We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poker All-Star Finds Cards More Lucrative Than Studying

By Cristina Paz

Sitting in his office, a room at his newly leased luxury apartment in Irvine, David, a 20-year-old self-taught professional poker player plays multiple hands of online poker on two large computer screens. On the screens are multiple online poker tables; they look just like regular poker tables and David adjusts the view to his liking. He is dressed in his regular business attire: gym shorts, a tee shirt, a baseball cap, and sneakers, which reflect his laid-back, easy going attitude. His work is his play and No Limit Texas Hold’em is the game he is quickly mastering. From the young age of 14 David began playing online poker when he saw that he was decent at live poker and could beat his friends. When a friend told him that he could play online and win lots of money, he decided to try his luck at it.

Going all in [betting all the money you have on the table]

David began playing poker at Fulltilt.com under his dads name since it is illegal to play online poker before you are 18. He has been playing for six years and considers himself a “dinosaur” in online poker. His first time playing online poker he ran $5 dollars up to $200 and eventually lost all $200. His passion for online poker was fueled by this first “big” loss. Little did he know that just a few years later this loss of 200 dollars would seem miniscule compared to the losses he would encounter as a high stakes player. After loosing the $200 dollars, which seemed like a fortune to him at the time, he felt he had to have another chance because he knew he could do better. He told his parents “I don’t want anything for Christmas this year, I just want $50 bucks for this poker website”. He ran those $50 dollars up to the thousands of dollars that he has today.

David continued to play online poker, getting better with each loss and trying to play people that were better than him in order to learn where he could improve his game.

“The better the player the deeper level of thinking they are going to be on, this is why I enjoy poker because you get into mind games with people, you are just trying to get them to play into your little cat and mouse game," he said.

The summer of his senior year of high school he bought his own car, an Infinity G37, roughly a $40,000-dollar car. Not long after coming to college in 2008, Tommy decided that college was not for him and dropped out his second year. He remembers losing the drive to go to class when he knew that he was not guaranteed a secure job after college, even with a college degree. As he kept getting better at poker and he kept making more money leaving the university seemed like the best choice; school just did not interested him anymore.

He recalls being bored and trying to play poker in class: “ The internet connection was so bad in Anthropology in the Social Sciences Lecture Hall, that was terrible because if I had a good game going and was winning I could loose connection.”

His decision to drop out of school was frowned upon at first by his parents until they saw that David was actually very good at online poker and was making a lot of money. He was making more money per year than both his parents combined made per year. He explains that he never saw himself being a lawyer or a doctor and saw that his dad had to go to school for ten years to become an anesthesiologist, “It’s just not for me”.

Dropping out of school is a risky choice, and would seem foolish to many, especially those who say that poker is just luck. David’s response is that, “Poker is definitely skill... Even though luck affects your short term, so like on any given week I could win a bunch or I could loose a bunch, but over the whole year I’m expected to win, if I put in enough volume. This is not saying that you are not going to loose “loosing happens, it’s going to happen." People that go broke in online poker are bad at bankroll management, which is where you want to have enough money to cover your losses.”

Since he is no longer in school, his schedule is completely up to him. A typical work day consists of waking up at about 1 or 2 pm, going to the gym, getting food, playing poker for about a 3 hour session, stopping to take a break and getting dinner. This is part of what he likes about playing poker as a career-- the freedom.“ I can travel while I work and if I do well I can potentially pay for the trip (with the earnings he made on the trip).”

He has a program that logs the amount of hours he plays and last month, February 2011, he played 122 hours of online poker. David only plays games with buy ins of a minimum of $2,000 dollars. A buy in is how much you must pay in order to play a game of poker. His average buy in is $10,000 dollars and his hourly wage averages from about $500 to $1,000 dollars an hour. The most he has ever bought in for was $40,000 dollars. These buy ins are more than most people make in a month’s salary. Although he has bought in for $40,000 dollars in the past he will never play for that amount again because he has learned that it is much harder to win money than it is to loose it.

