Longform

Pro Poker Hurts

Page 5 of 7

Trevor, or T as he's known in most card rooms, told me I should write about him. "I'm the best player in Florida," he said with an accent. "You follow me around and write about me and get me a sponsor." He said he could take anyone in the world one on one, that he can play all day, every day, and that he never makes a bad move. "Just when you think you might have me, I got you," he said, closing his hand quickly. "I was born with a straight flush in my hand."

He left Pompano around 10 p.m. He said he was off to Coconut Creek, where day and night cease to exist. He vowed he wouldn't leave that casino until he had $2,000, enough to pay his bills for two months. "Come watch me get rich the easy way," he said as he left.

Back at my table, Persaud's bad luck continued. He went through half of his $100 buy-in in just a few hands, losing once to Mr. Poker's wife. His sorrow was interrupted by the shrieks of a woman a few tables away. A swarm of players from other tables stood up and walked over to see about the commotion. The woman was throwing white chips — each worth a dollar — into the air, laughing. "We got it!" she announced in a shrill voice.

Indeed the cards were still on the table as the dealer waited for a floor supervisor. The woman had four queens ("quad queens," in pokerspeak) and had just lost the hand to another player who showed four kings. As the woman danced around, though, Scott, the dealer, sat calmly and quietly. Something was wrong.

When the floor supervisor arrived, he confirmed the hand did not, in fact, qualify as a bad beat. "The eight didn't play," he told the gathering crowd. In Texas hold 'em, to have a bad beat, both players in the hand have to use their initial pocket cards when making their final, five-card poker hand. Since there were three queens face up along with two kings and she had a queen and an eight in her hand, the eight was not part of her final five-card hand. (She had four queens and a king; her opponent had four kings and a queen.)

The woman collapsed into her chair, despondent.

The crowd dispersed. As close to the bad beat as most will ever get.


For some people, life as an amateur pro player is like one big bad beat without the six-figure payoff. In theory, all luck evens out and the players with more skill profit in the long run. But the numbers game is hard. The poker commercials that promise "yesterday's average joe might be tomorrow's millionaire" don't explain how difficult it is to beat the rake. For a player to be successful, he not only has to skim excess money from the whales rolling up with fat stacks of cash, but also pull in enough to cover the $5-a-pot cut that goes to the house, the dollar or two tip to the dealer for each win, and the cost of food, which can range from disgusting fries to a gourmet spread at your table, such as is available at Isle of Capri.

Catherine, a Pompano dealer, estimates about one in 20 players in her card room tell themselves they're playing poker for a living. "Kids see this on TV and it doesn'tlook like gambling," she said. Poker fans are inundated with commercials that promote a luxury lifestyle and programming built around the suspense of turning over cards with millions at stake. "Parents are telling their kids to go play poker over at a friend's house to keep them off the streets. What's really happening is an entire generation of boys is going broke very young."

She also thinks television teaches people to play the wrong way. ESPN takes four full days of poker and boils it down to 45 minutes of action, so viewers don't see that most of the time, professional poker is a tedious, unending sequence of receiving cards, deciding they're not good enough, and folding. "I love the game as much as anyone," Catherine said. "It's fun. It's the reason there are hundreds of people here tonight. But some of these kids bring in all their money, trying to build up a bankroll. And who takes care of them when they have $40,000 worth of credit card debt?"

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Michael J. Mooney