
- Phil Ivey
To give an idea of the kind of stakes involved, The Corporation – some of the most successful poker players of all time – could only afford to play if they pooled their funds and backed each other as a collective.
Beal took them on, one at a time, in a series of limit hold’em games at stakes up to $20k/$40k. But his first trip to challenge The Corporation saw him take a beating from Ted Forrest and Howard Lederer, losing $4m in just a few sessions and soon heading back to Dallas.
But those defeats didn’t discourage Beal; if anything they only fired him up all the more. He responded by diving into poker study, hiring a tutor and converting his office into a poker room with the lighting, cards, dealer button and even the bottled water specifically designed to mimic the set-up at the Bellagio. He even played with a small vibrating device strapped to his leg which would go off every eight seconds, in a bid to regulate his actions and eliminate any timing tells.
He was serious about improving, and his first session back in Vegas, in May 2004, saw him beat Chau Giang for over a million playing $50k/$100k limit hold’em. The very next day, however, Lederer struck back with a win of more than $6m. Beal had his bank wire him a further $15m in funds, of which he was quickly relieved of $1.1m.
But things would change on Thursday, May 13, when Beal took on not one, but four of the best players in the world. And the result was one of the biggest wins in poker history.
A good Thursday for Andy Beal
Beal preferred an early start, with play generally beginning at 7am. And so it was that play began on Thursday bright and early, with Beal taking on Chip Reese, beating one of the greatest cash game players of all time out of $8m in under 5 hours.
After lunch he played 1992 WSOP Main Event winner Hamid Dastmalchi, who at one point was up by $5m but lost it all back. Gus Hansen took over and lost $2m, followed by Jen Harman who lost another $1.5m.
At the end of the day, Beal left town having won $11.7m from four of the best in the business.
Convinced he had the measure of these high stakes pros, it was just days before Beal was back in Las Vegas seeking a rematch. It would not go his way. May 26 saw Todd Brunson beat him for $5m in six hours, with a further $9.3m loss to Lederer in an eight-hour game on May 27.
The $10m rematch and a voicemail from Barry Greenstein
More matches between Beal and The Corporation followed, culminating in an epic confrontation with Phil Ivey in 2006.
Beal hit town on February 1, and took on The Corporation one more time at Wynn Las Vegas, with each ‘team’ putting up $10m; members of The Corporation – now 20 pros deep – each put up $500k to build the bankroll. The limits for this game would be an eye-watering $50k/$100k.
As for what happened next, we’ve dug through the archives and found a voicemail message received by one of the PokerOrg team from Barry Greenstein on February 23, 2006.
“It’s Barry. Just wanted to get to you on the Andy Beal thing. Andy beat Jennifer [Harman] for $5m. Todd [Brunson] had him stuck, then Andy came all the way back and won a million. So between Jennifer and Todd, Andy was up about $6m. Then he went up against Ted [Forrest]. Ted at one point was up by $7m – he’d won all the money back and got ahead. Then he lost it all back and fell behind by $600k or $900k for the day…The next day there was $3.6m, I remember, left in the bankroll, and Andy took that and busted us out of our $10m.”
The unthinkable had happened: the best in the world had been defeated, for $10,000,000, by an amateur player with a day job – albeit one that paid him a fortune. But as Barry went on to explain in that voicemail from 18 years ago, that wasn’t the end of the matter. Beal had beaten them out of their $10m, but he didn’t know when to quit.
“We re-upped,” Barry went on, “Andy came back to town and we dropped down to $30k/$60k. Phil played, beat Andy for $2m the first day and $4.6m the second day. The third day we kicked it up to $50k/$100k, Andy got up $3.5m at the beginning, but right now, three-quarters of the way through the session, Phil is up $5m. So, the final reports aren’t in. If we get up enough, though, there is dissension in the…”
That’s where the voicemail cut out. You see, kids, back in those days voice messages could only be so long, and Greenstein had a lot to say.
But it’s not where the story ended. Greenstein called back sometime later, in a celebratory mood.
“Hey, it’s Barry. Phil Ivey ended up taking the rest of the money from Andy…he won the last $10m that Andy had. Phil won a total of $16.5m!”
So ended the saga of Andy Beal versus The Corporation, sealing into legend two epic moments in poker folklore: the day Beal won $11.7m in a single day, and the awesome performance of Phil Ivey in winning $16.5m in three back-to-back sessions.
Having taken on the best and learned his lesson, Beal reportedly swore off poker for good (although some reports would indicate that was not entirely true). More recently he served as an economic advisor to President Trump, proving that while he may be done with poker, he’s still not afraid to play for the highest of stakes.
For more on the 2004 confrontation between Beal and The Corporation we highly recommend checking out Michael Craig’s book The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King.