Andy McClure, 21, looks nothing like someone making $70 an hour.
He wears the same old blue jeans and the same ragged T-shirts he’s had since his freshman year at the University. If you didn’t know better, you could swear his faded Yankees cap was surgically fixed to his head. He spends most of his time in bare feet.
That’s the part McClure likes most about his story. Most college students can only dream of a job that pays big bucks and allows them to sit around with their friends watching TV or listening to music. But that’s how McClure spends his time: hanging out and making money.
McClure is cashing in on America’s poker boom. He spends about 50 hours a week, he said, playing over the Internet. That’s earned him more than $40,000 since the summer, when he first sat down in — or logged into — an online poker room.
McClure cautions that’s just a fraction of what he expects to make now that he doesn’t have school or any other obligations to detract from his playing time. In 2005, McClure thinks he’ll make at least $200,000. “That’s a conservative estimate,” he said, noting that he could win several hundred thousand with a strong performance in a large tournament. Since Jan. 1, McClure has made about $18,000 online, he said.
McClure plays Texas Hold ‘Em, the seven-card game made popular by the World Series of Poker and other televised events. An inordinate surge of interest in the game nationwide is filling casinos, and social games among friends are making college students into poker aficionados.
The online gambling industry is also riding the Togel Singapore poker wave. There were almost 1.8 million regular online poker players in January, up about 10 percent from the total for December, according to PokerPulse.com, a firm that tracks the industry.
McClure said the recent upsurge of Internet players is already making a lasting impact on the game.
“A lot of your next generation poker players – they’re not your pool shark, back-room cigar guys,” he said. “They’re your Internet whiz-kids and your smart math geeks.”
Just like the other kids
McClure would like to say he’s been a poker know-it-all before the game became a fad, but he admits: “I’m just like all those other kids who saw the movie ‘Rounders.'” McClure and many others credit the 1998 film, starring Matt Damon as a high-stakes Hold ‘Em player, with spurring the revival of poker — once thought to be a game for old men.
“I saw ‘Rounders,’ and I didn’t think, ‘This is a bad-ass movie,'” McClure said. “I thought, ‘This is a bad-ass future — for me.'”
After getting his feet wet playing with friends, McClure borrowed $50 from a friend to try his hand at online poker this summer. Playing only low-stakes games in his time away from working at Domino’s in his hometown of Huntsville, his winnings were modest at best.
“I just kind of hovered around even those first two months,” he said.
But because he was so afraid of losing his small buy-in, McClure said he “learned to play really tight and smart,” only staying in a hand when he has a good chance to win and avoiding getting drawn into losing situations.
That strategy paid off, earning McClure money with which he can play more games.
It begets itself: the more he plays, the more he can play, and the more money he makes. In his first big win, which seems paltry now, McClure turned a $10 buy-in into $80. After a few weeks, he was averaging $15-$20 profit an hour. Now he’s up to $70-$80 an hour. Playing one high-stakes table on a Saturday in January, McClure made about $320 in 20 minutes, which he said is well above average, but not uncommon.
Those kinds of winnings convinced him to drop out of school, even though he came to the University on a full scholarship. “Every hour I spend in class is $70 I’m not making playing poker,” he said.
Online poker is a different world
In a casino or some other live setting, it would be impossible for McClure to win so often with such ease, but online poker is a different world.
McClure usually plays four tables simultaneously, which he could not do in a casino. “I’ve always been really good at multi-tasking,” he said.
He plays conservatively, folding his cards more than 80 percent of the time, he said. So when he does get into a hand, he bets aggressively, and he doesn’t have to worry about any serious action on his other tables.
McClure said calculating the probability of his hand’s chances — the math side of poker — factors more prominently in online poker, because you can’t see the faces or the gestures of the people you’re up against, only their screen names. McClure, who made a perfect score on the math section of the SAT, sticks to his carefully timed play, and it almost always works for him, he said.
“Plus, when you can play 200 hands an hour, any variance that comes due to luck or the odds — it just gets eliminated,” he said.
With the recent surge in poker interest, many amateurs are trying out poker online, playing high-stakes games they would never play in a casino, and providing more seasoned players like McClure a chance to win their money.
McClure plays almost exclusively on PartyPoker.com, by the far the most popular of the almost 200 online poker rooms, according to PokerPulse.
“Every retard who watched the World Series of Poker on TV and thought ‘That’s really cool, I want to play poker,’ is on PartyPoker,” McClure said. “So you have a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing.”
McClure said once he won hundreds of dollars from a woman who kept calling big bets even though she had pathetic hands. He messaged the woman through the PartyPoker software to ask why she was throwing away so much money.
“She said was married to some really powerful lawyer in New York,” McClure said, fighting off bursts of laughter. “And that he said she can blow as much as $5,000 a month on poker as long it keeps her from cheating on him.”
