HALIFAX — A Halifax man who won over US$671,000 at an international poker tournament in the Bahamas doesn’t plan on keeping a single cent of his unlikely winnings.
Scott Wellenbach, a 67-year-old Buddhist translator, says he’s comfortable enough in his own life that he can donate it all to charity.
“First of all I can. I have a good job, it takes care of my living needs,” he said. “That gives me a comfortable cushion that allows me to donate my poker winnings. It’s actually quite easy, I really don’t need the money.”
Wellenbach, who considers himself an amateur player despite playing for decades, finished third in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event, which attracted top tier professionals and was televised around the world on Wednesday.
In a telephone interview Friday, he was asked whether he was surprised by how things turned out.
“Well sure, I mean 850 people and I ended up third — I mean wow,” he said.
Wellenbach said most of the players at the table had a team of people supporting them through the live television feed. With a half-hour delay in the feed, they were able to report back on the hands and how everybody was playing, he said.
He eventually received help in devising strategy from top player Igor Kurganov, which made an immense difference, he said.
“Before that all I had was my friends back in Nova Scotia, who would email me constantly on what other people were playing against me and how they were perceiving me. I felt like it was a whole team approach and I felt like I was playing for the province of Nova Scotia really.”
Wellenbach believes his age also gave him an advantage, because younger players perceive older players as conservative. He said he learned to play more aggressively from his younger poker friends in Halifax.
“I don’t play in a stereotypical fashion for my age. I think a lot of the success I had in the tournament was the other guys or women would have a hard time figuring out how I was playing, what I was doing.”
Wellenbach said he has no idea how much he’s won playing poker over the years, but estimates it is now more than $1-million. He enters the big tournaments through playing for packaged tour events, such as the one in the Bahamas, online.
In 2017, he won $92,000 at an event in Barcelona — money that went to a Buddhist nunnery in Nepal.
He said he has supported various organizations in the past ranging from Oxfam to Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International, but says the majority of his philanthropy has gone toward “Buddhist endeavours.”
Wellenbach said his particular focus now is charities that support the education and well-being of young girls and women.
“Women I think tend to be more caring than us men by-and-large, and so if through providing means for women to become better educated — if that allows women to assume positions of significance in this world, I think we all would be better off,” he said.
Wellenbach said he hasn’t decided where his latest windfall will go, adding that “my inbox is full of proposals.”
At this point, he’s not sure on exactly when he’ll get his money.
“It will be February at the earliest and maybe even later before I really make a decision. And maybe it won’t go to just one place this time, because frankly this is a significantly greater amount of money than I’ve ever been able to win in the past.”
A native of Philadelphia, Pa., Wellenbach has been fascinated by poker since the age of eight.
He said his family would spend summers on the New Jersey shore and he got his first exposure to the card game when he was allowed to watch the young lifeguards, who would play in their storage hut on rainy days when the beach was closed.
A good student, the interest followed him through school and through his conversion to Buddhism and his work translating Buddhist teachings from Sanskrit and Tibetan. It’s work he’s been doing since moving to Halifax in 1986.
Wellenbach said he will likely be entering online contests again for another chance at poker riches.
“I’m addicted to this,” he said. “It was an amazing outcome, no question.”