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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Hanging around with Chambers feels less like being with a cardsharp than being with a chess master. He’s got a bookcase full of poker books, to which he devotes hours every week. Though he doubts that he quite possesses the “almost mystical” qualities to become a truly great player, he clings to the hope of achieving greatness through playing countless hands and figuring out betting patterns. “What separates the greatest players from the merely great or good is hand-reading ability-the ability to understand, from knowledge com­piled all your life, based on the way a per­son is acting, to know what they have, why they’re playing their hand the way they are.”

Online the clues are reduced, since he gets no visual or verbal signals from his opponents. (He occasionally plays live games at casinos “for variety” and finds those games “softer"-easier to win-than online games; his earnings are limited, though, because he can’t play more than one at a time.) Already, Chambers can as much as see through the cards of the typical beer-drinking Saturday night poker player and predict his every next move. At the highest levels, he says, the players can understand almost every poker hand that way.

Chambers is less adept at predicting his own future. Ask him what he’ll do if the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act shuts down the opportunity to make a living from his back bedroom, and he runs through assorted possibilities. He might coach high-school basketball, go back to school, take up live poker full-time. He suspects he may end up an academic. “But as long as online poker is viable, it’s my main focus,” he says.

In other words, he’s going to play the hand he’s dealt.