Poker Black Friday: An online poker pro ponders how he'll make a living.

The stadium scene.
April 29 2011 3:52 PM

Busted

The DOJ's online-poker shutdown leaves a pro player to wonder how he'll make a living.

Shane Schleger. Click image to expand.
Shane Schleger

For most of the last six years, my daily routine consisted of waking up in the morning and playing online poker tournaments. Like most self-employed people, I had some flexibility in my schedule, but paying the bills was ultimately a function of putting in hours. My workday began when I turned on my computer at around 8:30 a.m. Typically, I would play more than 20 tournaments in a day, usually four or more at the same time, and I'd clock out when I busted out of—or, on a good day, won—the last of my events. On a Sunday, the busiest workday for an online tournament pro, I'd play as many as 40 tournaments, stretched out over 13-plus hours.

That all changed abruptly on April 15, a day that's been termed "Black Friday" in the poker world. That morning, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against the three biggest poker sites. PokerStars, the site where I played daily—and the site that sponsors me—responded by cutting off Americans' access to real-money games. The effect on my livelihood was instantaneous and total: I woke up to find that my career was in jeopardy, and that my options going forward were ambiguous.

Advertisement

Professional poker players existed before cyberspace, but today's young professionals arose mostly thanks to the Internet. The ability to play hands at a significantly faster rate than at a "live" poker table created an enormous experiential benefit. Success that might have previously taken decades to achieve was suddenly attainable in months.

In 2005, the year I left my job waiting tables to play poker full time, an entire society formed around online poker. People from all over the world competed for real money every day, and it became commonplace to encounter people, many in their late teens and early 20s, who were making a living playing poker. Scores of otherwise aimless college dropouts were in the process of accumulating six- and seven-figure bankrolls and refining the necessary skill set—a combination of discipline and objective analysis pitched against an inherent component of risk—to maintain their success. Since then, online poker has only gotten bigger. These days, it seems everyone I meet knows someone who plays poker for a living.

All of that just adds to the feeling of collective doom I am experiencing. Many of my closest and most trusted friendships were formed in the poker world. There's a unique bond among people who compete against each other for tens of thousands of dollars (or more), looking for edges wherever available, but leave the cutthroat nature of the game behind when it's time for dinner. We are aware of the luxuries afforded by our profession—the ability to travel around the world playing a card game, the ability to take a day off when we're burnt out or our game is "off." We're also aware of the existential crises associated with our work—the isolation created by days spent in front of a computer screen, the emotional and financial swings, the looming question about whether or not we are "contributing to society."

While I am still pretty shocked and depressed, I have to rely on the same sort of objective analysis I learned as a poker player to make the best decision about my future. Similar to a difficult poker hand, I am forced to choose between the best of a few undesirable options. I have to make adjustments to my career path and lifestyle that will affect the course of my entire life, and I have to do it soon. The short-term solution will probably not be all that desirable, and the challenge is figuring out which of my options will create the highest level of long-term prosperity.

I come from an upper-middle-class background. I went to a good high school in New York, but I rebelled against going to college and was mostly directionless during my 20s. I had a flash of a career as a writer, but I lacked the motivation and direction to realize my potential. I worked as a bike messenger, a customer service rep, a busboy, and a waiter before poker came along. Although I enjoyed plenty of privilege in this world, I found a true career only when I became a professional gambler in my late 20s.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.