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Online and Obsessed
Daniel G. Habib
May 30, 2005
As the Internet poker wave breaks over college campuses, a few bright young players are exploiting high-level statistics and game theory to make a fortune. Others are losing more than their tuition
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May 30, 2005

Online And Obsessed

As the Internet poker wave breaks over college campuses, a few bright young players are exploiting high-level statistics and game theory to make a fortune. Others are losing more than their tuition

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Under the gun, he raises the $1 blind to $5, and gets three callers. When the flop comes 3-5-7, with two diamonds, he opens for $5 more, and after a flurry of raises and reraises, calls for all his chips. He shows ace-4 of diamonds, meaning he's drawing to a deuce, six or any other diamond. His only opponent, Scott, flips 5-7 off-suit--two pair--which holds up when fourth and fifth are dealt. Alex's girlfriend turns, incredulous, from the couch where she's been watching basketball. "That's it?" she asks. Alex shrugs, sweating. "That's it."

Five minutes later he's standing on a stoop outside, shivering as a light drizzle begins to fall on Bloomington. He's just finished a bummed cigarette, and he's wired, unfocused, flitting between topics. He does not play strategically, he admits. He regards himself as too impatient for that. He'll pick up any two suited cards and play them fast, as he has just done. (Other players might say that when hands like king-9 suited start looking playable, it's time to get up from the table.) Locking himself in his dorm room, killing the lights, he suggests, re-creates those nights in his parents' kitchen, when he hid not from shame but from the fear of being caught. He cannot go back to his parents, for money or for psychological help, because he regards himself as a failure. Alex's sister had promised to help him find a job in film production but reneged because of his irresponsibility.

"My hands were still shaking when I had that cigarette," he says. "I'd been praying for that diamond. I was thinking I'd take this $40." He pauses, reassesses. "But I don't even have this money." Asked whether he has considered counseling for gambling addiction, he replies that he doesn't need it, because he can control his habit.

Hours later Alex sits at a round wooden table on the disheveled ground floor of Danny's house. He is in a careless way playing, and losing at, hearts. Elimidate thrums on a television in the corner; a woman is informing her would-be suitors, one of whom has announced he's not seeking a serious relationship, that she's six months pregnant. Asked whether he watches TV poker, Alex says he does, the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, and that he most admires Phil Ivey, a 27-year-old pro who plays with a dyspeptic scowl sewn on his face. "He's so stoic," Alex says. "He has no emotions."

Several sluggish tricks go by, and two minutes pass in silence before Alex perks up from his cards, graced with an unexpected insight. "It's like he's playing alone." ?

[This article contains a table. �Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

*Average number of players on the site at any one time

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