How Orthodox Jew Ari Engel became a Pro Poker Player without offending Rabbi father

When we reach adulthood, we all make life choices, many of which our parents are sure to disagree with. It’s simply a part of coming of age. Career choices often fall into that category. But for one Orthodox Jew, whose father happens to be a rabbi, his decision to pursue a pro poker career came with the 100% support from his parents.

I’m referring to Ari Engel (pictured right), a highly successful live and online pro poker player originally from Toronto, Ontario. Engel grew up traveling the world with his parents, and continues to do so to this day as part of his pro poker obligations. During his early adolescence, the Engel family finally settled down in the United States metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois.

Ari attended yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish high school, in Chicago, where he was first introduced to the game of poker in his senior year. His yeshiva continued with a gap year in Jerusalem, where he continued to play poker on an amateur level before resuming his education at New York University. Again, playing poker took up a large portion of his weekly schedule, and in his second year of college, he began to raise the stakes by playing higher limit games.

Engel happened to be the roommate of Andrew Brown, who’s since become one of the highest regarded Omaha specialists of his generation. Brown helped his Jewish co-tenant hone his skills, and the results were phenomenal. The online poker prodigy found enormous success on the virtual felt, but unlike so many of today’s top pro poker players, that did not deter Ari from finishing his college education.

With a degree in finance from NYU in hand, Ari Engel sought employment in the financial field and had no trouble securing an entry level position. However, he also sustained his passion for online poker, spending his weekends and evenings siphoning chip into his bankroll. It only took a few weeks for the native Canadian to realize that his poker play was much more lucrative than his day job. Engel immediately quit his job to pursue a full time career as a pro poker player.

Anyone familiar with the Orthodox Jewish religion is surely aware just how far against the grain Ari’s decision was. Gambling of any type is heavily frowned upon, and with a rabbi for a father, the fallout of his career choice could have been devastating. Fortunately for Engel, that was not the case at all. His parents not only supported his decision, but shared the same view that poker is a game most often won by those who implement skill and strategy; not a mere game of chance.

Earlier this week, Ari Engel was interviewed by Jewish news source, JTA, while competing in a poker tournament in Atlantic City. He detailed his feelings towards poker and casino gambling, saying “it’s very unfortunate that poker takes place in casinos. It doesn’t really belong there.”

As for the skill versus chance argument, Engle said, “Poker definitely has a lot of things that are beyond one’s control, but it has plenty of things within your control. I don’t gamble at all. I’m trying to get an edge when I play poker, and I try to make a living out of it.”

At 31 years of age, Ari Engel is currently ranked the 23rd best pro poker player in the world by Bluff Magazine. He’s accumulated over $1.84 million in live tournament winnings, and nearly $3.14 million from his online poker exploits, more than half of which was won at Bodog Poker under the nickname, “BodogAri”.