Alex Livingston’s first trip to the World Series of Poker in 2009 wasn’t much to remember. He was 22 years old, busted the $10,000 Main Event on Day 1, and lost $40,000 playing beer pong. The beer pong loss hurt, but the early elimination hurt even more.
Better things were ahead. In 2013 he played the same event and finished 13th for $451,398. That’s a massive finish in the world championship of poker, which featured 6,352 players. That was a huge turnaround from 2009, but Livingston topped that this summer.
In the second largest Main Event in history with 8,569 players, Livingston entered the final table sitting fifth in chips. He then went on a run to the final three, all broadcast live on ESPN. It would take 10 full days of play to capture the championship.
The title was in sight, but winning isn’t easy. The Halifax native, who now lives and plays professionally in Las Vegas, finished third for $4 million.
A decade after those beer pong losses, Livingston had become one of the biggest names in poker.
“It’s all very fresh so nothing big has changed,” he says of life since his big score. “I went to Montana for five days by myself to relax and get away from technology and the Vegas lifestyle.”
Livingston grew up in Halifax and spends about three months every summer in his hometown. The 32-year-old attended boarding school in Pennsylvania at his father’s alma mater. He now owns a home in Inverness overlooking Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses, which he uses as a rental property but also spends a couple weeks there each summer.
Even from an early age Livingston had an analytical mind. Card and board games fascinated him at a young age, and he learned how to play chess at age 4 and bridge at 6. After becoming a young chess champion, poker games with friends had him enthralled with that game as well.
“It was a natural transition to poker,” he says.
Watching poker superstar Phil Ivey in the 2003 Main Event on ESPN also served as an inspiration. After high school, he attended Tufts University in Boston before launching his poker career.
Livingston isn’t a player who simply socks his money away for more card playings. Along with his rental house, he owns a small percentage of the North of Brooklyn pizzeria, a chain in Toronto with five locations started by two friends from Halifax.
He enjoys the freedom poker gives him, despite the financial swings many players experience. What’s his poker life like back in Las Vegas?
“It completely depends on the day,” he says. “That’s the beauty of being a poker player. I have 80-hour poker weeks and zero-hour poker weeks. It averages out to about 35 hours a week through the course of the year… On a day where I’m playing I try to do something active earlier in the day to keep the mind fresh.”
Playing 10 days of high-level poker up to 10 hours a day can be exhausting. The stress only increases as the field shrinks. Sleep isn’t easy and there are media interviews and ESPN appearances after making the final table. His phone was also blowing up from friends and supporters back in Halifax.
A day off before the final table helped Livingston regroup and move up the payout ladder. He caught up on sleep, hit the spa, and felt rejuvenated.
“I did some studying, but mostly focused on getting my mind and body right,” he says.
With $4 million more now in his bank account, Livingston tries to set some winnings aside for his future and also to keep his poker life going.
“I plan on investing some of the money, possibly into real estate,” he says. “It definitely gives me more flexibility to play bigger cash games and tournaments.”
Could a third deep run be in his future? This Haliax hold’em star hopes for even more next summer.