Suppose your first job earned you six figures a year while working from home? No boss. No cubicle. Just you, your computer, and a lot of suckers filling your pockets.
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Brian Clark flops down in the swivel chair in his home office and boots up the two 30-inch computer monitors on his desk. Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” is blaring in surround-sound on the stereo. We live a life like a video…you never get old…and the champagne’s always cold. A Culligan water cooler is within arm’s length, and a mini-fridge with sodas and snacks is just a step away. “If only I could get a urinal in here, then I’d be all set,” the 26-year-old jokes.
With a few clicks, Brian fills one of the screens with virtual poker tables—nine total. The other large screen shows a detailed spreadsheet, data collected by a software program he uses to record and analyze his own playing habits, as well as his opponents’ patterns.
Brian clicks back and forth from table to table, screen to screen. His eyes get sharp and focused. In his left hand, he holds three casino chips, which he flips and spins repeatedly in one beautifully choreographed motion. “I think that guy’s only got one pair,” Brian says, eyeing one of the nine tables he’s playing. “I’m going to shove all in.” He does, and his opponent folds. He rakes in a $450 pot.
Brian Clark has never worked in an office, he’s never had a boss, and he’s never punched a timecard since graduating from college in 2005. But he has consistently earned more than $100,000 per year. He owns a four-bedroom home, which he’s currently remodeling. He pays taxes, has health insurance, and saves for retirement. He has a personal financial advisor who handles all of his investments. He travels the world—from Barcelona to Aspen to Vegas—for work, skiing, and whatever else he wants, and has season tickets to the Twins and Wild. He even has a personal assistant, who handles much of the day-to-day details of his life, including washing his laundry and dishes, making grocery trips, and
organizing his mail.
Brian belongs to a circle of young Minnesotans who make their living playing poker—an elite group of card sharks who log up to 60 hours a week at virtual poker tables (sometimes playing up to 15 games at a time), competing against people from all over the world. Many of them earn six figures a year. The most successful of the Minnesota players treat the game like a profession, abiding by principles that limit losses and adhering to a regular schedule. Brian, who is considered by many online players to be one of the top 20 Limit Hold ’Em players in the world, wakes up every morning, walks directly from his bed to his computer, and, in his pajamas, plays poker for one to four hours. He spends afternoons doing whatever he wants, then he’s back in front of his computer in the evening for another three- to six-hour session. For Brian, it’s just another workday.
IT'S PROBABLY MORE DIFFICULT to burn toast than it is to get to an online poker game. You log onto the Internet, point your browser at Fulltilt.com or Pokerstars.com, download a bit of software, select a clever screen name, password, and avatar, and deposit money, as little as $15, via credit card. Boom—you’re ready to play.
Once registered, you enter the virtual lobby, an enormous list of thousands of games of all types, sizes, and stakes. With a click of your mouse, a table (or tables) pops up on your screen, and you “sit down” with your virtual stacks of chips to play against “SickPuppy” from Wiesbaden or “2Hot4You” from Nantucket.
But you probably don’t or won’t or can’t play online poker like Brian Clark does. Like the old woman at a bingo hall who plays 20 cards neatly spread in front of her, Brian is experienced at “multi-tabling.” He can play eight or more tables at a time to maximize the potential returns, though he often plays just a few higher-stakes games at one time. He has different accounts on four different poker websites, which increases the likelihood that he’ll find deep-pocketed opponents. “It’s like dropping your line in four different lakes,” Brian says. “If one lake’s not all that great one day, you head over to another one.”