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Copyright 2005 National Public Radio (R)
All Rights Reserved
National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Day to Day 4:00 AM EST NPR
May 3, 2005 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Los Angeles couple plays
online poker to pay the rent
ANCHORS: ALEX CHADWICK
REPORTERS: KEVIN ARNOVITZ
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
You have met a couple here that you've turned into a story on
how people get involved with this and what happens to them. Tell
us about these people.
KEVIN ARNOVITZ reporting:
I host a casual Wednesday night poker
game and this couple are frequent attendees, and I found out
they were playing a lot of poker online, and I went to their house
to watch them in action.
Mr. CRISPIN LEYSER: I've got nothing. I'm down to nothing. That
ace-king against ace-two absolutely killed me, and...
Mrs. JULES LEYSER: How much was it for him to call that?
Mr. LEYSER: He went all in.
ARNOVITZ: It's Thursday morning. In a house perched over Laurel
Canyon, Crispin and Jules Leyser are hard at work on their matching
titanium laptops. But even though this is Los Angeles, the casually
elegant husband and wife team aren't pecking away on their latest
screenplay. They're playing poker online.
(Soundbite of computer bell)
Mr. LEYSER: I'm playing a single table tournament and I've actually
bought in for $100. So there's 10 players here. Each of them have
staked $100. The first place will win $500, second place will
win $300 and third place will win $200.
ARNOVITZ: Jules is a writer and actress and Crispin a creative
executive. But the film production company Crispin worked for
lost its funding last summer, and Jules experienced her first
brief dry spell in recent years. Faced with a hefty monthly rental
atop the Hollywood Hills and irregular work in the entertainment
industry, the couple began playing poker as their primary income.
Mr. LEYSER: I think it's about 3 1/2 thousand dollars a month.
Mrs. LEYSER: I mean, obviously, it's not the same amount every
month, because it's poker and it's a game and it's not something
you can control. But, you know, our rent is $2,500 a month and
we've covered that by poker since last August.
ARNOVITZ: The Leysers aren't professional poker players. They
picked up the game a few years ago in London and have sharpened
their craft by reading game theory and by playing in competitive
home games around town. They're the players at the weekly poker
night who consistently have the towering stacks of chips in front
of them. Now instead of resorting to temp jobs that typically
get entertainment types through the lean times, Jules and Crispin
have taken their experience to the Internet. They say the popularity
of poker on TV coupled with the ease of playing online has been
lucrative for them as players.
Mr. LEYSER: There are a lot of bad players online, just kind
of trying it out and jumping on the bandwagon.
Mrs. LEYSER: And they're using online to learn
how to play, and actually spending, you know, a reasonable
amount of money.
Mr. LEYSER: And, you know, so occasionally they luck out but
if you sit tight and wait until you've got a monster hand, you're
gonna take their money.
ARNOVITZ: Conventional wisdom is that winning
at poker is all about staring across the table and looking
for your opponent's tell, that nervous twitch that lets you know
they're bluffing. Of course, you can't do that online, when your
opponent is a stoic computer graphic. That's why Crispin says
some players resort to keeping tabs on the competition.
Mr. LEYSER: There are people I know who absolutely keep notes
on every player online that they play with and, you know, I know
that there are other players who have notes on me and that kind
of thing. To be honest, that's more time than I'm prepared to
ARNOVITZ: But more players every day are putting in serious time
at these virtual tables. According to the online newsletter PokerPost.com,
1.9 million people are playing
poker online. And that number is growing exponentially each
month. And so are the stakes. In January 2003, online poker players
wagered about $11 million each day. Today that number has grown
to over $180 million. According to Jules and Crispin, they're
part of a growing community of players for whom online poker pays
(Soundbite of computer bell, typing noises)
ARNOVITZ: Twenty minutes into her game, Jules has taken control
of her table, and she's got a full house.
Mrs. LEYSER: What I'm gonna do here is be a little bit naughty.
(Soundbite of computer bell)
ARNOVITZ: Jules, who's holding an unbeatable hand, wants to lure
her overconfident opponent into her trap.
