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Poker Students: The New Generation

by Conrad Brunner |  Published: Jul 06, 2005


How about this for one of the biggest lies you hear around the card table: "I put myself through college playing poker." Poker chat is riddled with half-truths and spurious claims, but I have always viewed that particular cliché with considerable skepticism. Most university games are for tiny sums and played at a terrible standard. As a student, I lost a few notes playing three-card brag in a taxi rank in Manchester, which is not surprising given that I didn't – and still don't – understand the rules of that arcane British gambling game. When I developed an interest in poker, and eventually got to sit down at a real money table in Las Vegas, my level of expertise was so high, I couldn't have told you with confidence whether a flush beat a straight.

I shouldn't judge others by my own low standards, but even if you play the game to quite a high standard, the sheer amount of money required to support a life in further education makes it seriously tough for a student to pay his or her way through poker. A non-gambling medical student friend recently told me that he was stuck for £15,000, which, sadly, is quite commonplace since university grants were cut in the UK. As for earning that kind of money through poker, anyone could get lucky in a big tournament, but can we really expect a mere student to develop the skill and the bankroll to earn a consistent income from the game? Are greenhorn university geeks really pulling down five-figure sums on a regular basis? Well, having examined this preposterous claim, the only reasonable conclusion is … er … yes, they can. And it's happening all the time.

Now, I have to say that student/poker pro is not my idea of the perfect life balance, and I wouldn't advise any student to become financially committed to poker, let alone dependent on the game to pay the bills. There are better things to do with your college years. But the fact is that students nowadays are far more poker savvy than previous generations. They watch the poker TV shows, study books, dissect hand histories, and play more hands online in a week than I did during my entire university years. They are bright and competitive, and the best ones – the category A, professional-standard poker players – have a real lust to learn and to improve their game at every opportunity.

Take Brandon Schaefer, a recent graduate of Washington State University in Seattle. He is typical of the poker New Generation. He played a lot of poker online and live during his college years, and sharpened up his game still further when he had some time available before starting an MBA in San Diego last September. Last February, his college buddy had just qualified for the EPT event in Deauville, France, and he asked Schaefer to join him. Unfortunately, Schaefer didn't have a seat, so he buckled down at his computer until he secured himself a place in the €2,000 buy-in event, qualifying on PokerStars via a Free Player Points tournament, so it didn't actually cost him any cash. After four days of poker in Deauville, against 248 of Europe's finest, Schaefer finished first and his pal Olson came second. Prize money of €144,000 meant that Schaefer would have plenty of beer money left over after he'd paid his MBA tuition fees, and there was also the free seat in the €10,000 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo the following month to enjoy. Schaefer, who was now on a serious roll, came second in Monte Carlo to that wily Dutchman Rob Hollink. You could almost say that when it came down to the final two, Hollink gave Schaefer a lesson in heads-up play, but Schaefer would have been pleased with the extra tuition, not to mention the runner-up check for €350,000, enough to put him and his seven kids through college, should he be so inclined.

These guys, and I now know of several more like Schaefer and Olson, are so damn good at poker, it is unnerving. It's easy to forget their extreme youth, but sometimes they give themselves away. As one French math undergraduate whispered to me – just before taking his seat at an EPT final event – "My mum doesn't know I'm here."

Conrad Brunner is the European marketing manager for