Rich McRoberts, 22, a recent UA graduate, also makes money playing online poker daily. “It seems like the people on the Internet are a lot crazier, which is better for making money,” he said. “Online you have your sharks and your total fish.”
But McRoberts said because online players are unpredictable, you can rarely “bet them out,” or bet big when you have a good starting hand in hopes the other players will fold, a standard poker strategy.
“People will call anything,” and sometimes they’ll get lucky and win, McRoberts said. “And it sucks when that happens, but if you make strong plays consistently, you’ll make money.”
McRoberts said he only plays about three hours a day on average, but still makes more money than he did as a waiter.
Scott Kidwell, 36, an advertising salesman in Tuscaloosa, has played live poker semi-professionally for about five or six years, he said.
Kidwell said he plays online for the fun of it whenever he can, but he said he’s had trouble adjusting to whimsical plays his opponents make online.
“It’s fun, no doubt about it,” he said. “But when they call and draw out on you — man, it’s tough.”
Questionable legal status
Despite the surge in online poker usage in the United States, the legality of Internet gambling is still questionable. Almost all of the popular online poker rooms are based overseas. PartyPoker is regulated by the government of Gibraltar, a territory of the United Kingdom just south of Spain.
The federal government has limited its interest in gambling to organized crime, but many states have anti-gambling statutes, which could be extended to online poker, according to I. Nelson Rose, an Internet gambling expert at Whittier Law School in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“The only way to know for sure is to check the laws of your state,” Rose wrote on his Web site, www.gamblingandthelaw.com.
A statement from the Alabama Attorney General’s office on the issue implies that Internet gambling could be prosecuted in Alabama, where gambling is generally illegal.
“State law does not distinguish between Internet or online gambling and other forms of gambling,” Joy Patterson, spokeswoman for Attorney General Troy King, said in the statement. The law also states that gambling is illegal even if the game is conducted outside the state, Patterson said.
Playing poker over the Internet also raises security questions, such as what prevents two or three people from conspiring in the same game.
Ashley Trebor, a shift supervisor for PartyPoker’s technical support, which is based in India, said PartyPoker has an “investigations team” which scrutinizes betting patterns and other information to look for suspicious behavior. He said he could not elaborate, for security reasons, on how the team keeps people from cheating.
McClure said it seems it would be easy for people to cheat, but in reality there are several factors that can give cheaters away. McClure said he doesn’t think there are many people trying to rig games on PartyPoker.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon in January, McClure sits in a buddy’s dorm room, shooting the breeze and playing video games.
His demeanor is relaxed as ever. It seems like a normal day when he hooks up his laptop and logs onto Party Poker, but McClure is about to enter his biggest poker game yet.
It’s a tournament with more than 2,000 players and a prize pool of $1.22 million. If he were to win the tournament, he would take home $256,000. It would cost McClure $640 to enter, but he won his ticket in by finishing first in a satellite, or promotional, tournament, which cost only $70 to enter.
McClure knows the competition here will be much stiffer than in the typical Party Poker game.
McClure spends most of the first hour of play folding his cards. “That’s just how you have to play in tournament like this,” he said.
Finally, he decides a starting hand of Ace-Queen is good enough to play, and he makes an aggressive bet. Only two players stay in the hand, one of which bets all his chips. McClure wins a big pot after two more Queens were dealt, giving him three Queens. McClure says he should have lost to one of the players, who had two Kings, but “I got lucky. Stuff like that happens all the time in these kind of games.”
That win puts McClure in the top 30 percent of tournament players after the first hour of play. “That’s a good place to be early,” he says.
But luck works both ways, he soon finds. Dealt an Ace and a King, McClure makes a hefty bet, but one of the players pushes in all his chips. Sensing a bluff, McClure calls, and he’s right: the other player only has a Nine and Four. But a Nine and a Four are dealt in the community cards, giving the bluffer two pairs. McClure loses all his chips, knocking him out of tournament.
He doesn’t seem to mind: “I just want to get as much high-level experience, especially tournament experience, I can,” he says.
He plans to move to Las Vegas to become a professional, live poker player in about a year in half, when he’s saved up $100,000 in poker money, he says.
In about two weeks, McClure is planning a weeklong trip to Vegas, where he will sit down for the first time at high-stakes World Series of Poker event. He’s also planning another Vegas trip in the early summer. McClure plans on playing in $1,000 to $2,500 No Limit tournaments to gain experience. He’s not going to play in the WSOP main event, which carries a $10,000 entry fee, unless he wins his way in, he said.
Once he realized he could make a living playing poker, he never gave returning to school a second thought, he says.
“Real jobs are such B.S. anyway,” McClure says. “Even in the ones that make a lot of money, you don’t have any fun.”