Mrs. LEYSER: There we go.
(Soundbite of typing noises)
Mrs. LEYSER: My little strategy worked.
(Soundbite of typing noises; computer bell)
Mrs. LEYSER: Now I've guaranteed myself a payout.
ARNOVITZ: Along with the relaxed dress code that allows you to
work in pajamas, another benefit to playing online is that you
can still pursue your day job, so to speak.
Mr. LEYSER: He's folded. I'm only going to put a minimum bet
out there. There's the phone. And of course this is what happens
in the middle of the game, you get a work call.
(Soundbite of phone conversation)
Mr. LEYSER: Hi, this is Crispin. Yeah. That's right. Yeah. Sure.
Yeah. That's not a problem. Yeah.
ARNOVITZ: Even as Crispin cradles the telephone receiver as he
sets up a meeting for a prospective project, he's still able to
multitask, keeping his eyes squarely on the monitor and raking
in a big pot.
Mr. LEYSER: I took two people out and I'm now guaranteed money.
ARNOVITZ: All right! So we have two people in the money.
Before they can finish breakfast, Jules and Crispin both manage
to make money for a first- and third-place finish, respectively.
Mr. LEYSER: Not a bad wage.
Mrs. LEYSER: Well, it's not terrible.
Mr. LEYSER: We didn't even have to leave the house or anything.
CHADWICK: And we're back in the studio with Kevin Arnovitz.
So, Kevin, how much did Crispin and Jules make on that morning
that you spent with them?
ARNOVITZ: Well, just that morning they made 180 bucks. And I
just checked in with them and over the past two weeks they're
up $4,500. Their winnings, Alex, have actually gotten them some
attention. The World Poker Tour, apart from their poker show on
the Travel Channel, and their tournament of top players, also
has licensed a boot camp, and the WPT, as they're called, has
hired the Leysers to speak to novices about playing online during
their seminar series. So they're teaching things similar to what
you just heard on the piece, like luring opponents into making
CHADWICK: So who's actually behind these online games? Is this
casinos who are doing this?
ARNOVITZ: No, the online poker world is a little bit shady. Most
of these companies are run offshore in places like South Africa
or Gibraltar. But the casinos have tapped in in another way. They
frequently give seats to their big poker tournaments to online
winners. And the same goes for the World Poker Tour, which reserves
seats for online winners as well.
CHADWICK: And as for Crispin and Jules, they're looking to cross
over into non-virtual tournament play, as you say. They're doing
the seminars on how to play?
ARNOVITZ: The WPT has hired them to do some of the weekend seminars,
but aside from playing in neighborhood games, they've made it
clear to me they're still pursuing their careers in Hollywood.
But for now, it's nice to be able to make ends meet through a
hobby that they thoroughly enjoy and one they're awfully good
CHADWICK: It's a hobby, but it would just scare the daylights
out of me to be thinking I'm betting the rent money here on what
is still a game of chance.
ARNOVITZ: There's an adage that says that it is a hard way to
make an easy living, but Jules and Crispin are what we call high-percentage
players. They don't take silly risks. They maximize their potential
in each hand. They don't chase, which is a term for sort of...
CHADWICK: Throwing good money after bad.
ARNOVITZ: Precisely. And as a result, over time, percentages
say they will make a reasonable amount of money if they stick
around long enough. And that's proven true over the last year.
CHADWICK: So you're a poker player. You like the game. Seeing
them in action, does this persuade you, `Hey, online, I can get
in there, I can make a lot of money, and why not?'
ARNOVITZ: Well, the evening after I recorded the story, I went
home and registered for a poker site. And for the two weeks following,
I made a moderate amount of money. But I found that it ate so
much into my social life and professional life that I had to uninstall
the software, and I no longer allow myself to even link to an
online poker site.
CHADWICK: Kevin Arnovitz, a writer and player here in Los Angeles.
Kevin, thank you.
ARNOVITZ: Thank you.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY continues.
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