Earning nearly $6 million in tournament poker in only two years doesn't take a rocket scientist — but when it comes to Michael Binger, it does take a theoretical physicist. A scant two months before his third-place finish in the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event, he became Dr. Binger, earning his Ph.D from Stanford. Though he was little-known in poker circles before then, Binger was no rookie sensation, having earned a living on the felt for several years already. Nor was he a flash in the pan, following up his splashy '06 debut by breaking WSOP records in '07, and making a mind-boggling amount of final tables in '08.
Michael Binger was born 32 years ago this week, on December 20, 1976 in Delray Beach, Florida. With a natural aptitude for math and science, he enrolled at North Carolina State University and studied physics. A college project where he wrote a program to beat blackjack via card-counting methods inspired him to try out his own theories in real life and after his graduation in the summer of 1999, he traveled to Las Vegas to see how much money they could earn playing blackjack. Binger booked a solid $5,000 win on the trip and he soon found himself taking weekend trips to Las Vegas or Reno to play.
Binger enrolled in graduate school at Stanford and relocated from North Carolina to the San Francisco suburb of Atherton, California. He continued to take blackjack trips, but after one particularly large loss, he grew careless and frustrated—making big moves to chase his loss that didn't go unnoticed by the "eye in the sky." Binger was banned from six casinos in a single day and learned that it would be nearly impossible for him to earn a living at blackjack. Soon after he scaled back on blackjack, Binger discovered poker and began playing in local cardrooms around the Bay Area. After crunching through the math and studying up on strategy, it didn't take long for him to start turning a profit at middle-limit hold'em cash games. At the same time that he started making consistent money through poker, Binger began to grow weary of the academic grind. Though he did not abandon his studies, Binger began devoting even more of his time to poker, playing both live and online. He also started playing tournaments, winning several small buy-in events in San Francisco.
Michael Binger took his first swing at the WSOP in the summer of 2005. He played in four events, including the Main Event, but did not cash in any of them. Back to the cash-game grind he went. Upon his return to the Rio in 2006, he made the final table of the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event, finishing sixth for over $100,000. And then there was the matter of that third-place finish out of 8,778 players in the Main Event, for which he banked a massive $4.1 million. Though the ink was barely dry on his doctorate, Binger's Main Event score inspired him to remain on the high-stakes tournament circuit rather than returning to his office at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. In the year that followed, Binger cashed twice on the WPT and eight times at the 2007 WSOP—the most number of cashes by a single player that year. His best result at the '07 WSOP was a third-place finish in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em event for which he banked $295,245.
2008 was nothing short of remarkable for the now full-time tournament poker pro. He hit the ground running in January, making two NLHE final tables at the Aussie Millions and followed those up with a win in the $1,500 NLHE event at the L.A. Poker Classic in Feburary, good for a $125,000 score. He cashed the WPT Bay 101 Main Event, cashed twice at the World Poker Challenge in Reno, made a runner-up finish in a preliminary event at the Foxwoods Poker Classic for over $60,000, and then won the $5,000 NLHE event at the Bellagio Five-Star World Poker Classic for $317,000. Add four WSOP cashes (including a seventh-place finish in the $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em with Rebuys event), a 10th-place finish at the WPT Borgata Poker Open, two more Bellagio final tables and a WSOP-Circuit ring for taking down the $5,000 NLHE Championship Event in Lake Tahoe, and you have one helluva year. All in all, Binger made 19 cashes, 10 final tables, and three wins for over $1.1 million in 2008. He currently sits in fifth place in the Bluff Magazine power rankings.
Michael Binger still actively travels the tournament circuit. His next goal in life has far more to do with earning a gold bracelet rather than solving equations.