Pro Poker Hurts

It's not all glitz and glory at the table.

Now, at any given time outside a 24-hour casino, you might find a handful of people sleeping in their cars. Generally, they're too drunk to drive or so desperate to get back to the slots that they can't bear to drive away. Once in a while, a security guard told me, you'll find couples having sex right there in the open.

I walked around to the passenger side, where T's head was resting gently. As I looked down at his sleeping face, I thought about this life as a wannabe poker pro. Like so many Americans, part of me is envious that some people get to play a game for a living. They feel the everyday buzz of hitting an open-ended straight draw or bluffing an opponent off a big pot. But there aren't too many jobs where an employee can walk into the office, do everything exactly as the manuals recommend, and still walk away a few thousand dollars poorer. And as an adult, there aren't many respectable occupations that lead to spending the night in a truck parked at the edge of a casino parking lot.

As these thoughts bounced around in my head, I saw movement. T's eyes opened. He looked up at me. I looked back, notebook in hand.

Harold Persaud, a regular at Pompano Park's casino, makes a living playing poker.
Tara Nieuwesteeg
Harold Persaud, a regular at Pompano Park's casino, makes a living playing poker.

It was weird.

He opened the passenger door and swung his legs around, still groggy. "What are you doing, man?" he asked.

"How often do you sleep out here?" I asked, still jotting down notes about his scuffed Nikes.

"Man, don't go telling people I sleep in my car," he said.

"It's part of the price you pay as a local pro, right?"

"C'mon, man. Don't tell people I sleep in my car. How are people gonna respect me if they think I sleep in my car?"

A week or so after finding him in his truck, I saw T back at Pompano. He was at the $2/$5 table, popular among serious players because you don't have as many idiots as the cheaper table or as many ridiculous gamblers as the highest-stakes tables.

Two seats to his right was another regular, a man the dealers call Wild Bill. T and Bill got into a hand together. T bet big. Bill raised him. T pushed all of his chips into the center and stood up, daring the older man to call. Bill lifted his cards to get a better look. He sized up T's stack and then his own. He tossed his cards into the muck. T turned over his cards, revealing a complete bluff. He scooped the chips into his chest with both arms, grinning brightly.

The thing about poker is, no matter how bad the beat, a few seconds later, you get another hand. A new chance to get rich. A new chance to go broke. And it takes only one win to forget about all the losing.

Still beaming, T tossed the dealer a $5 chip as a tip. Then he turned to the woman sitting next to him. "This guy over here," he said, pointing at Bill, who was within earshot, "this guy is a chump."

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