After having too much fun during his first months at Hamilton, David Sands ’07 needed to find something to do that would keep him out of trouble, so he took up poker and discovered he was very, very good at it. He studied the game with the focus of a student aiming for a top-tier grad school, becoming a successful pro before he graduated from college.
Even with that multitasking, Sands also was very good at his studies and loved his government major and professors. “I really did enjoy college, and I enjoyed academia, I enjoyed writing my honors thesis, I enjoyed a lot of the academic parts of Hamilton. I think if I hadn't been enjoying it, I would have dropped out and just played poker full time, but I was having a good time,” he recalled.
By the time he graduated, earning a departmental honor his senior year, Sands had banked an impressive amount of winnings playing poker online and at the nearby Turning Stone Casino. Diploma in hand, he began a full-time, successful career as a tournament poker player, online and live. “At one point, I was the number one ranked online tournament player in the world, and that involves playing tournaments almost every day,” he said.
In 2014, thinking he’d reached the pinnacle of poker, Sands was considering applying to Stanford’s MBA program when he got a job offer at a hedge fund in Palo Alto, working for a guy he’d met through poker. He chose the hedge fund over business school and worked there for a handful of years, until he realized he didn’t like having a boss or going into an office.
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“So these days I play some poker, I do a lot of my own investing, my own public-market investing. I also do a lot of real estate investing,” he said.
He lives in suburban Las Vegas with his wife and two young children, and plays live cash games, but since the pandemic hit, he’s not playing at all and won’t until it’s safe to do so. Sands is enjoying the extra time with his family, but he’s looking forward to the next game. He loves the competition.
“The thing I’m most grateful for with poker is that I genuinely love to do it. For a lot of people having six months where they mostly don't work would be a blessing, but for me, I really do miss it,” he said. “And that reminds me how fortunate I am to have been able to achieve financial success and independence through something that I genuinely love. I think that's, unfortunately, not as common as it should be in our society.”