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No-Limit Assassins

While not household names on the gambling circuit, several young poker pros have made a killing playing the game online.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

(continued from page 2)

As Sass remembers it, "In five or six hours, Tom had run $7,000 on one of our accounts up to 675K. I had just won like $350,000. To me that was a shitload. I had slept for six hours that night and figured out that for every minute I slept I earned around $1,000. At the end of the Series, Tom gave me a pile of cash. I didn't even know what to do with all of it. I kept a bunch and spent almost 100K on furnishing my apartment."

Even among the Internet kids, who are unfazed by six—figure sessions, Dwan is a legendary character. He's just 21 and competes as high online as anyone in the world, often against big—name players who are widely regarded as the best in the game. On the afternoon I meet him, he is fresh from an all—night online session that yielded nearly half—a—million dollars. Even more astounding, according to statistics from highstakesdb.com, between January 1 and April 16 of this year, Dwan won more than $1.7 million playing pot—limit Omaha and no—limit Texas Hold'em on FullTilt.com.

Impressive as that stat is, he insists that single numbers can be deceiving. "The amounts of money that change hands day to day are ridiculous," acknowledges Dwan, tall and slender and always meticulously groomed. "Recently a friend's girlfriend congratulated me on a big win. I asked her which win she was referring to. She was talking about $200,000 that I had won in a live game at Bellagio. But, I explained, since then, over a two—week period, I had made $200,000 four times—and I was down $25,000, all told, for the period." He smiles tightly and shakes his head. "The swings are just insane."

Overall, Dwan (who plays under the name Durrrr) is way on the upside of those swings. He started with a $50 investment, never needed to replenish his bankroll and ran it up to millions. Like Robl, he had a short stint in college, at Boston University, and dropped out because it just made no sense in light of his online riches. Nevertheless, Dwan is quick to point out that negative variance, at his stratospheric level, can be brutal. During one awful period, not long ago, he lost more than half of his seven—figure bankroll. The nearly devastating beating came about through a bad streak online and rotten investments in backing other players. "I cared a ton about that," he says. "It really bothered me and made me question playing poker."

But he didn't question it for long. Instead, he did what every long—term winner does: hunker down and grind it out. Because he plays online, Dwan was able to quickly get back to where he needed to be. Possessing less ego than a lot of live—game players—who have a hard time dropping down to lower levels when they are getting killed at the bigger games—he worked his way back up, making it sound as if it's virtually impossible for him to lose at stakes that seem astonishingly high to the rest of us. "In three weeks of playing $10/$20 no—limit, I would be a huge favorite to make $90,000," he says, looking incredulous when I ask him why he doesn't do it all the time. "In order to do that, I would require a large bet; somebody would have to bet me $500,000 that I couldn't do it." He considers this, then says, "Actually, the bet would need to be higher. It would need to be for $1 million. It would be a shitty three weeks, with me putting in like 200 hours. But I could definitely win 90K." Unfortunately, he says, "Nobody I know is willing to make the bet."

Understanding that he means he'd need some extra motivation to put in all those hours of play, I tell him that for most people the simple opportunity to make $30,000 in a week would be motivation enough. "Yeah," replies Dwan, "but those people, who so badly want to make $120,000 per month, might lose $10,000 in a pot and flip out. Or else they'd go on tilt and stop playing even though they're up against a bunch of fish."

It's one thing to drop out of college because the poker's too good to ignore, but it's quite another to finish college, land a corporate job and quit that for the life of an online grinder. Such is the case with 28—year—old Luke Kim, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002. He spent two years working as a business consultant, but his true passion was poker. Many weekends and holidays were spent in Atlantic City where he clawed his way up to the biggest games that A.C. had to offer.

The rational Kim weighed his options before deciding that poker would not only pay better than consulting but would also provide a more appealing lifestyle. Following a short stint in Atlantic City, he relocated to Las Vegas in December of 2004. Last December, he moved into an apartment down the hall from Andrew Robl's place and, like Robl, transformed into an online specialist. "The live games seemed different in Vegas; they're tougher," says Kim, who is slim, hard—angled and intense. "Plus, I got lazy about driving to the casinos, and I don't mind being in the house all day." His place is sparsely furnished, although he now owns one of Philippe Starck's clear plastic chairs and hopes to one day acquire pieces by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

In terms of poker, Kim has found his comfort zone by deploying a low—risk, high—reward strategy. He plays multiple tables of up to $5/$10 no—limit Hold'em and earns a steady low six—figure income while keeping things mellow enough that he's been able to partner up on a poker—related business (chipwalkers.com, which facilitates players' money transfers from one site to another). "I play off of margins and have very moderate swings," says Kim, who displays little interest in bona fide gambling. "I play close to the vest and most of my days are within $2,000, plus or minus. Though I've cleared as much as $4,000 in a day, I usually shoot for $1,000 on average, but I don't force it."

Still, despite his success, you can't help but wonder if Kim, a guy who seems to have been on a business—world fast track, misses some of the intellectual repartee that came with his old life among the MBAs and well—bred suits. "People think poker players are a bunch of degenerates, but I find no shortage of brilliant minds in my crowd," he says without hesitation. "These guys read more books than a lot of the people I went to school with. Sometimes I feel illiterate compared to them, and I'm not dumb. In terms of pure analytical power, the same ability required for figuring out a complex logic solution applies to poker. I totally buy the idea that a lot of people who get good at poker can do a lot of other things as well." He pauses momentarily, then adds, "If they feel like it."


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