The Dart: Vidalia man trades poker table for teacher’s desk
Published 12:04 am Monday, December 1, 2014
VIDALIA — When The Dart landed on Charles Street in Vidalia, Rivera was helping his mother Charolette with the garden in front of the house.
Six months ago, Daniel, 25, was playing professional poker all around the country.
After the Vidalia native graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in Spanish, Daniel went to work for Verizon.
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“I was working and playing poker on the side, but poker was the job I cared about,” he said.
After getting third-place out of 1,300 people in a tournament in Tunica, where he won $30,000, Daniel decided to play poker professionally.
“I figured, when you’re young is the time to take risks like this,” he said.
The game became his life.
“I studied all day, I played everyday,” he said.
His life became a mix of driving across the country and sitting at poker tables on an average of 14-hours a day.
After winning and placing highly in other tournaments around the country, Rivera turned his attention to the 2014 World Series of Poker where there is a $10,000 buy in and a $10-million prize.
“I had made it, just a couple years before I was playing $5 buy in games with my friends,” he said. “Now I was playing against the best poker players in the world.”
He lasted to the second day of the tournament.
“The cards just weren’t coming, and you can only bluff so long until you get figured out,” he said.
On his way back home from Las Vegas to New Orleans, he began to feel a pain in his side. He decided to stop in Plano, Texas, to see his sister.
That night, Daniel woke up unable to breath. He was rushed to the hospital.
“I thought I was going to die, I had never felt like this before,” he said.
The doctors told Daniel the problem was a blood clot in his lung that was likely caused by his sedentary lifestyle as a poker player.
“When I was laying in the hospital thinking I was going to die, I wasn’t thinking about poker,” Daniel said. “I was thinking about my family.”
While still in the hospital, he saw a post by a friend on Facebook about a job opening at Delta Charter School for a Spanish teacher.
“I wasn’t sure about it at first,” Daniel said. “I knew I had to make some changes in my life, but I still wanted to play poker.”
Daniel began to think that he saw the job posting when he did for reason. He applied for the job and got it.
“I knew I would miss my life as a poker player,” he said. “But I knew that this is what God wanted me to do right now.”
Now, he lives a quiet, peaceful life with his parents far removed from bright lights of Las Vegas. He helps around the house and has his own garden in the side yard.
He teaches nearly 100 sixth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students. Teaching is helping Daniel see life as a poker player differently.
“As a poker player, everything I did was for myself,” he said. “But here in Vidalia, I am living for others.
“I don’t know if I will play poker professionally again, but I really love being a Spanish teacher.”