by Kelly Minkin
When I enrolled at the University of Arizona for undergrad, I had my heart set on medical school. I scrolled through the science majors and asked my then boyfriend’s dad, who was a general surgeon, what would be the best undergraduate degree to prepare for medical school. He said, “Well pre-med would be your best bet.” We searched through the majors and saw that there was no “pre-med” major. His next recommendation was Molecular and Cellular Biology – so that’s what I chose. I found MCB to be an incredibly rigorous and competitive major, and noticed that I was surrounded by many bright young individuals – I loved that. I am competitive at heart, and strive to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the best. To be honest, I struggled with many of my classes, but fought hard and was determined to complete my degree, which I did in the spring of 2011. It was the most proud and accomplished I had ever felt.
In my last year or so of undergrad, I took an elective called “Bioethics” with Professor Pimentel, which was an entire class on just that – the ethical and moral concerns and dilemmas within biology and the medical field. I was absolutely enthralled. I finished at the top of my class, and was a preceptor for Bioethics the following semester. After some serious anxiety about taking the MCAT, a decent score on an LSAT practice test, and a few lengthy discussions on law and medicine with Professor Pimentel, I chose to pursue law school. By this time, all the deadlines for the big schools had passed, and I didn’t want to wait a year. I filled out one application to Phoenix School of Law (now Arizona Summit Law School), was accepted with a partial scholarship, and took the leap. Shockingly, law school was not nearly as competitive or difficult (in my opinion) as the curriculum of MCB. The scientific reasoning and analysis I learned throughout my years within MCB helped immensely.
After class, I started playing poker at the local casino. I began playing in the smaller games, and moved up in stakes as I could. Long story short, I ended up regularly playing the 3-5 No-Limit game at Talking Stick Casino, and was making a decent profit. The summer before my last year of law school, I had my first big tournament cash at the Arizona State Championship for around $150,000. Now, I had the “bankroll” to play bigger games and more tournaments, so I did. I graduated from law school in April of 2014, and immediately started traveling for tournaments before I had to buckle down to study for the Bar. After multiple tournaments and slim results, I came back home and took an LSAT prep class. Now, studying for the Bar was the most challenging thing I have ever done. Failing was not an option for me. I took the Bar in July 2014, and had to wait until October to find out if I passed. When the results were posted online, I scrolled through the list of names and when I read my name I cried. Now this was the most proud and accomplished I had ever felt!
I began working for Kent & Wittekind, P.C., whose work is primarily medical malpractice defense. I was able to incorporate my passion and love for the medical field, my MCB degree from U of A, my poker skills, and my natural knack for logic and reasoning – I had my dream job. I explained to the firm that I did play poker somewhat professionally, and they were willing to be flexible enough to let me travel occasionally for tournaments. I was sworn in on January 13, 2015, and officially became a licensed, practicing associate attorney. A week or so later, I won my first tournament at the Los Angeles Poker Classic for $55,000. A few weeks after that, I traveled to Florida for the WPT Lucky Hearts Tournament and placed in third for $260,000 – my boss ordered pizza for the firm and they watched the final table on live stream! I flew home and went back to work the next day. I worked hard when I was in the office, and worked hard when I was playing in tournaments. I had a few more cashes over the summer at the World Series of Poker, and was the “last woman standing” at the Main Event – I placed 29th for over $200,000. Given all of my results in 2015, I was named the Global Poker Index Women’s Player of the Year. Yes I was working full-time. No I did not quit my job!
Some people have a hard time understanding why I would not opt to play poker full time, given my success, but success is individually defined. Success to me is being able to come into work every day loving what I do, and not being worried about the paycheck. Success to me is feeling fulfilled and knowing that I am an advocate for people who rely on me. Success to me is living a purposeful life, surrounded by loved ones. Success to me is balance and foundation. I am fortunate to have found my niche in life at a young age. Every aspect of my life, each right decision, all the hard work, and every mistake has lead me to this point.