Former #1 Chris ‘BigHuni’ Hunichen Goes From Backed to Backer


Former PocketFives #1 player Chris Hunichen was once backed himself but is now opening a stable of his own. (WPT photo)

In both the online and live arena, “stables” of players being backed by one individual or a group of benefactors are as common as three-betting with aces. There is a general understanding of this within the poker community, but what is missing in the equation, is how stables are built.

Over the past few weeks, Chris ‘BigHuni’ Hunichen and a team of other top online professionals have sought out to find the best in up-and-coming online grinders as part of their new coaching and staking website, Pura Vida Staking. Hunichen along with Michael ‘MikeyG3’ Gentili and Michael ‘telks’ Telker are taking on the task of paring down hundreds of applications into a single digit number of “horses” that they will provide full backing and coaching services to. Along with the three professionals, Brad ‘RamsGold’ Yates is in charge of working the business and accounting end of the stable.

The process is a thorough one, to say the least, as Hunichen and his team have received 200 applications so far and expect to see that number rise in the next week before the process closes. Hunichen says that Gentili is in charge of the overall selection process but all three of them are responsible for taking a player’s SharkScope graph, place it over a player’s application and deciding from there whether or not to inquire about hand histories from that specific applicant.

The main detail that Hunichen says separates their stable from others is the limitation of how high of a buy-in tournaments players can enter. The primary buy-in levels that Hunichen is focused on is the $16.50 and $22 tournaments on PokerStars.

“Our stable is exclusively online because of the $16.50s and $22s. Once you’re beating something, there’s no point in leaving it. We will build players up as we see fit,” said Hunichen.

This far from Hunichen’s first foray into the world of backing players. Hunichen says he had a stable prior to Black Friday and was also backed himself for a few years earlier in his career, most notably by former WCOOP Main Event Champion Carter ‘CKingUSC’ King.

“I’ve had a couple of different backers through the years. It’s been a good experience for me. I enjoy it both ways, it’s good for security, but not being backed is more exciting. I learned how to better manage my bankroll [playing on my own].”

Hunichen’s pre-Black Friday stable featured players with whom he had personal relationships which long-term, affected the business aspect of the relationship. Although that experience didn’t work out as well as Hunichen hoped, he is confident the lessons learned will be beneficial this time around.

“It was tough to intervene business with friendships. We want someone who is willing to improve on mistakes. You get stubborn and stop listening and I used to be that way as well. The game is changing all the time. The perfect student is someone who is willing to work hard and lose the ego and accept when they make mistakes.”

Along with his new business venture, the 32-year-old Hunichen is plenty busy with family life and his own poker career. With over $9,300,000 in online tournament earnings, Hunichen’s goal for 2017 is to become the third player on PocketFives to hit the $10,000,000 mark in earnings.

Additionally, Hunichen recently had his first child last December with his wife, Heilyn, whom he met in Costa Rica. Hunichen and his wife live with their son, Bryson Liam and Heilyn’s son from a previous relationship, Derek. Hunichen first moved to Costa Rica shortly after Black Friday and has had his life changed immensely in the five years of his residence.

“I love it here, it’s been a blast. I’ve lived with friends in grind houses and had a lot of fun. But you get older and get out of the partying mood. My wife has a four-year-old from another relationship and we just had our first baby together. My wife’s family is here and we signed a year lease in a new home. The U.S. sites aren’t good enough to justify moving back.”

For all of the challenges that Hunichen and the Pura Vida Staking team might face, as they build their stable, Hunichen is confident that he, his team, and his horses will all find long-term success based on the method of teaching implemented.

“We’re going to teach people the right way to play poker and basic core fundamentals. There is going to be group sessions and one-on-one coaching for all those who want it.”