Murphy James - "Robin Hood" of Poker: Barry Greenstein
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"Robin Hood" of Poker: Barry Greenstein

Murphy James
Barry Greenstein

When Barry Greenstein was handed a check for $1.3 million dollars for finishing at the top of the heap at the Fifth Annual Jack Binion World Poker Open Tournament in Tunica, Mississippi, what did he do with it? A new mansion in Vegas? No. A $425K Mercedes Maclaren? Nope, that was some other guy. How about running up a $22,000 bar tab as one pro did after a big win? Nada.

So what did Barry do with the mil and a third that he earned in a televised No Limit Texas Hold ‘em event that drew the top pros in the world? He gave it away.

Half went to Children Incorporated, whose motto is “You can change the world, one child at a time,” an organization that administers to the emotional, physical, and educational needs of children in 21 countries, including the United States. The other half went to a South American charity, Guyana Watch. Guyana Watch provides medical assistance to the disadvantaged people of that country.

In fact, Barry donates 100% of his tournament winnings -- three million and counting -- to charities, about a dozen of them. Among those on his list: Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, where his daughter, Melissa, had a liver transplant, 999 for Kids, a program of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that deals with children who have experienced the most severe cases of child abuse, neglect and family violence, and his alma mater, Bogan High School in Chicago (Go, Bengals!).

Says Barry: “These contributions are the best things I have ever done in my life.”

Sometimes generosity has its drawbacks. In some Third World countries, a $1,000 contribution is so much that the recipients couldn’t cash the checks! Either there wasn’t a bank that could cash such a big check or the people feared they might get killed over a sum that large. They sent the checks back and other arrangements had to be made.

Media attention directed at Barry’s generosity has led to some strange requests for help. For example, one question posed to him recently on his website was, “Can you help finance my poker career so I can make money and give some to charity?”

His response: “I give money to help young children, not poker players. If someone comes to me for help, I assume he is a losing player.”

Greenstein’s charitable efforts began, he says, “to teach my kids a lesson.” His kids were fortunate. Others around the world lived in poverty and with disease and died early deaths. Another reason for his actions was this: he was passing on the legacy of his parents. This is how they raised him.

Barry is sensitive to the time he has spent away from his own kids while he was playing poker at the highest levels. He is proud of them and wants them to be proud of him. Through his charitable efforts, he gives his kids a reason to say, “Dad’s out doin’ good,” rather than just, “Dad’s in Vegas playin’ poker.” He dedicated his new book, Ace on the River, to the children of gamblers.

Barry was an early employee of a successful dot.com company, Symantec. He pooh-pooh’s dot.com riches. “I made more playing poker than I did at Symantec,” he says. “I’ve probably made more money over the last fifteen years – and paid more taxes – than anybody else in the poker world.” His 12,000 square foot house in southern California shows that he does very well, indeed.

Barry’s tournament play is all for charity. Every penny of it. How, then, does he pay the bills otherwise? Most of the pros would rather play in ‘cash games,’ those games at top spots like the Bellagio and Wynn hotels where opponents with more money than common sense foolishly dare to take on the best pros in the game. Barry’s cash games earnings add up to a million dollars or more per year.

A couple of media terms like, “Charity Barry” and the “Robin Hood of Poker” do not sit well with him. But, in his new book for advanced players, Ace on the River, he says that he hopes he has set an example for the poker crowd.

Has he ever!

© 2005 Murphy James