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Chris Sparks Has Gone Hollywood;

it’s a Good Thing

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


At first glance, you might think Chris Sparks is living the good life. He is one of the most successful online high-stakes cash-game grinders in the game today. Each day, he wakes up in a five-bedroom mansion to a panoramic view from high atop the hills overlooking Los Angeles. And let’s not forget that he’s pretty smart, too. You have to be to graduate from Ohio State University with degrees in marketing and psychology, while simultaneously holding down a job selling advertising for the school newspaper. So, take a second look; Sparks’ life is not good, it’s actually a dream come true.

“When I look at the view from our house, I realize that it’s a rare opportunity for myself and my roommates,” said Sparks. “The outrageous monthly rent that we pay is an investment that’s been paid back tenfold in my life. I play better. I’m more motivated at the tables. And the downswings are easier to manage, mainly because of the balance between the rest of my life and poker. If I have a bad day playing online, I can’t really complain. Look where I am. It puts everything into perspective.”

Sparks didn’t always feel so blessed. A dream job that he’d landed in the advertising division at Ford Motor Company had crashed and burned soon after he moved to Detroit. The auto industry had stalled, and Ford initiated a hiring freeze. Officials there asked Sparks to be patient, and they placated him with a $5,000 check. Four months later, still no job. So, with free time on his hands, he dedicated his 40-hour workweek to improving his poker game, a part-time hobby that had been lucrative for him while he was in college.

Craig Tapscott: You actually had some success playing tournaments in your spare time while in college, right?

Chris Sparks: Yes. I played some tournaments and lost a bunch of $50 deposits. Finally, I broke through when I entered a $55 event with $55 in my account, and won it, for $5,000. I didn’t have a lot of time to play in college, because of my class and work schedule. But sometimes I would forego sleep to play poker. Then in my senior year, I won two events in the same week, for $30,000 combined, and doubled my poker bankroll. So, of course, I decided that I had mastered tournaments and it was time to move on to cash games [laughing].

CT: What stakes did you dive into?

CS: I hopped into the $1-$2 no-limit hold’em games. I started by playing 24 tables simultaneously, because I had to maximize the time that I had. I had some idea of what I was doing, but the games were fairly easy. Honestly, I wasn’t very good. But I studied the game and read everything I could get my hands on. I lost the first couple of months, but by the third month, I broke through and made $10,000. And it was steady until my graduation.

CT: How did renting the mansion in Los Angeles come about?

CS: I took a trip to Vegas to celebrate my birthday with some poker friends I’d met online. We talked, and decided to get together and live somewhere that was warm and fun. Why wait? So, we flew to Los Angeles the next day and got an agent to show us some houses. We looked at seven, and took the seventh house that he showed us. We signed the lease the next day, and moved in two weeks later.

CT: Let’s talk some poker. What catapulted your game to that next level, where you could move up in stakes so quickly?

CS: I realized how situational the game is. In a lot of spots, your cards don’t matter. It’s less about what you have and more about what your opponent perceives you have. Rather than approaching poker in a vacuum — like, when this happens, I do this or that — it’s more about realizing the many variables that are in play, and which ones lead you to one decision over another. There is no spot in poker that comes up where I have a set play; everything is 100 percent situational.

CT: Can you describe your game?

CS: My poker game is an accumulation of many other great players’ games. I’m like the superhero who takes the powers of every other superhero and becomes unbeatable. That’s how I feel I started to grow my game, by watching and incorporating what I learned each day.

CT: Do you expect to be a poker pro for the rest of your life?

CS: No. I’m surprised that I’m still doing it now. It’s obviously going very well. I’ve become accustomed to being my own boss, so I doubt the corporate thing will be for me. I’ll stick with poker as long as it’s enjoyable. I’m not going to be one of those guys everyone is talking about 20 years from now, saying, “It’s so sad. Sparks used to be so good.” That won’t happen to me. I definitely plan on pulling a Deion Sanders and going out on top. ♠