Antonio Payne has been playing poker for the last 15 to 20 years by his own estimate, but it wasn't until 2011 the American Airlines crew chief and wedding and sports photography business owner from Hazlet, New Jersey took his game to a serious level.
Had it been up to Payne, he might never had made the jump in to the world of professional poker, but his friends gave him the needed shove forward.
“I had been playing in home games but a lot of my friends were pushing me to play on a bigger stage,” Payne said. “I had the skill but it was about time and money. I eventually decided pursue it and started playing a lot more.”
Starting out at 1/2 No Limit Hold'em and $100 buy-in tournaments at Ballys and the Taj Mahal, Payne soon migrated over to the Borgata.
He earned over $70,000 his first year playing seriously and earned his first live tournament win during the summer of 2012 when he took down the $235 Rio Daily Deepstack No Limit Hold’em in Las Vegas for $34,401.
“That was a big hit for me,” Payne said. “That was the day after I busted the Main Event (2012 World Series of Poker). So it was my worst day and my best day back to back.”
Payne was introduced to Lee Childs, owner of Inside the Minds, a professional poker training company and began taking the offered courses.
“His training really helped me a lot,” Payne said. “I had a lot of people, Jason Young and Matt Glantz, who were all very helpful in the training. I really learned a lot from them and I started playing more tournaments. And that was a smart thing to do because, although my game was good, no matter how good you are you are always looking for that edge.
Payne said Childs and his company guided him in the right direction and he will be forever grateful for that.
“I think I’m older than him, but Lee is really like a father figure to me,” he said.
Payne was so successful right out of the gate, he was approached by Blue Shark Optics, the official eye-wear of the WSOP, last August to be a member of their professional representatives team along with poker pros Jonathan Little, Humberto Brenes and 2003 WSOP Main Event champion Chris Moneymaker.
“I’ve been part of their team for last seven or eight months and that has been really nice for me,” Payne said of the honor. “It has opened a lot of doors for me as far as exposure.”
With his wife of 26 years and his two sons, 24 and 17, by his side Payne said the sky is the limit when it comes to his professional poke future. And he for certain wants to earn the respect of those who came before him.
“There are a lot of grinders here every day, I might play a lot but these guys are here everyday and it is their job and I really respect what they do in this forum. They paved the way for me and I know my place in the game,” Payne said of the regulars he often plays alongside.