The late 2000s featured an explosion of great online poker players, including Tom Dwan, Phil Galfond, Ilari Sahamies, and more. But years before these players gained stardom on the cyber felts, Prahlad Friedman was busy becoming the first online poker stud.
Friedman, who’s played under various names like “Mahatma” (Ultimate Bet), “Zweig” (Prima Network), and “Spirit Rock” (Full Tilt), was the first confirmed player to win millions through internet cash games. He parlayed this success into fame and fortune beyond poker. Prahlad is also no stranger to controversy throughout his career. In fact, he’s had one of the craziest poker careers in history. Such is to be expected from a liberal, vegan, rapping poker player who’s never afraid to speak his mind.
Friedman is no longer the same star player he once was. But that doesn’t mean Prahlad isn’t still up to interesting things. Keep reading as I cover Friedman’s crazy poker career, from the highs to the lows. I’ll also provide an update on what he’s doing these days and why he’s still a unique character.
Prahlad Got an Early Start in Live Poker
Prahlad Friedman was born in Los Angeles, California in 1978. He was raised by hippies, which explains his eccentric personality. Friedman got his first taste of poker after his father won a lowball tournament along with $11,000. The teenager quickly became enamored with the game afterward.
Prahlad picked up tips from his father and started sneaking into local cardrooms before he was 21. Friedman continued playing live poker while attending the University of California at Berkeley. He majored in ethnic studies but never graduated. Prahlad instead spent most of his time studying opponents at the Oaks Club and Lucky Chances casino.
His first major live tourney success came when he finished runner-up in the 2002 Bellagio Five Diamond Poker Classic. Prahlad earned a $101,446 payout, which was his largest tournament score at the time. He won a $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event at the 2003 World Series of Poker. Friedman collected his only career gold bracelet along with a $109,400 payout.
Other live tourney successes in Prahlad’s career include the following:
- 2nd in the 2005 WSOP Circuit Championship ($363,165)
- 20th in the 2006 WSOP Main Event ($494,797)
- 1st in the 2009 L.A. Legends of Poker Main Event ($1,034,000)
Friedman Becomes an Online Star
Online poker was still in its infancy before 2003. Many players didn’t trust offshore gambling sites with their credit card details and thus were leery of internet poker. Attitudes changed, though, when Chris Moneymaker satellited into the 2003 WSOP Main Event and won. Friedman and many other players rushed to online poker sites after PokerStars shilled Moneymaker’s story.
The main difference between Prahlad and other players is that he had a far better pedigree. His live cash skills transitioned well to the online felt, where he became the first player to get famous through internet poker. He initially played on Planet Poker, Paradise Poker, and Ultimate Bet. Friedman butted heads with other famous pros on these sites, including Antonius, Freddy Deeb, Doyle Brunson, and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.
It wasn’t until Friedman played Taylor “Green Plastic” Caby in 2005 that he finally met his match. Prahlad lost over $600,000 to Caby and told his opponent, “You’re too good.” Nevertheless, Friedman had plenty of other high stakes opponents that he could beat. Prahlad continued building his bankroll throughout the mid-2000s until running smack into the UB scandal, which I’ll cover later.
Many pros who make their name through online poker don’t have a dynamic personality. Friedman is an exception to the norm, because he’s well known for his charisma and controversial incidents. One of the biggest controversies that Prahlad was involved in included 6-time WSOP champion Jeffrey Lisandro. The two pros were seated at the same table during the 2006 WSOP Main event, when Friedman insisted that Lisandro didn’t contribute his ante.
In 2010, the WSOP Main Event again served as the stage for another questionable Prahlad episode. This incident began when he was facing an all-in shove from Ted Bort. The latter called the clock on Friedman, who was trying to figure out whether to call or fold. The countdown went to zero, at which point he called.
But the floor had already declared his hand dead. Bort showed a two pair, which caused Friedman to muck his hand without any argument. This made it apparent that he had losing cards and went with the floor’s decision as a result. Other players at the table argued that Prahlad called before the timer was up and should’ve been all-in. A floor supervisor weighed in by saying that Friedman had enough time to decide and his hand was therefore dead.
Showcasing His Love of Rap
Poker will most likely always be Friedman’s bread and butter. However, he fancies himself a rapper and has put his skills on display in several situations. He famously performed a rap for ESPN’s coverage of the 2006 WSOP Main Event. The rap was much closer to Vanilla Ice than Eminem and was widely made fun of on poker forums.
Here are some sample lyrics:
“Poker is fun for everyone, except my opponents. They should’ve practiced avoidance.”
It’s likely that Friedman was just goofing around, because he’s displayed better rapping ability than this. But the cheesy lyrics still resonate whenever it comes to the subject of Prahlad rapping. He was also invited to spit rhymes for the now-defunct website RakeBreak.com and a PokerStars Big Game introduction. As I’ll cover later, he’s currently dedicating more time to hip hop.
Biggest Victim of UB Superuser Scandal
Taylor Caby may have been the first notable person to beat Friedman heads-up. But Spirit Rock still had plenty of game and could beat the vast majority of high stakes grinders. Unfortunately, he would soon be forced to question his poker skills after losing millions at Ultimate Bet (a.k.a. UB). Friedman unknowingly became the biggest victim of the UB superuser scandal.
