The game of poker has grown from one that most people viewed as a hobby into an international phenomenon over the last two decades. While the concept of professional poker players has existed for many years, it really got a new meaning in 2003 when an amateur by the name of Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event for $2.5 Million.

This year represents the start of what is known as the Poker Boom, a movement that saw thousands of young people worldwide turn to poker and try to make a career from playing cards. Before that, most professional poker players knew each other, and the circle was mostly closed to outsiders. The small circle of poker professionals would seek out games against amateurs and try to take their money with little effort.

This all changed since 2003, as poker became a kind of sport and competition for many. Tournament poker, in particular, became a true form of competition, with thousands of players studying the game and trying to get an edge over the others in the field.

However, while you may have watched poker on ESPN or another television, it is likely that you don’t know all the ins and outs of how professional poker players actually make money. Apart from the tournament circuit, most players also play at poker sites as shown on and also participate in the concept of poker staking.

What is Poker Staking and Who Benefits?

The concept of poker staking has existed long before the Poker Boom, with experienced players and other people with money looking for opportunities to put players without money into various profitable games. In big part, staking was a kind of hustle among the shady professionals who were looking to get an even bigger upper hand over the amateurs.

Once poker became a profession for so many, the concept of bankroll management soon came to show its head and many players realized that they were significantly under rolled for the games they were trying to play in. Professional poker players recommend having well over 100 average buy-ins for the tournaments you intend to play, and for some players, this would mean needing to have $1 Million or more in cash at any time.

Since such bankrolls are hard to maintain for most, players often turn to staking. The staking community exploded with the Poker Boom, with many stakers making more money than the actual players over the years. Staking in essence means investing in players by fronting them buy-ins for tournaments and taking back a percentage of what they made in the tournament.

Depending on the deal in place and player’s quality, stakers may give players a better or worse deal. While some deals are pure 50/50, some players end up playing tournaments for just a small fraction of their overall winnings. Some players who do have bankrolls of their own end up selling shares of their buy-in and reducing their exposure by giving other players and stakers a percentage of their winnings in return for a percentage of the buy-in.

But how much can these players win? Here are a few examples of the biggest wins that we know of in which certain percentages were sold, as well as an insight into the one man who may just be staking the highest stakes players around.

Antonio Esfandiari – The Big One for One Drop

In 2012, the WSOP announced that it would be holding the largest poker tournament ever held to that date. The Big One for One Drop was organized in cooperation with Guy Laliberte’s One Drop Foundation and was a charity tournament that saw 10% of all the buy-ins go to help provide clean water to those in need in Africa.

Antonio Esfandiari was already a well-established poker professional and an influential figure in the entertainment world. He had dominated poker tournaments and cash games alike for years, but little did he know that he was about to win the biggest tournament of them all.

When all was said and done, Antonio ended up turning his initial $1 Million buy-in into $18 Million in cold hard cash, but the question remains of how much he actually got to keep. In an interview he gave after the win, Antonio said that he had sold portions of his buy-ins to friends and stakers, but had a reasonable piece of himself, without disclosing how much that actually was.

John Cynn – The WSOP Champion

An interesting example of a player who discussed being staked and selling action for his biggest buy-in tournaments ever played in John Cynn, the 2018 WSOP Main Event Champion. The Main Event is well-known for being one of the most prestigious events of the year and his win in 2018 netted this professional player nearly $9.000.000 in cash.

It is important to note that John Cynn openly said that he had sold action for this tournament and that a part of his winnings would go to backers. This goes to show just how common the practice of staking is in poker and the poker community knows that Cynn is just one of the many big winners who have been fully or partially staked for their biggest wins over the years.

Paul Phua – The Malaysian Poker King

A true legend of the poker world, 56 year old Paul Phua has been running poker games and other gambling activities in Asia for years. While it may be hard to believe, Paul built his empire worth $400 Million by hosting high stakes poker games and tournaments in Asian and around the world.

While Paul may not be the best poker player in the world, his skills are at a reasonable level and he has had success on the tournament circuit himself. However, Paul is better known for staking players like Tom Dwan in the highest stakes poker games in the world, but the numbers behind these endeavors are not public.

What we do know of Paul is that his empire is growing at a steady rate, he remains a VIP and one of the biggest players in highest stakes cash games around and his role in the prestigious Triton Poker series makes this Malaysian one of the most influential people in the poker world.