Devin Maguire sits deep in concentration, staring at the cards on the screen. He analyzes each play, debating how much to bet and carefully charting his next move. He clicks back and forth between games, making educated guesses about his opponents’ strategies.
He ends the tournament more than 12 hours later — and $9,000 wealthier. While most students complain about having a full schedule, few brag about having a full house.
Maguire, a junior mathematics major, plays poker online to pay for his living expenses and tuition balance after scholarships and grants. He won’t reveal how much he makes but said without those earnings, he estimates he would have to take out at least $25,000 in loans each year.
In 2008, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reported that nearly 3 percent of males ages 18 to 22 said they gamble online at least once a week, up from 1.5 percent in 2007.
Maguire started playing poker with friends during his sophomore year in high school. They taught him the rules, and he continued improving in future games.
“The first time I played, I had no idea what I was doing, but after I learned the rules, I found myself consistently walking away from our games with a little bit of money,” Maguire said.
A year later, he switched to playing poker online at www.fulltiltpoker.com, which he said allows him to play games such as No Limit Texas Hold ’em and Pot Limit Omaha more often, whenever and wherever he wants.
“The whole idea of online poker is convenience,” Maguire said.
Now, he balances at least an hour and a half of play each day with a 16-credit course load and a job as a mathematics teaching assistant. He has competed in more than 100 tournaments.
“It is a job,” Maguire said. “It is something I put hours and effort into.”
Maguire’s friend Drew Ash, a senior mathematics major, is familiar with Maguire’s passion for poker. Ash said Maguire’s impressive winnings haven’t alienated him from his classmates.
“Looking at Devin, he’s not what people think of as a stereotypical gambler,” Ash said. “He doesn’t walk around wearing expensive clothes and driving an expensive car.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs of compulsive gambling include lying to hide gambling, borrowing money or stealing to gamble, and taking time from work or family life to gamble. Maguire said he takes measures to avoid the compulsive gambling habit. He is not inclined to chase his losses.
“I’ll step away from the game,” Maguire said. “I’ll go to the gym or something if I’m not playing well and focus on why.”
Dan Romer, director of the Annenberg Center, said poker players need discipline to avoid developing a gambling addiction.
“You have to play an awful lot to learn how to win and how to control your emotions so you don’t get carried away and end up in the hole,” he said.
Junior Bryan Shay also plays on www.fulltiltpoker.com and uses his earnings to offset tuition costs. He attributes much of his success to his ability to put his excitement and frustration aside. He said emotions inhibit good decision-making and become distracting.
“Most of the time, I try to feel neutral and just accept what happens — not get happy when I’m winning and not get sad when I’m losing,” he said. “You really have to leave your ego at the door if you want to make correct decisions.”
Both Maguire and Shay said managing bankroll, the amount of money allocated for betting, vitally affects a player’s success. Maguire said he never bets more than 2 to 3 percent of his bankroll at a given time, which prevents him from losing a large amount of money in one hand.
Maguire said he doesn’t rely on lucky charms. Instead he puts in hours of time to learn every move of the game in order to turn his passion into a job.
“In the long run, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to lose,” he said. “You can’t go into it looking to be lucky.”
He uses a computer program that logs each of his games. The program tracks statistics about his plays, as well as those of his opponents. He said he reviews every game, determining what he did right and what he could have done better.
“I’m always working at the game and studying it,” Maguire said. “It’s how you become better.”
Both Maguire and Shay have played at casinos but said they prefer to play online because of the number of potential opponents at any given moment — which means many games and many opportunities to win.
“I don’t see much value in driving to the casino and spending the money, time and gas when I can play many tables at once, all online,” Shay said. “Thousands and thousands of people are playing online every single day.”
Both students said they don’t let the game interfere with their responsibilities. Maguire selects games based on their duration and whether he will be able to finish a game before heading to class. He said he has had to leave a match to make it to class on time.
“There has never been a juicy enough game to make me miss class,” Maguire said. “I’m paying over 40 grand to go here, I might as well go to class.”
Ash can attest to Maguire’s responsible attitude and how he keeps his gambling in check.
“He’s paying for college, and that’s more of a priority for him than making whatever money he makes,” Ash said. “He comes here to learn, and I think that’s refreshing.”
Though he treated himself to the 46-inch flat-screen TV in his bedroom, Maguire said he seldom splurges on high-priced items. But, he is using his earnings to take his mom to Las Vegas for her 50th birthday in June. Maguire said he found good deals on flights and a hotel room. Even though he’ll be surrounded by poker, he’s taking time off from work.
“I’m just going to have fun with my family,” he said. “If I play poker and make money, that’s just another positive.”