McCandless poker pro builds career from mom’s advice, life lessons
At 26, Chad Power is living his dream. The 2007 North Allegheny High School graduate is fresh off a $262,574 payday at the World Series of Poker Main Event. He resides in a “poker house” in Maryland, home to a half-dozen or so card pros who share a passion for playing and analyzing No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em.
Power puts in about 120 hours a month at the poker table. That’s short of the time commitment required for a 9-to-5 job, he says, but he offers poker lessons at $15,000 per session and stakes other players in return for a share of their winnings.
“I wake up every day and I do whatever I want,” Power says. “There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility.”
His tale of how he achieved that lifestyle involves lessons learned from his mom, from a Brazilian author and from a bit of trouble.
Chad and his mother, Sally Power of McCandless, say he started playing poker while in high school. Poker became the rage in 2003, when amateur Chris Moneymaker won the $10,000-per-seat World Series of Poker Main Event, reaping a $2.5 million prize and national fame thanks to television broadcasts.
Chad and his buddies set up their own $5 tournaments, moving from house to house, often ending up at the Power home.
“People would look at me askew and say, ‘Why are you letting him play poker?’ ” says Sally, who retired in 2012 after 36 years of teaching hearing-impaired students.
She had plenty of reasons: “I know where he is. I know what he’s doing. I know he’s not getting into trouble. He’s developing social skills as well as reasoning and observing his fellow players. These are not bad things.”
Chad says he went on to Slippery Rock University, bouncing around courses in business, marketing, accounting and public relations, but his love of poker never faded. In his junior year, he started reading “The Alchemist,” an international best-seller by Paulo Coelho about a young shepherd who has visions of finding a treasure in Egypt.
“It’s all about following your dream,” Chad says. “I got like two-thirds of the way through, closed the book and went straight to the dean’s office and dropped out” to play poker.
Sally, who says she won’t even buy a lottery ticket, was less than pleased with the news. Then, he changed her mind with her own words.
“Mom,” she remembers him saying, “you always said find my passion and make it my profession.”
“Yes,” she admits, chuckling at the memory. “I said that.”
Free of school, Chad worked on his game.
“I went for years where all I did was think about poker,” he says. “If you’re not going to study, you’re not going to be good.”
He thinks that might explain why so many top players are only a few years past the legal gambling age. “A lot of the young guys don’t have jobs,” he says. They have more time to play as well as to analyze hands and strategize with friends or in online forums.
“Older people, they got a family, they have a life, they have stuff to do, and they don’t have the time to put in the work that you need to be good.”
Sally says that even as a youngster, Chad had a gift for math and often complained about having to show how he arrived at the correct answer.
“To him, it was just so obvious,” she says. “That’s when you see that someone is positive of something. The gifts that you have are something that feel natural to you.”
“People who work out at the gym have muscles to show what they’ve done,” she says. “You see the success that he’s had. He’s worked at it. It’s not just something that happened.”
Much of the success has come away from his hometown, something not entirely of his choosing.
“I actually was banned from Rivers Casino,” says Chad, who returns to Pittsburgh for the holidays. He says he was banned for staking other players in the room. A Rivers spokeswoman says the casino does not release information on individual players.
“I’ve never done anything suspicious in poker. I have a very good reputation,” Chad says. “But for whatever reason, that poker room, I kind of learned my lesson there. You have to just tell the right people.” He says he took his business to Atlantic City and later to Maryland Live! casino near Baltimore. They welcomed his action, he says.
Maryland Live! poker-room manager Mike Smith says players there respect Chad’s play and rooted for him during the Main Event.
Sally says the Rivers banning was a painful episode that resulted in Chad moving on to bigger and better things.
Chad says he plays only two or three tournaments a year, preferring cash games. His run in the Main Event generated many lasting memories, including seeing poker-house roommate Chris Brand match his Main Event run. Brand finished 24th, two spots ahead of Chad, but each received the same payout.
In high school, Chad says, he dreamed of making the Main Event final table and sitting across from poker superstar Daniel Negreanu. While neither made the final table, Chad says he sat immediately left of Negreanu during one stage of the tournament.
Sally, 65, is founder and executive director for Treasure House Fashions, a nonprofit organization that provides name-brand clothing for women coping with poverty, addiction, domestic violence or other problems. It operates a retail store in the 7600 block of McKnight Road in Ross.
She says Chad keeps her young and makes her laugh.
“I’m beyond proud of him,” she says. “I’m happy for him because of his accomplishments, but I’m proud of him for who he is.
“It’s the life. For a young guy to be doing this … yeah!”
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or [email protected].