By Adrian Bueno
Still relatively new to the competitive scenes of both games, Lewis Richards set out to achieve something unprecedented for himself.
University of Waterloo was hosting an invitational Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament, as well as a Texas Hold’em poker cash game, in the same building. Richards entered both.
After hours of smashing, Richards earned one of his best finishes, placing second in the tournament. As soon as he finished, he rushed to the next room to hit the poker tables. By the end of the night, Richards was $50 richer.
Known by his friends and video game teammates as Lew, the second-year business management student is only 19, and he’s already been a high school chess phenom, a world record speed runner (a person who beats a video game as fast as possible), a top three ranked Super Smash Bros. Melee competitive player with the Ryerson esports team, and is up as much as $3000 in Texas Hold’em over the past few months.
Richards now says he’s all-in on making the move to go pro in poker.
“I’ve always wanted to play a game for a living,” he says. “I used to speedrun, and play chess, but with both of those, there came a point where I plateaued. With Smash, I don’t think I can improve enough to get a sponsor.”
“[In poker] for a while I was making up to $60 an hour, and there were runs where that lasted up to 50 hours. The payout is better.” Richards says the biggest pot he’s ever won earned him $750.
Being a professional poker player usually means running through hours and hours of poker games everyday, whether it be online or live in-person.
However, according to Richards, it can be quite the challenge to stay composed and credits his experience playing competitive chess in high school, as well as his years gaming competitively in building up the stamina and composure to sit through long poker sessions.
“I play about four or five nights a week, and [sessions] can last up to 11 hours if the games are good.”
He also explains it’s tough to balance his poker commitments with gaming and school. But if he made enough money, he would drop out of school to focus full-time on poker.
“I want to get to a point where my day job can just be going to a casino (everyday) to play poker.”
Richards has cut down on the video gaming as of late. The now part-time Smash player used to be a regular in the basement of the Ryerson Student Centre, where many gamers could be seen playing Super Smash Bros. His Smash colleagues have noticed the drop in appearances, but are supportive of Richards making the move to go professional in poker.
“I think it’s a sick move. Lew is still good at Smash but his poker game is next level,” says Jonathan Borges, a computer science student and organizer at Ryerson’s Smash Bros. club. “I think poker will make him a whole lot more money.”
Others have seen the hours of work Richards has put in as a gamer, and aren’t surprised by his success as a poker player.
Tyler Bince, an electrical engineering student, and another regular at Ryerson’s Smash Bros. club, has known Richards since he first started coming to the club’s events, and says he’s come a long way.
“I remember a point where I could actually beat Lew in Smash,” says Bince. “He’s definitely better than me now, but with the way he’s come so far in Smash, I can see that going the same way for his poker career.”
Bince adds that Richards has also gotten him more into playing poker. “It’s actually a good thing he doesn’t come too often,” he says. “We usually end up playing and it hurts the wallet.”
When Richards is around his friends at the Smash club, he’s surprisingly talkative. From the outside, the aspiring poker pro is soft-spoken, and is reserved at times, but the opposite can be said about his poker approach.
“I like playing loose-aggressive, putting pressure on people and forcing them to face tough spots,” says Richards. “I might play hands people usually might not play, like a low suited three-five.”
His friends have also taken notice to his strategic poker approach.
“He’s meticulous, he’s calculated. He knows the charts (hand probabilities) in his head,” says Borges. “He’s taught me a lot about that.”
In the beginning, Richards says his aggressiveness cost him some big money, but since then, he’s worked to refine his game.
“I used to do some crazy stuff when I first started, ‘cause I was entertained by more aggressive professional poker players like Tom Dwan,” says Richards. “I’ve started to incorporate more theory into my game to balance it out.”
Ultimately, Richards says the big accolades in poker like World Series of Poker bracelets aren’t on the radar yet, but dropping out to travel to casinos around the world could be a goal not too far from his reach.
Well, at least that’s what his friends think.
“You know, seeing a kid like Lew, who was a former Mario Kart 64 record holder, to a top three ranked Ryerson Smash player, and now up so much money in poker, it’s definitely inspiring to see,” says Borges.