He played against a variety of high stakes aliases that were making terrible plays, yet still raking pot after pot. Friedman would join fellow pros like Mike Matusow and Brad Booth in donating ridiculous sums of money to these reckless, incognito players. Little did Prahlad know that 1994 WSOP champ and part-UB owner Russ Hamilton was often controlling these accounts. He and others within the company used multiple superuser (a.k.a. god mode) accounts to cheat Friedman and other customers. Ultimate Bet founder Greg Pierson and 1990 WSOP Main Event champ Mansour Matloubi have also been accused of participating in the cheating.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC), who issued UB a license, finally investigated the matter. They determined that Hamilton was the top beneficiary of the cheating. The KGC estimated that Hamilton won $22.1 million through god-mode accounts. Some believe that the amount could’ve been even higher than $22.1 million and involved multiple cheaters (e.g. Pierson and Matloubi).
The scandal took place from May 2004 to January 2008, meaning UB had likely been robbing Friedman for years. Unfortunately, Prahlad had no idea and thought that he was simply losing the entire time. He began questioning his game and it took a while to regain his confidence. Friedman also had to overcome an estimated $3 million hit to his bankroll.
Puzzling Decision to Sign with UB Poker
Prahlad Friedman made a shocking announcement in December 2010, revealing that he was the newest Ultimate Bet poker pro. Poker forums were immediately abuzz with questions on how Friedman could sign with the site that cheated him. Prahlad had always been an anti-corporate guy up to this point who resisted signing with a major poker site. The fact that the one sponsorship deal he did sign was with a cheating company raised serious criticism. Friedman responded by saying that UB was under new management and returned a portion of his stolen money.
During a 2018 appearance on the No Jumper podcast with Adam “Adam22” Grandmaison, Prahlad said that UB refunded him $1 million. He recalled feeling good about the settlement, because those who get cheated in poker don’t normally receive any kind of refund. But the UB signing quickly blew up in Friedman’s face. Ultimate Bet terminated his and 10 other sponsored players’ contracts in May 2011. Ultimate Bet was in trouble following Black Friday (April 2011), when the US Department of Justice indicted key figures involved in the online poker industry.
UB and other top sites quickly exited the American market following Black Friday. Given that the US was their primary customer base, Ultimate Bet couldn’t afford to sponsor Friedman and others. They were also a failing company that dipped into player funds and couldn’t repay millions of dollars when they went offline in December 2011. This only caused more hate towards Friedman.
Prahlad Drops Out of Limelight & Gets Divorced
The UB debacle damaged Prahlad’s image within the poker community. It’s no surprise that he dropped out of the limelight following this ordeal. Friedman was no longer crushing online games either. He became a ghost in the poker world that made him famous. Prahlad did resurface in 2013 through a TMZ report on his “high stakes divorce” from Dee Luong.
Friedman met Luong when he started frequenting Las Vegas in the mid-2000s. They later got married and lived together in Malibu, California. Dee filed for divorce after seven years in 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences.” The couple owned a Malibu mansion that spanned 4,200 square feet at the time.
Currently a Live Cash Pro and Aspiring Rapper
The poker world loves to speculate on pros going broke when they’re no longer visible. The same is true of Prahlad. He was once the biggest thing in online poker, made millions of dollars, and owned a Malibu mansion. But now many assume that he’s broke in light of the divorce, and the fact that he’s no longer crushing internet games. This isn’t true, though, because Prahlad remains a successful poker pro and is also dabbling in the hip-hop world.
Prahlad formed a hip-hop group with his girlfriend, Aida Leal Magalhaes, called “Pragress and Aida.” They released the LP “Hazy Eyes” in 2016 and have been producing music ever since. Friedman stirred up controversy in July 2018, when he tweeted that he was tired of only seeing “whites and Asians at the poker tables.” Prahlad followed this up by offering free coaching to non-white and non-Asian players.
Not surprisingly, the tweet drew a number of negative replies. Many pointed out how there aren’t technically any barriers to minorities playing poker. Others referred to Friedman’s hypocrisy since he ranted about poker-playing Asians, who are considered a minority. Prahlad defended himself by tweeting that whites and Asians make the most money and can therefore best afford strategy tools.
Prahlad Friedman is the original high stakes poker phenom. He used this platform to introduce the world to his liberal views, raps, and unique personality. It’s for this reason why Friedman still has a following, even if he isn’t still winning live tournaments or dominating online nosebleeds. One thing that Prahlad is doing, though, is making a living through poker. He’s doing well in the L.A. live scene based on recent interviews.
He’s also giving hip hop a real shot with his girlfriend, Aida. Friedman has proven that he’s not afraid to pursue this career path even at age 40. One interesting topic he discussed on the No Jumper podcast is that he sometimes wonders if he should “try to be the best [player].” Friedman ponders this to himself whenever seeing big live tournament winners or high stakes players receiving attention.
It’s within the realm of possibility that Prahlad could reconjure his poker magic and make another run at the top. However, he also likes spending time with his girlfriend and baby while still earning a decent living through live games. We may never see Prahlad Friedman take over the online poker high stakes scene again. But he’ll likely be heard from plenty in the future thanks to his controversial opinions and recent media appearances.