Shaun Deeb Bets On Himself To Both Win and Lose at 2023 WSOP

Shaun Deeb has two parallel commitments heading into the 2023 World Series of Poker – his commitment to his body fat bet with Bill Perkins, and winning another WSOP Player of the Year title.

David Hill
May 31, 2023
Shaun Deeb is in the early stages of a 14-month bet with Bill Perkins in which he hopes to cut his body fat percentage to, at most, 17 percent.

Hang around poker rooms enough and you’re sure to find yourself in a conversation about weight loss. It’s only natural. People who spend a lot of time sitting around a table together watching each other eat are going to talk about their weight, their habits, and their health. But when these people are also gamblers, then those conversations can quickly turn into challenges and propositions.

Weight loss bets have been a part of the poker world for a long time. Russ Hamilton once said that he believed Doyle Brunson lost as much as $3 million in his life on weight loss bets through the years. Mike Matusow once won $100,000 from Ted Forrest for losing sixty pounds, then turned around and lost $2 million when Ted managed to lose 51 pounds (according to Ted, Mike never paid up). Earlier this year Doug Polk lost $200,000 to Bill Perkins after missing his goal in a body fat bet by a mere 1.3%.

Perkins has been the man behind a lot of more recent weight loss and health propositions among poker players. A year ago he won $200,000 from Dan Bilzerian by getting his own body fat under 9% in eight months. He has offered similar challenges to others, arguing that even if they lose the bet, they’ll still end up better off by being healthier. His latest target is Shaun Deeb, who was mocked online after eating chicken tenders at the final table of a World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Upstate New York. Perkins offered the bet over Twitter, and the two of them settled on terms by the next day: Deeb, who weighed 306 pounds, has 14 months to get to 17% body fat to win $1 million dollars. If he’s not there on May 30, 2024, Deeb pays $100k.

“Someone had a great Tweet where they’re like, ‘The new bar for health in poker is gonna be: you don’t wanna be fatter than Shaun Deeb.’ And that’s just, I find that humorous. But it’s also motivating.” Deeb said, as he went in for his second DEXA (dual x-ray absorptiometry) scan since taking the bet. The scans measure bone density and can give an accurate reading of your body composition, and Deeb’s results were a mixed bag. “I’m at 38% body fat, but I’m down to 277, so I’m down almost 30 pounds already. Two months in, that’s good.” Blessed with good genetics that gave him some solid bone density and lean mass, he figured he only needs to get down to around 206 pounds to be near 17% body fat, a goal he sees as difficult, but very much attainable.

“Because it’s a body fat percentage bet, I have to also focus on building muscle, maintaining muscle and really getting my body in a healthier standpoint. And that’s, you know, where the sharpness of Bill comes into play because if the bet was to lose a hundred pounds in a year, I would win a hundred percent of the time. But I would probably be worse off health-wise than where I was when I started the bet.” Deeb says that Perkins wasn’t just offering the bet for altruistic reasons. He might care about Deeb getting healthy, but he also was angling to win Shaun’s hundred grand.

“One of the parameters Bill gave me was I can’t [win] more than a million dollars on myself,” Deeb explained. He said Perkins kept the bet size where the amount of money Deeb stood to lose wouldn’t matter enough to him to motivate him from fear of losing it, while the amount he stood to win wouldn’t motivate him enough to take dramatic measures. “You know, a million dollars to a lot of people seems like a lot, but to me it’s not life changing money,” Deeb said. “You bet five to ten million to win, that’s such a big change in your net worth that you’re just gonna basically do everything to harm yourself. And he doesn’t wanna see that. But also, my success rate goes up drastically the more monetary incentive I have behind the bet.”

But Deeb accepted the bet anyway, and wants to win. At the outset, he felt like he needed some motivation and incentive beyond just getting in shape – something he had been talking about doing for years to no avail. “My wife always reminds me of when we first were getting married, I said, ‘you know, I’ve always been kind of chunky, but I’m athletic, I play sports, I’m gonna lose weight.’ So she’s reminded me of that comment for the last 10 years as I’ve done absolutely zero exercise or health or fitness stuff. So when I booked this bet, I literally woke her up and I go, ‘well you’re gonna be real happy and also hate me.”

Ironically, one of the things that had enabled him to stay out of shape for so long was also one of his better qualities: his self image and confidence. “I’ve never been a vanity type person. I have no shame. When I was at my peak weight I would still go in my bathing suit or have my shirt off. I was not ashamed of my body. I’ve always had confidence and no worries of public shaming for what I look like.

“I mean that’s so important to me because, you know, my oldest is nine and he’s made some comments about not wanting to be fat or stuff like that. And I’m like, don’t worry about that. It’s so crazy that kids stress about this. I want my kids to be comfortable in their body and have that confidence that I’ve always had no matter what they do.”

Although he does not fear public shame over how he looks, he does fear public shame over failing at the one thing he’s best at: gambling. He will find the motivation he needs to win the bet by putting every detail of his efforts to win over the next year online for the whole world to see. The day after booking the bet, Deeb spoke to Polk for advice, and Polk told him the secret to winning was YouTube; Deeb should try to broadcast his journey to as wide an audience as possible. “As this bet gets more notoriety – it’s already massive in the poker community – but once I get the other outside people involved, I’m just failing in front of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. And that just will not be acceptable,” Deeb said.