One would expect David to be very money conscious, since he gambles daily, and to be scared of losing large amounts of money but he is not. He says, “I’ve never had a real job and some people might say I don’t know the value of a dollar or I have no respect for money but any kid who has a lot of money at a young age isn’t going to know what that means. A young kid has nothing to loose, they would’ve never made this money at a young age, if they weren’t playing poker. To them its just numbers on a screen. That’s kind of how you want to look at it you don’t want to care about the money ever. You want to care but you don’t want the money to affect your decision-making.” People may tend to overanalyze things or play differently if they are scared of loosing. A friend recalls David telling him, “I just lost 20 grand in a game yesterday." He was in awe but to David it was no big deal; he just brushed it off and played again the next day.

On the other end of the spectrum you don’t want to spend all your money carelessly. According to David it is typical of younger players to splurge and buy in for large amounts of money either because they want to show off or are being careless and not playing according to the rules of good bankroll management. “You want to leave ego at the door that is important.” An extreme, but common example, of a young online poker player loosing a lot of money is the case of blogger Kenanknows at www.nutblogpoker.com who lost $450,000 dollars in cash last year. Kenan Knows wrote:

“The time has finally come. The warning signs were there, but I didn't bother to care. I am now busto [short for bust, as in he busted or lost in poker]. I don't know what to make of what happened, or how I should react. I can honestly say that poker has become a passion for me in the last few months and to have it taken away by my rotten luck and stupidity is beyond words. When I was indulging in the hookers and the blow poker always lurked in the back of my mind. None of these supposedly thrilling, visceral activities that I've experienced recently have come close to how I feel when I've got 10 tables of 25/50 up. My story, not one that has not been heard before will be a blip on the radar to almost all who read this, but this is sadly the world to me. Tho I've been put through the ringer and hung out to try I still think I am one of the better high stakes regs out there and think that I belong.”

This is an extreme but typical reaction of a young poker player who has lost all the money he has earned. He didn’t have much to start off with and to loose it all is devastating but he knew it would eventually happen because he was not playing according to the rules of bankroll management. He also would have never made this money in the first place, had it not been for online poker.

David understands that it is easy to get caught up in winning and want to bet lots of money. He tries his best to play smartly and never bets more money than he has. He also knows when to stop. If he is having a bad day and losing consistently he will stop playing and may not play for a few days, he does this because it is easy to want to keep playing “just one more game” and lose a whole lot of money in a few short hours. “You want to have enough money to where you can sustains any swings of bad luck that you may have and not go broke.” Of course he knows that he will loose at times, this is just part of the game but he has learned some important rules in order to avoid loosing everything he has worked to hard to gain.

Fish [a bad poker player]

“The most important key to being a successful poker professional, not necessarily meaning you are the best player, but the best professional meaning you will win the most amount of money at the end of the day is game selection,” ge said. In online poker you wan to play in games where your expected value is highest, your expected value is the probability of you winning. For example, “If me and a couple of your girlfriends played a game, that’s a great game for me to play because no one knows what they are doing it would be like stealing candy from a baby. But if I played with five of my best friends, poker nerd friends, that would be a lot tougher. So you want to play the game where your expected value is the highest, in this case I would want to play against your girlfriends.”

The way this works online where you don’t know if you’re playing against a poker all star or a group of teenage girls is that you choose your game wisely, you look for fish. Fish are people that are bad at poker and you enter those games. The problem with playing a fish is that many times there is a waiting list to play at the tables with fish because everyone can tell they are bad and want to get in on the game.

Clearly this strategy has worked for David because he is able to support himself financially and makes more a month than most people twice his age make in a year. He has also made a name for himself in the community. When mentioned at school most people in the Greek system know who he is or have heard of him, with reactions of “oh ya that guy he is awesome” or “he is so lucky, I’m going to start playing poker.” For now David knows that he enjoys playing online poker but does not want to pursue it as a career. He hopes to become an entrepreneur and open up various businesses in the future with the money he has won. The key to his success is that he is constantly trying to improve and he loves what he does: “I still love to compete it’s really fun for me, it is a big grind, but again I enjoy competing.” He views his life now as an adventure “I just try and be as appreciative as I can be for where I’m at and what I’ve been given." He knows that he will always play poker, even if just for fun, but is certain it is not what he wants to do with his life. Resting on his coffee table is a hint -- a book titled Millionaire Real Estate Investor.

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