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Copyright 2005 The Crimson White via U-Wire
February 28, 2005 Monday
Andy McClure; U. Alabama student pursues online
|BYLINE: By Chris
Otts, The Crimson White;
SOURCE: U. Alabama
Andy McClure, 21, looks nothing like someone making $70 an hour.
He wears the same old blue jeans and the same ragged T-shirts
he's had since his freshman year at the University of Alabama.
If you didn't know better, you could swear his faded Yankees cap
was surgically fixed to his head. He spends most of his time in
That's the part McClure likes most about his story. Most college
students can only dream of a job that pays big bucks and allows
them to sit around with their friends watching TV or listening
to music. But that's how McClure spends his time: Hanging out
and making money.
McClure is cashing in on America's poker boom. He spends about
50 hours a week, he said, playing over the Internet. That's earned
him more than $40,000 since the summer, when he first sat down
in -- or logged into -- an online poker room.
McClure cautions that's just a fraction of what he expects to
make now that he doesn't have school or any other obligations
to detract from his playing time. In 2005, McClure thinks he'll
make at least $200,000. "That's a conservative estimate,"
he said, noting that he could win several hundred thousand with
a strong performance in a large tournament. Since Jan. 1, McClure
has made about $18,000 online, he said.
McClure plays Texas
Hold 'Em, the seven-card game made popular by the World Series
of Poker and other televised events. An inordinate surge of interest
in the game nationwide is filling casinos, and social games among
friends are making college students into poker aficionados.
The online gambling industry is also riding the poker
wave. There were almost 1.8 million regular online
poker players in January, up about 10 percent from the total
for December, according to PokerPulse.com, a firm that tracks
McClure said the recent upsurge of Internet players is already
making a lasting impact on the game.
"A lot of your next generation poker players -- they're
not your pool shark, back-room cigar guys," he said. "They're
your Internet whiz-kids and your smart math geeks."
McClure would like to say he's been a poker know-it-all before
the game became a fad, but he admits: "I'm just like all
those other kids who saw the movie 'Rounders.'" McClure and
many others credit the 1998 film, starring Matt Damon as a high-stakes
Hold 'Em player, with spurring the revival of poker
-- once thought to be a game for old men.
"I saw 'Rounders,' and I didn't think, 'This is a bad-ass
movie,'" McClure said. "I thought, 'This is a bad-ass
future -- for me.'"
After getting his feet wet playing with friends, McClure borrowed
$50 from a friend to try his hand at online poker this summer.
Playing only low-stakes games in his time away from working at
Domino's in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., his winnings were
modest at best.
"I just kind of hovered around even those first two months,"
But because he was so afraid of losing his small buy-in, McClure
said he "learned to play really tight and smart," only
staying in a hand when he has a good chance to win and avoiding
getting drawn into losing situations.
That strategy paid off, earning McClure money with which he can
play more games.
It begets itself: The more he plays, the more he can play, and
the more money he makes. In his first big win, which seems paltry
now, McClure turned a $10 buy-in into $80. After a few weeks,
he was averaging $15-$20 profit an hour. Now he's up to $70-$80
an hour. Playing one high-stakes table on a Saturday in January,
McClure made about $320 in 20 minutes, which he said is well above
average, but not uncommon.
Those kinds of winnings convinced him to drop out of school,
even though he came to the University on a full scholarship. "Every
hour I spend in class is $70 I'm not making playing poker,"
In a casino or some other live setting, it would be impossible
for McClure to win so often with such ease, but online poker is
a different world.
McClure usually plays four tables simultaneously, which he could
not do in a casino. "I've always been really good at multi-tasking,"
He plays conservatively, folding his cards more than 80 percent
of the time, he said. So when he does get into a hand, he bets
aggressively, and he doesn't have to worry about any serious action
on his other tables.
McClure said calculating the probability of his hand's chances
-- the math side of poker -- factors more prominently in online
poker, because you can't see the faces or the gestures of
the people you're up against, only their screen names. McClure,
who made a perfect score on the math section of the SAT, sticks
to his carefully timed play, and it almost always works for him,
"Plus, when you can play 200 hands an hour, any variance
that comes due to luck or the odds -- it just gets eliminated,"
With the recent surge in poker interest, many amateurs are trying
out poker online,
playing high-stakes games they would never play in a casino, and
providing more seasoned players like McClure a chance to win their
McClure plays almost exclusively on PartyPoker.com, by the far
the most popular of the almost 200 online poker rooms, according
"Every retard who watched the World Series of Poker on TV
and thought 'That's really cool, I want to play poker,' is on
PartyPoker," McClure said. "So you have a lot of people
who don't know what they're doing."
McClure said once he won hundreds of dollars from a woman who
kept calling big bets even though she had pathetic hands. He messaged
the woman through the PartyPoker software to ask why she was throwing
away so much money.
"She said was married to some really powerful lawyer in
New York," McClure said, fighting off bursts of laughter.
