Bryan Pellegrino: From Poker to LayerZero

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Before founding LayerZero, Bryan Pellegrino was a professional poker player, explored artificial intelligence, and even developed a system for predicting baseball outcomes.
Bryan Pellegrino is the co-founder and CEO of LayerZero, an interoperability protocol that connects blockchains. Launched in February 2021, this project enables secure and cost-effective cryptocurrency transfers across different networks.

LayerZero stands as a leader in its field. In its most recent funding round in April 2023, it raised $120 million, bringing the total investments to $263 million.

To better understand how Bryan launched LayerZero, drew in 4.9 million users, and fostered a dedicated following around the ZRO airdrop, let’s explore his journey from his early years to today.

Bryan Pellegrino's Early Life

Born in 1987 in Danbury, New Hampshire, Bryan grew up in a small community of about 800 people, where he was never far from relatives or family friends.

His father, Steve Pellegrino, was a dedicated driver who often worked 12-hour shifts. Despite his demanding schedule, he made time to play games with his children on weekends.

Monopoly was a family favorite, capable of engaging the Pellegrinos for hours. When power outages occurred, they would continue their games under the light of a kerosene lamp until dawn.
Bryan at age 13 with his father Steve and brother Manie. Source:

Bryan at age 13 with his father Steve and brother Manie. Source:

Games played a significant role in family bonding, allowing Bryan and his siblings to spend quality time with their father. Even as teenagers, they continued to gather for game nights.

Recognized for his mathematical prowess and strategic thinking in games at just six years old, Bryan would use these skills throughout his life—in his poker career, in developing AI products, and eventually in the cryptocurrency industry.

Poker Career

At 15, Bryan Pellegrino first discovered poker during a week-long trip to Georgetown University with classmates. They were supposed to meet with politicians and be inspired by public service. However, during this trip, Pellegrino developed a fascination with poker.

One of his acquaintances suggested a poker game. Bryan agreed, staking $20 from his pocket money. By the end of the night, he had turned it into $60. He spent part of this money on a hoodie and the remainder on future online poker games.
Bryan Pellegrino at the World Series of Poker. Source:

Bryan Pellegrino at the World Series of Poker. Source:

During his high school years, Bryan frequently missed classes to play poker. Despite this, he graduated with good grades and attended the University of New Hampshire, where he met Ryan Zarick and Caleb Banister—his future partners at LayerZero.

Pellegrino's active poker career kicked off in Budapest. At 19, after being accepted to study in Hungary, Bryan left the U.S. From then until 2011, he dedicated around 70 hours a week to playing poker.

Throughout his career, he managed to earn more than $500 million, often participating in series such as the European Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker (WSOP). His final tournament at the WSOP took place in July 2013.


In 2015, Bryan came across a video of DeepMind's artificial intelligence, Agent57, playing on an Atari console. This inspired him to explore the possibilities of AI and machine learning further.

He deliberated over which game would be best suited for AI application. After considering all options, he settled on baseball.
I looked at all the sports and said, ‘OK, I hate baseball, but it has the best data set. Let’s go with that,
Bryan Pellegrino remarked.
Over the next year, Bryan developed an AI solution for baseball designed to analyze data and predict the outcomes between pitchers and batters.

Ultimately, in early 2016, Pellegrino sold his development to Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A's. Beane's dedication to statistical analysis in baseball was famously depicted in the film "Moneyball."


While his earnings from poker provided a comfortable life, Bryan Pellegrino was driven by a desire to create products that addressed real user needs.

His venture into cryptocurrency began in 2016 when he founded OpenToken, a platform designed to streamline the creation of tokens. This project was born out of his firsthand experiences with the challenges of launching new cryptocurrencies, which motivated him to simplify the process for others.


In the autumn of 2020, inspired by the launch of the Binance Smart Chain by the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, Pellegrino decided to develop an NFT game utilizing this new blockchain. He enlisted the help of longtime university friends to bring this idea to life.

The game centered around gladiatorial battles, with players earning special NFTs for victories. As development progressed, the team realized the need for a mechanism to facilitate the transfer of NFTs between different networks, leading to the creation of LayerZero.
LayerZero Founders. Source:

LayerZero Founders. Source:

In May 2021, the team published "LayerZero: Trustless Omnichain Interoperability Protocol." This document detailed the protocol's functionality and its ability to execute secure transactions across multiple blockchains.

Final Words

Poker has equipped Pellegrino with the skills to assess risks accurately, understand his audience, and manage capital. His background in artificial intelligence has further enabled him to innovate, as seen with LayerZero.

Bryan has also introduced novel methods of engaging with his audience. For instance, he launched an initiative to combat the use of multiple accounts (sybils) by offering incentives: 

  1. Drop hunters can surrender their sybil accounts and receive 15% of the airdrop;
  2. Users who provide valid information about others' sybil accounts can earn 20% of the airdrop, while the sybil receives nothing.

This strategy sparked significant community feedback, with some members even organizing protests.
Now a father, Bryan is keen to pass on his passion for gaming to his children, just as his father did with him. Perhaps, cryptocurrency project development will become a family tradition for the Pellegrinos.

Vlad Vovk
Writes about DeFi and cryptocurrencies from a technological perspective.