Game Boy

Tom Chambers is a young graduate of Harvard who recently scrapped his job as an actuary to make a living playing online poker. But a new law threatens his livelihood. Can he and others like him hold—or must they fold?

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Chambers is loaded for accusations that he ought to be doing something more meaningful with his life. “I don’t like it that people are identified with their job,” he says, adding that a few months earlier when people asked what he did, he told them he was an actuary and their eyes glazed over. “Now I’m a poker player and everyone wants to hear about it.” He adds that the earnings and the flexibility of his work potentially allow him to do anything he wants. Besides, online poker players aren’t the only kinds of professionals who earn their living by winning a zero-sum game (where total gains are balanced by total losses). “I don’t really care about the guy in the nine-to-nine ‘I’-banking job who says I’m not doing enough,” he says, bouncing the question right back: “What do you add to society?”

Chambers says his main defense against serious loss is a detailed business plan that mandates what he calls an “ultraconservative,” mutual-fund-like spread of his $50,000 bankroll across five types of games with varying levels of risk. His days and weeks are scheduled carefully to accommodate the mental and emotional rigors of poker. On a typical workday, Chambers plays a multigame “session” from 10 a.m. to noon. Then he eats lunch and works out-he plays basketball-and plays another two-hour session sometime between 2 and 6 p.m. After dinner, he’ll likely play for two or three hours. He doesn’t take Sundays off-there’s a lot of dead money available in Sunday tournaments-but he will take a day off here and there, and he always takes a half-day after a particularly good or bad day at the computer (which he defines, respectively, as winning $2,000 or losing $1,000). Neither euphoria nor despair, he says, leads to smart poker.