Poker craze: A younger generation feeding the frenzy
May 5, 2005
STATELINE – On a nondescript Wednesday afternoon inside Harveys, women wearing flashy jewelry yank on slot-machine handles. Other people roll dice at craps tables or watch blackjack dealers take their chips. It’s regular casino cinema, no different than what is was 25 years ago.
Then there is 24-year-old South Shore resident Josh Ewing, sitting at a poker table, flashing smiles and oozing with confidence. Ewing mingles with bearded middle-aged men or stares down gray-haired gentlemen old enough to be his grandpa.
Although it’s 3:30 p.m. – relatively early in the $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament World Series of Poker event – Ewing has a healthy chip stack and appears nothing like poker players of the 1960s. Fresh faces, bright eyes and 1980 birthdates are the new poker craze.
“Oh, the young people are completely feeding it,” said Ewing, a Bay Area native and chemical engineering graduate. “I play about six days a week and average 40-50 hours per week. I look it as a real job.”
The University of California at Berkeley graduate is now a professional card player who’s earned more in the past six months playing poker than he could’ve working any menial job in Tahoe.
What happened to 20-somethings building a career? Well, maybe that’s what he’s doing.
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“I would interview for these jobs and these people hated their jobs so much they didn’t even know how to lie about why they liked them anymore,” Ewing said. “They’re not happy. I didn’t want to be like that.”
This type of talk doesn’t surprise Nolan Dalla, the WSOP’s media relations director. He’s been around the game for several decades. He knows the current trend isn’t stopping anytime soon.
“Just five years ago, you couldn’t have seen this coming,” Dalla said. “Television really changed things. The younger kids watch a lot television and with the Internet, those things really made it popular. And I don’t see it changing anytime soon. It will probably get even bigger. You can make a lot of money playing poker now.”
For decades, poker was reserved for tough guys, outlaws and riverboat gamblers, played in underground clubs or casinos in Nevada or Atlantic City. Now it’s played on dozens of Web sites and hundreds of Indian Reservations nationwide. Almost any night of the week, poker can be seen on ESPN and the Travel Channel, whether it’s Celebrity Poker, the World Poker Tour or re-runs of last year’s WSOP.
“It’s amazing,” said Stan Miller, an assistant manager at Neighbors Books and Music. “ESPN2 is so powerful. Don’t underestimate that. When we first opened (December, 2003), we used to sell maybe three to four poker books a week. Now we sell anywhere from eight-10 books a week. And it’s mostly younger people buying the books.”
Last Sunday, Scott Clements, a 23-year-old from Mount Vernon, Wash., won the $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament at Harveys. He pocketed $45,745, the largest first-place prize so far at the WSOP Lake Tahoe Circuit Event.
“I’ve read a few of the books,” said Clements, who dropped out of college and now owns a mortgage company and is a professional poker player. “I tend to take little pieces from each of the books, but I always play with my own style. I’m 38 credits short of graduating and I’ll never go back. That degree won’t help me.”
In the past two years, amateurs Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer won the World Series of Poker main event and together earned more than $7 million. Their well-documented victories have continued to fuel the explosion.
By virtue of online tournament victories, Ewing and Clements have gained entry into this year’s main event in Las Vegas. Winning an online tournament is how Moneymaker qualified for the 2003 WSOP main event. Ewing, though, has also had success in live tournaments.
At last Saturday’s $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament, Ewing finished sixth and won $6,960. When Wednesday’s tournament broke for dinner, Ewing was the chip leader with over $27,000. He advanced to the final table on Thursday.
“Dude, I don’t know if I want to get a real job,” Ewing said. “After college, I felt like moving to Tahoe, snowboarding all winter and seeing how professional poker might treat me. It’s been working out.”
2005 World Series of Poker Circuit Event
This weekend’s schedule at Harveys:
• 10 a.m.: Registration for the $2,000 buy-in No’Limit Hold’em
• Noon: Start of $2,000 buy-in No’Limit Hold’em
• 4 p.m.: Final table for $1,500 buy-in No’Limit Hold’em
• 11 a.m: $200 buy-in Ladies’ Limit Hold’em
• 4 p.m.: WSOP Champion Doyle Brunson book signing*
• 5 p.m.: Interview with WSOP Champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson*
• 6 p.m.: Autograph session with Brunson and Ferguson*
* Free to attend and open to public
• 10 a.m.: Registration for $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em main event
• Noon: Start of $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em main event
Note: Notable players expected to participate in main event are Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson and Phill Hellmuth. Final table coverage of the main event on May 11 at 4 p.m. will be taped by ESPN.
Texas No-Limit Hold’em and Poker Terminology
“Pocket Pair” – Any pair in the hole
“Big Slick” – Ace, King in the hole
“Check” – Passing action to another player
“Raise” – Raising another player’s bet
“All-in” – Wagering all of your remaining chips
“Nuts” – The best possible hand
“Bluff” – Acting strong when weak
“Slow-playing” – Acting weak when strong
“Blinds” – Forced action wagers required from 2 players
“Sucked out” – Best hand eventually loses to weaker hand