So Deeb set up a YouTube channel, “MillionDollarDeeb,” to post updates (currently at around 2,000 subscribers). He is doing a PokerGo show with Ben Mintz where they work out together and talk poker during the WSOP. And he’s started a discord channel where anyone else who wants to learn about health and fitness and try to get in shape alongside Deeb can join in and play along (currently almost 500 members). He’s attempting to build a community around the bet, and hopes that community will give him the boost he needs to see it through. “I’ve never cared about this stuff and now that I’m learning about it and enjoying it, I’m liking the math and data side of it and exposing that to other people.”

While anyone can get plenty of fitness and health advice from an overwhelming number of sources, Deeb is offering his fans and followers a one-stop-shop that will cut through all the bullshit and snake oil and deliver people information and advice based on his own exhaustive research and trial and error on his own body. And that’s something of value, at least to him. He’s spending a pretty penny on nutritionists, doctors, trainers, therapists, and all manner of professionals to help him fine tune his body to win this bet. “I’m guesstimating I’m gonna be out of pocket about $250,000 or so.”

That money is going towards a team he has assembled to handle every aspect of this challenge for him, save for doing the actual exercise. The investment, while a quarter of what he hopes to win, is still worth it to him, and might even be a bit of a wash. “I would spend close to that, you know, on other stuff. Because I’m not ordering out nearly as much DoorDash, which was very frequent. I would get stuff for the kids and myself. Now I don’t spend money on drinking or big dinners and stuff like that. So there’s definitely been some financial benefit, but that wasn’t the goal.”

So far the program his team has had him on has been a lot smoother than he anticipated. “My apprehension doing this was, oh, I feel like I’m gonna be miserable,” he says. “I feel like I’m gonna eat bland garbage food and not be happy and not feel full. But none of those things have happened yet.” Deeb hired a trainer the very first day of the bet, and his trainer has been surprised at Deeb’s level of commitment, especially this early in the bet. “My trainer always asks me, did you cheat this week? And I’m like, no. He’s like, really nothing? Not a Snickers, not a piece of bread? I’m like, ‘No, I, I have no urge.’ I wanna do this and I know that every slip up will cost me maybe a day or two to get to the goal at 17%.”

Deeb attributes his ability to avoid cheating and to stay focused on the long term plan to his experience playing poker tournaments. “My poker mindset is such a long term thought process that it’s ideal for a bet like this, because I can see the bigger picture, I can see the long term and I know what the end goal is. I know the steps I have to take and every day I take those steps. My mindset on day one, it’ll be my mindset on the last day.” He thinks this is what gives him the edge where others would fail. “I would bet against a random person for sure to lose this bet.”

One advantage a random person would have over Deeb, however, is they wouldn’t need to balance a health and fitness regiment against a summer playing in dozens of poker tournaments at the World Series of Poker. The WSOP presents a unique challenge to Deeb. The 2018 WSOP Player of the Year is keen to try to compete for that honor again this year, and doesn’t want his weight bet to get in the way of his performance. But there are plenty of ways it can.

“The other day I was at a casino playing a tournament at Rivers and I played awful because I was hungry,” he recounted on one of his YouTube updates. “I purposely punted out of my tournament because of my appetite.” For the WSOP, Deeb has hired a Poker Meals, a meal prep company in Las Vegas, to make his food for him in conjunction with his nutritionist, who he also hired (they’re offering the “Deeb Diet” to any other poker players who want to follow in his footsteps).

Fortunately that tournament at Rivers was smaller stakes. Last week he played at The Lodge in Round Rock, Texas for much higher stakes. “I played really well. I had really good results. I was fine mentally, had no fatigue. And so I think that was a good confidence booster going into the series where the field size is gonna be softer,” he said. “Once I get fully immersed into the poker grind day in and day out, I get sharper and sharper every time.”

The poker grind up to this point in the bet has definitely taken a backseat to the fitness grind, and he’s played a lot less poker than he otherwise would have during the runup to the WSOP. Deeb even canceled some trips to play because he needed to be near his trainer or stick to his meal plan. When he has been able to travel, he hasn’t been able to exercise or eat like he wants to, either because of a lack of facilities or the schedule he has to keep. And at the WSOP, the schedule is as rigorous as a tournament player will encounter all year. “I think last year I had three days out of 55 days [where] I was done at 7 p.m., and this year it might even be less because I’m gonna go even more volume and play even a few more of the high rollers and really go for Player of the Year so hard.”

It may sound incongruous that he would push himself even harder at this year’s WSOP despite needing to focus on his health to such a degree, but he doesn’t think he has any choice. He may not have many more opportunities to compete at this level. Deeb knows that fatigue and stamina will play more of a role in his performance as he gets older, and he worries about that.

“The moniker from so many top players is you gotta be healthy, you gotta be meditating, you gotta be doing this like the high roller robot group,” he says, “they all think that’s peak performance.”

“I only have so many more years of peak play and I feel like I’m in my prime mentally ,” he says. “And maybe next year I’ll be in my prime physically, too.”