Scott Barrows is anything but your typical professional poker player. Staying steer clear of drinking, smoking and even the club scene, he'd rather concentrate on the game at hand.
Even Las Vegas, the city that lures fame seekers and high rollers, ultimately couldn't hold his interest. And while his foray into the world of flushes and full houses was purely accidental, he's stayed true to a promise he made himself as a teenager — making enough money to live life on his own terms.
A recent Glendale transplant hailing from Denver, Barrows, 34, has pocketed some serious winnings in the last few years, including his best yet — a $40,050 win in May in the Cal State Poker Championships that landed him in third place in a competition with 3,000 participants. His total winnings waver somewhere in the high six figures, he said. Despite his success, he maintains that he doesn't care too much for money.
"There's a line they say in poker: To be a good poker player you have to be at anytime willing to whip out a $100 bill and light it on fire," Barrows said.
Not one to shy away from risk, Barrows' relatively recent achievements don't reflect the years he spent perfecting his poker skills and hustling to make ends meet, working odd jobs — strip club bouncer in Las Vegas, an actor in Los Angeles, which earned him a spot on "Two and a Half Men," and even office work at an adult video company, where he saw more than he bargained for.
Before poker however, Barrows, who stands at 7 feet tall and considers himself "un-hirable," found successful work as a wrestler.
"I'm a bit of a giant, so a guy I met in a bar told me that if I got into wrestling, I could make some serious money," he said.
Though he made his way through the ring for six years and had almost made it big, the 2001 collapse of the industry after the World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., created a monopoly in the wrestling business with mergers, left him reevaluating his life.
It was then that Barrows turned to play professional poker full time.
"I heard you could make a living doing it, and I was like 'that's the gig right?' so I kept at it," he said.
But it took quite a while before Lady Luck was on his side.
"It was terrible, I used to lose every single day, for like a year," he said. I didn't win for probably 100 trips."
Persistence at the table led Barrows to move to Las Vegas to pursue professional poker. He found himself working as a strip club bouncer once again — making $200 a night and taking it straight back to casinos.
"I barely, barely got by," he said. "I didn't have any real bills, so I would quit my job and play until the money ran out."
In the long term, the hustle and bustle of the Vegas lifestyle wasn't working out for Barrows, who said that he didn't even make one friend when he lived there.
For the last few years, however, friends and fortunes have increased for Barrows, who is a big fan of Zankou Chicken and counts Short Handed No Limit Hold 'Em as his favorite poker game.
Longtime friends, like Ronnie Fines of Denver aren't surprised by Barrow's success, attributing it to years playing sports at a young age.
"The toughness and drive that you get from playing competitive sports has something that has helped him to keep that never-give-up attitude," he said. "Sooner or later, I knew he would start winning."
Ryan Katz, a Glendale resident who met Barrows while they were both wrestling back in Denver, is amazed at the bipolar lifestyle that professional poker players lead.
"It's crazy hearing about the big wins and devastating losses," he said. "It's a pretty cool way to make a living."
Katz, who runs the Fit Pit Pro Wrestling School and Training Center in Chatsworth, has tried to convince Barrows to get back into wrestling, but says he doesn't have the passion for the ring anymore. He attributes Barrows' poker success to his ability to read people and intimidating looks, Katz said.
Glendale has also been treating him much better than Las Vegas ever did, Barrows said.
He has been living the Americana at Brand complex for about two years. He likes the Jewel City due to its "separate from L.A. feel" and central location, he said.
Despite the money the game has brought him, the lifestyle of a professional poker player does have its drawbacks.
"It's very hard to maintain relationships and not conducive for a married life," Barrows said.
While Barrows is looking forward to playing in his next big tournament, he's also feeling burned out by the game and wants to travel for a bit instead.
He doesn't take the luxury of taking time off from his "job" at will for granted, either.
"I'm pretty lucky that I have options to do whatever I want to do every day," he said.
He also offers a lesson to those who want to do the same.
"You have to be willing to take a risk," he said. "If you don't take that risk, then there's no reward."