"And that he said she can blow as much as $5,000 a month
on poker as long it keeps her from cheating on him."
Rich McRoberts, 22, a recent Alabama graduate, also makes money
playing online poker
daily. "It seems like the people on the Internet are a lot
crazier, which is better for making money," he said. "Online
you have your sharks and your total fish."
But McRoberts said because online players are unpredictable,
you can rarely "bet them out," or bet big when you have
a good starting hand
in hopes the other players will fold, a standard poker
"People will call anything," and sometimes they'll
get lucky and win, McRoberts said. "And it sucks when that
happens, but if you make strong plays consistently, you'll make
McRoberts said he only plays about three hours a day on average,
but still makes more money than he did as a waiter.
Scott Kidwell, 36, an advertising salesman in Tuscaloosa, has
played live poker semi-professionally for about five or six years,
Kidwell said he plays online for the fun of it whenever he can,
but he said he's had trouble adjusting to whimsical plays his
opponents make online.
"It's fun, no doubt about it," he said. "But when
they call and draw out on you -- man, it's tough."
Despite the surge in online poker usage in the United States,
the legality of Internet gambling is still questionable. Almost
all of the popular online
poker rooms are based overseas. PartyPoker is regulated by
the government of Gibraltar, a territory of the United Kingdom
just south of Spain.
The federal government has limited its interest in gambling to
organized crime, but many states have anti-gambling statutes,
which could be extended to online
poker, according to I. Nelson Rose, an Internet gambling expert
at Whittier Law School in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"The only way to know for sure is to check the laws of your
state," Rose wrote on his Web site, www.gamblingandthelaw.com.
A statement from the Alabama Attorney General's office on the
issue implies that Internet gambling could be prosecuted in Alabama,
where gambling is generally illegal.
"State law does not distinguish between Internet or online
gambling and other forms of gambling," Joy Patterson, spokeswoman
for Attorney General Troy King, said in the statement. The law
also states that gambling is illegal even if the game is conducted
outside the state, Patterson said.
Playing poker over
the Internet also raises security questions, such as what prevents
two or three people from conspiring in the same game.
Ashley Trebor, a shift supervisor for PartyPoker's technical
support, which is based in India, said PartyPoker has an "investigations
team" which scrutinizes betting patterns and other information
to look for suspicious behavior. He said he could not elaborate,
for security reasons, on how the team keeps people from cheating.
McClure said it seems it would be easy for people to cheat, but
in reality there are several factors that can give cheaters away.
McClure said he doesn't think there are many people trying to
rig games on PartyPoker.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon in January, McClure sits in a buddy's
dorm room, shooting the breeze and playing video games.
His demeanor is relaxed as ever. It seems like a normal day when
he hooks up his laptop and logs onto Party Poker, but McClure
is about to enter his biggest poker game yet.
It's a tournament with more than 2,000 players and a prize pool
of $1.22 million. If he were to win the tournament, he would take
home $256,000. It would cost McClure $640 to enter, but he won
his ticket in by finishing first in a satellite, or promotional,
tournament, which cost only $70 to enter.
McClure knows the competition here will be much stiffer than
in the typical Party Poker game.
McClure spends most of the first hour of play folding his cards.
"That's just how you have to play in tournament like this,"
Finally, he decides a starting hand of Ace-Queen is good enough
to play, and he makes an aggressive bet. Only two players stay
in the hand, one of which bets all his chips. McClure wins a big
pot after two more Queens were dealt, giving him three Queens.
McClure says he should have lost to one of the players, who had
two Kings, but "I got lucky. Stuff like that happens all
the time in these kind of games."
That win puts McClure in the top 30 percent of tournament players
after the first hour of play. "That's a good place to be
early," he says.
But luck works both ways, he soon finds. Dealt an Ace and a King,
McClure makes a hefty bet, but one of the players pushes in all
his chips. Sensing a bluff, McClure calls, and he's right: the
other player only has a Nine and Four. But a Nine and a Four are
dealt in the community cards, giving the bluffer two pairs. McClure
loses all his chips, knocking him out of tournament.
He doesn't seem to mind: "I just want to get as much high-level
experience, especially tournament experience, I can," he
He plans to move to Las Vegas to become a professional, live
poker player in about a year in half, when he's saved up $100,000
in poker money, he says.
In about two weeks, McClure is planning a weeklong trip to Vegas,
where he will sit down for the first time at high-stakes World
Series of Poker event. He's also planning another Vegas trip in
the early summer. McClure plans on playing in $1,000 to $2,500
No Limit tournaments to gain experience. He's not going to play
in the WSOP main event, which carries a $10,000 entry fee, unless
he wins his way in, he said.
Once he realized he could make a living playing poker, he never
gave returning to school a second thought, he says.
"Real jobs are such B.S. anyway," McClure says. "Even
in the ones that make a lot of money, you don't have any fun."
(C) 2005 The Crimson White via U-WIRE
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