For Maurice Hawkins playing poker professionally started with a football-career ending injury sustained while chasing an armed robber out of his house.
He was attending university on a scholarship and after moving home to Daytona Beach in Florida following the injury, he started playing live poker.
Since then he’s racked up over $2.6 million in earnings, nine WSOP Circuit rings and an American Poker Award for Breakout Performance of 2016.
But it all started one day after football practice.
“Basically I came home, hamstrings were kind of tight after a six-hour day at practice,” Hawkins explained while on a break from the final two tables of the $1,500 Monster Stack event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
6,716 players entered that tournament and the first place prize was just under $1.1 million.
“The football team was racing the track team and I made like $350. For some reason the track boys thought they could beat the football guys at 40-yard dashes and they were willing to put money on it.
“So I got back to my room and I hear a knock on the door and my roommate answered the door. My friend had a girl there so we were just chilling and all I heard was a bunch of dishes rattling and stuff and they grab him and put him down and then yelled for me to come out.
“I’m a third-degree brown belt and my hands are licensed so I was hesitant to go out there. I really don’t want to get into an altercation with someone with a gun no matter who they are. I looked through the door and they got a gun to the back of my roommates head. I tell the girl to shut up and go out the window.
“I open the door a bit and the guy with the gun tries to come through the door and he’s got the gun in front of him so I slam the door on him and do a move and hit him in his esophagus and break his right knee.
“Now the gun’s on the ground, my roommate grabs the gun, and the other attacker runs. I chase the guy and end up catching him but tore both my hamstrings in the process of running after him.
“I ripped them right before I grabbed him and then the cops came. Originally they were trying to get me for assault but after they talked to my roommate and saw his injuries they figured out what had happened.
“I ended up leaving that college and going home for a month to Daytona Beach and I started playing poker. That was the start of it all.”
More Good from Bad
Hawkins says he was successful playing poker in Florida. He played sit and gos and when the state changed the laws limiting cash-game buy-ins, he learned how to win at that too.
He said he had run his bankroll up to three or four hundred thousand dollars and he was in a long-term relationship.
But after buying a house he went on a big downswing and lost it all. His girlfriend left him. Hawkins said it was because of the money.
“So I was in Vegas, really sad about my ex leaving me and I had been on a downswing for like a year and a half. I think it was in 2007 or 2008,” he said.
“During that period, there were times when I really didn’t know where the money was going to come from.”
Hawkins continued playing poker and not long after, met another woman. He said that starting the day after he met her he won back-to-back tournaments at the Venetian.
Five months later they were married. The hard times continued but his wife stuck with him.
“There was a time I couldn’t get in tournaments for like three months so we had to sleep on an air mattress at my friend’s house,” remembered Hawkins.
“One day the guys were in the other room and I told them my net worth was a million dollars because I could win a million at any moment.
“They all laughed at me and I had to go back to the air mattress with my girl and my kids and my dog.
I told my wife I was going to make it and she believed in me.
“That December I won a tournament for like $20,000, we moved into an apartment and we just built from there.”
Hawkins Addresses Criticism
If you search Maurice Hawkins online you’ll find a number of reports of his behavior at the table and a lot of it’s negative.
He’s repeatedly been accused of being disrespectful to other players and when we asked him about it he didn’t shy away from the question.
“Gary Payton was the glove, the best defensive man alive,” said Hawkins.
“You meet him on the court he D’d you up and talked you down. Michael Jordan wasn’t friendly. Charles Barkley wasn’t friendly.
“It’s part of the game. I’m in attack mode. When we’re gambling I’m in attack mode so I’m going to do anything I can.
“I approach this like it’s a game. A lot of people out here approach it like it’s their life. When you’re at the table, everyone’s in the game and it’s not the same as when you’re away from the table.
“I am passionate and I do get fired up in the moment so it is a part of me but I don’t want to offend people. I think if you knew me away from the table you’d know I’m a good dude.
Hawkins also has to be aware that in poker, the cameras are often pointed at the person making the most noise.
“Sometimes I’m abrasive but it is what it is. I’m still from St. Louis city you know.”