One Click Away

Matt Murray, 18, sits in front of his computer
where he has won $150,000 by gambling online.
Photo by Catherine Winter

Eighteen-year-old Matt Murray is one of around 20 million Americans who gamble online.

"I have a bunch of poker sites," says Matt. "I'll go to this one today ..."

He clicks on his bookmark and Party Poker pops up. He checks to see how the action is this afternoon.

"Right now, 54,000 people are playing on 7,400 tables," he says. "This is the biggest site with the most players, which is why I like to play on it because there are generally more bad people playing."

And with so many bad players, there's more chance for Matt to take home the winnings. In online poker, you play against other people, not the house. You enter a virtual table with 10 players. Using a credit card, each person pays a set amount into a pot, in the case of Matt's game today, $200 apiece. The winner takes $1000, second place $600 and third $400. The rest get nothing. In addition, there's a $15 fee which goes straight to the Internet poker company. You play until only one person has any chips left.

Matt's dorm room at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, is small and crowded. Windows are blacked out and socks, bedding and poker chips are strewn over the floor. Matt sits on an impressive ergonomic chair watching two state-of-the-art flat-screen computer monitors.

"I have two monitors so I can play eight tables at a time without overlapping," says Matt. "If I was to play one table, the luck factor would be a lot more than versus eight tables. The variance isn't as much."

Matt is using his skill to reduce the element of luck that's part of any poker game.

Matt's a freshman studying business management in Duluth. He may be new to the university but, judging by the number of people crowding into his room to watch him play, he's already become something of a star on campus.

"I'm now currently 33rd in the world of online poker. During the summer, I was as high as 25 but now it's school. I'm focusing a bit more on school."

But he's clearly still on his game. In the space of half an hour watching him, Matt was already $200 up. And this isn't unusual for him. Indeed he's been so successful that he says he's able to fund his entire college education with his winnings.

"I've won around $150,000 so far, playing online," says Matt. "It's amazing. I'm not stressed for cash like most college people. I'm paying for college myself. I don't really have any dependence on anyone, so it's pretty nice."

To win that kind of cash, Matt dedicates anywhere between two and 12 hours a day to online poker. Friends like his roommate Steve bring him food and crowd around the monitors to see him in action.

"I've watched him play and I've tried to learn the way he plays, but I've understood that he sees concepts that are deeper than I can understand," Steve says. "I think he's just got a gift or something which makes him just a great poker player which has obviously led to his success."

Another roommate, also called Matt, is rather envious of his friend's success.

"I played a little before, but then once I got to know him, I wanted to play more because I found out how much money you could actually win. He always has all the nice cool stuff that we wish we could buy."


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