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Jeff Gross gets kick out of playing poker

Jeff Gross’ dream of becoming a professional soccer player didn’t work out.

His career as a pro poker player has gone considerably better.

Gross, a former midfielder at South Carolina, has almost $3 million in career live tournament earnings and was tabbed by many observers as a potential breakout performer at this year’s World Series of Poker.

“I’m a huge believer in energy and flow,” Gross said. “I’m just a high-energy guy. I love positivity, I love creation, and poker’s a way to do it and a platform. But it’s bigger than poker. I just love creating and having a good time and meeting new people, relationships.”

Gross grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was introduced to poker at age 14 when a teammate brought a chip set to a University of Michigan soccer team camp.

He appeared in five matches for the Gamecocks from 2004 to 2007 without recording a goal or an assist and twice was named to the Conference USA and Southeastern Conference academic honor roll.

“(Soccer) was my main passion until poker,” Gross said, “and then (I) kind of got really into poker and realized soccer, ‘OK I’m not going to go play pro,’ and just transitioned from there.”

After graduating from South Carolina in 2008, Gross moved in with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and the two were roommates for the next seven years.

Gross first met Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist, at a casino in Windsor, Ontario, in 2006 when Phelps was attending Michigan.

“I definitely learned a lot from living with him, watching his work ethic and what it takes to make some waves in your industry and realize you’ve got to put in the work,” Gross said. “Obviously being around the most decorated Olympian ever, you get some of the tendencies and habits and all that.”

Gross enters the WSOP on the heels of a strong showing in last month’s PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker.

The 30-year-old finished eighth in the $1,050 buy-in No-limit Hold ’em Phase 2 event for almost $84,000, missing out on the five-way chop for the top prize money.

“It was a great result and very happy with it, but it was disappointing to miss out on the huge payday,” Gross said. “Those huge fields, I feel confident that I can penetrate and make it to the end. I’m definitely going to use that to my advantage.”

Gross is a mainstay at high-stakes tournaments, and last year he finished 18th in the WSOP’s $111,111 buy-in No-limit Hold ’em High Roller for One Drop event for more than $187,000.

Gross is not expected to play in the High Roller for One Drop that starts Friday at the Rio Convention Center and instead will provide color commentary for Poker Central’s online stream of the event.

“I’m fortunate my parents (Richard and Linda) and my wife, Emilia, are super supportive of me,” Gross said. “I want to keep getting better and growing as a person and a player. I’m going to put it out there and share the ride.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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