Whether he is playing poker or busting cases of cards, Josh Brikis knows it’s all about the breaks.
“There are a lot of similarities between poker and breaking,” the Pittsburgh native said. “Sometimes you get something great, and sometimes you get nothing.”
Brikis, 37, was a big-money winner on the professional poker circuit for nearly a decade, and said he pulled in more than $2 million in earnings. Now, his main table is the one he uses to break cases of cards during a live stream on his YouTube channel, Brikis Breaks LLC. The channel has been active since 2015, and he stays in touch with card collectors through his website and Twitter and Facebook accounts. He also sells on eBay.
A typical break was held recently, as Brikis busted a case of Panini Prizm football. The entry fee was $199 per person/division for the chance of winning big hits from the 12 boxes in the case (which had 12 packs and 12 cards per pack). Of the 1,728 cards, some collectors were certain to receive big hits from the average of three autographs per box.
With the holiday season now in full swing, Brikis said it was “a rough time” for card breaking.
“It’s a little bit slower time of the year,” he said. “People are buying things for others and not for themselves.”
Still, he seems to have found his niche in breaking cases of cards. He thrives on competition and the thrill of the game.
“I always had a competitive nature to me,” Brikis said. “Whether it was shooting pool or playing cards.”
Pizza and Poker
Playing poker became an obsession after Brikis earned his bachelor’s degree in business logistics at Penn State in 2003. Like his father, George Brikis, Josh Brikis gravitated toward the banking business. While working in Delaware, he would meet with some co-workers after hours to play Texas Hold ’em.
“I learned how to shuffle cards and learned how to play,” he said. “I went from games with friends to online poker to the tournaments.”
Getting out of the banking business, Brikis opened a Fox’s Pizza Den franchise in Delaware.
“It failed but it was a learning experience,” said Brikis, who sold the equipment from the store to finance his poker playing.
One could say that Brikis went from making pizza dough to raking in the dough.
Returning to Pittsburgh, Brikis got back into banking part time and began playing poker tournaments. After winning $18,000 in one event and $29,000 two months later, Brikis left the bank and never looked back.
“To be a pro is type-defined it being your sole source of income,” he said. “From 2008 to 2015 I listed ‘professional poker player’ on my income tax returns.”
The life of a pro was good, with trips to Las Vegas, the Bahamas and Atlantic City, plus air time during the World Series of Poker. He was sponsored by Ivey Poker, an instructional poker website founded by poker great Phil Ivey; and had a partnership with the daily fantasy website, Draft Kings. Sponsors would put up money for entry fees for a percentage.
Brikis’ best year on the poker circuit was 2009, when he won more than $750,000. That included one payday of $619,608, when he finished as runner-up to Matt Hawrilenko in that year’s World Series of Poker $5,000 Six-Handed Event. In 2010 he finished 55th at the WSOP Main Event, winning $138,285, and two months later won a Borgata Poker Open event, taking home $119,034.
“The highs that come from poker are enormous,” Brikis said. “It’s a confidence builder, and when you win it’s a real high.”
But poker is a game of chance, too. In 2011, he lost $100,000.
From Cards to Cards
The grind of traveling and the pressure in not being guaranteed a steady income — although the victories were lucrative, losses could be costly — Brikis began breaking cases and stayed closer to home.
He is divorced but dotes on Brayden, his 5-year-old son. “He’s all I focus on,” Brikis said.
A Pittsburgh native, Brikis said he was “born into” collecting baseball cards. He said his father, George Brikis, who also collected, stoked his passion for the cardboard.
“Every year at Christmas, I could tell what was under the tree,” he said.
Boxes and boxes of cards, beginning with 1986 Topps. George Brikis shared his love of cards with his son, and was fortunate that his mother did not toss them when he got older.
“He likes sets from the 1950s and ’60s, even the ’70s,” Josh Brikis said of his father. “He loves the old stuff, and he likes his cards well-centered.
“He doesn’t like the new stuff, but he helps me by sorting them out and putting out team sets on eBay. We stay connected that way.”
As a case breaker, Brikis has opinions about the collectibles business. While he believes there has been “a big turnaround” and credits breaking as being a part of that revival, he also believes there is too much product out there.
“The companies have their deals, but it’s a little too much,” he said. “Some of the stuff is too high-end.
“The people that have the money love that, but there are too many middle-of-the-road products. The reason the industry tanked in the 1990s was because of overproduction.”
He also said that young collectors needed to stay involved in the hobby, “and you have to get those companies to produce less.”
These days, Brikis will occasionally dabble in poker tournaments. But mostly, he concentrates on his son and his business.
Brikis says that focus is more gratifying than the thrill and glamour of poker tournaments.
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Brikis said. “It’s a skill game, but there is a lot of luck involved.
“Besides, breaking cases is a lot like gambling, when you think about it.”