Before this week, Anthony Hu had never won a live poker tournament. In fact, he’d never finished as high as second, dating back to his first recorded live cash in April 2017.
But Hu walked into the PokerGO Studios in Las Vegas on Monday with one third of the chips in play and five tough players standing in the way of his first career live tournament win, in Event 4 of the 2023 PokerGO Cup. His aggression and style of play worked in his favor, and after outlasting poker heavyweights Erik Seidel, Andrew Moreno, Calvin Lee and Adrian Mateos, Hu entered heads up play against Justin Saliba with two thirds of the chips. But as often happens in a heads-up match, a couple of hands swung everything. In a battle of busted flush draws, Saliba bet Hu out on the river and took over the chip lead. And with his tournament on the line and a chance at regaining the lead, Hu’s led Saliba’s until Saliba made a wheel on the river to claim the title.
With $140,400 and the first live runner-up finish of his career locked up, Hu would be perfectly entitled to taking a breath, stepping away for the day and assessing his plans for the rest of the series. Instead, he took $15,000 of that prize, walked up to the cage and got right back into the mix in Event 5 of the series. By the end of the night Monday, Hu once again held a commanding final table chip lead – and this time he wouldn’t relinquish it, eliminating all five of his opponents, including Seidel in a heads up match to claim the trophy, $268,800 and the overall lead in the PokerGO Cup leaderboard.
So after three straight days of battling it out for considerable stakes against an absolute murderer’s row of competition, what was Hu’s initial reaction in the post-win afterglow?
“I’m just really glad to get bring in the results,” Hu said. “It’s been a while, and I smashed my first tournament win. Honestly, it’s been quite a ride, [but] I just keep focusing on playing well and try not to get too excited or too sad when I lose – you know, the same boring stuff that all the poker players say?”
Despite the visible joy on his face and the relief that comes with finishing the job, Hu, 25, had a harder time separating the experiences of the two final tables from each other.
“Honestly, it’s all blurred,” Hu said. “Because every day we end at 1 a.m., and then we have to come back at 12. When I go back to my real life, I don’t even… it feels like I went to another dimension.”
This week has been a culmination of a building wave in Hu’s poker career. Despite coming into his own in a post-Black Friday environment, Hu worked his way up in poker the same way a lot of the players from a generation before him in that studio did, grinding his way through online cash games. Hu’s LinkedIn profile lists Hu’s self employment as a poker player since November 2017, a few months after his first live tournament cash, and a declarative statement about his experiences: “Played over a million hands both (online and live) utilizing exploitative and game theory optimal strategies to maximize profit, earning over $400,000 in tournaments.”
And despite not reaching the winner’s circle or heads-up play in a major live event, there were big moments and close calls along the way. Hu finished third in a $3,000 six-handed World Series of Poker event in 2022. There was a seventh place finish in a $25,500 High Roller as part of the WPT Rock ‘n’ Roll Poker Open Series at Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in November 2021. A couple of PokerGO Tour final tables, and a deep run at the 2022 WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic.
After bouncing around in search of the right environment for pursuing his poker goals, Hu ended up where a lot of hopeful players do.
“I grew up in Minnesota. I first moved to Florida, and then I’ve just been bouncing all over,” Hu recalled. “I lived in Mexico. I did a nice long stint in L.A. during Covid. And then now I’m settling here [in Vegas] because I really want to take this PokerGO stuff quite seriously.”
In this moment, that commitment seems to be paying off. With his win and runner-up finish, as well as a 7th place finish in the opening event, Hu has taken over the top spot more than halfway through the series. But with all of the $10K and $15K events wrapped, the stakes grew even higher with the start of Tuesday’s $25,000 Event 6. Hu did a little bit of mental math and then smiled at what lay ahead for him for the rest of January and into February.
“I’ve definitely got to think about player of the series now, but there’s a lot of poker ahead,” Hu said. “We’ve got [Lucky Hearts Poker Open in] Florida coming up after this series. We’ve got PCA coming up. My next next two to three weeks is bought and sold to poker.”
Before stepping away from the final table area, Hu glanced over at the ongoing action in Event 6. In that moment, he felt both pride and an overwhelming urge to hop right back on the horse. Within the hour, Hu had joined the next event.
“It feels amazing for everything to finally pay off, and I’m really looking forward to competing again. I mean, seeing all these killers out there, I just want to hop in there and be in there with them more.”