If you had told Dan Schwab ’02 eight years ago that he was destined to be an online poker professional, he would probably have laughed. Although he had been playing online poker on the side since his junior year in college, the graduating senior was embarking on a very respectable career at a hedge fund. But six weeks into the job, he realized the hedge fund path was not for him and moved onto a volunteer position at a think tank, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He quit this job in 2006, and today Schwab is finally proud to call himself a self-employed online poker professional.
While Schwab’s parents were a little scared when he quit his job to play poker, he said they soon came around because, for at least a year, he had been making more money just playing poker than working in the office. Additionally, being self-employed has many perks. For one, he generally doesn’t play that many hours – only about 15 to 20 games a week. “This is pretty common among professionals, because it’s somewhat draining to play a lot of tables at once,” Schwab said. For another, he is making enough dough to pay for not only daily necessities and his apartment, but also to fund his enrollment into graduate school for economics in the fall.
Moving into the poker world, Schwab had to adopt a poker-playing name, a.k.a. a “handle.” Mind you, finding a handle was no easy task – it had to be discreet enough that people would forget it quickly and not pick up on his playing tendencies. For example, one terrible handle he came across was “ALotofAction” – a player who gave “a lot of action” by betting and raising a lot. On the flip side, “there were two good players around for a while named Talented Tom and No Talent Tom,” Schwab said. “I don’t know which player came first, but I could never remember what I thought about one vs. the other.” Schwab’s name creation? Bufo 523. Perfectly nondescript, but nevertheless holding some personal meaning, as Schwab was a member of the Williams “B” Ultimate Frisbee Team. “The numbers don’t have any real meaning except that 5/23 would be a nice day in spring,” he said.
Schwab only plays poker at pokerstars.com, which bills itself as “the world’s largest poker site.” “I’ve sent them emails saying hi, I’m working on my taxes, it’s April 14 and I need to find out how many frequent player points – like frequent flyer points – I earned in the last calendar year, can you tell me that?” Schwab said. “And I’ll get a human response a half an hour later.” Online poker opens up a whole realm of social networking about that the non-poker player would never know. Schwab is a member of a popular poker forum called Two Plus Two. “I know some guys through there who I’ve been in poker study groups with, and I’ve coached some people through it,” Schwab said.
As any social networker today knows, things can get a bit creepy in the online poker world. Playing people who are from all around the world, Schwab nevertheless pits himself against a circle of the same talented players quite a bit. Once, he got in a “situation” with a really good player and attempted to steal the pot, knowing that it would hurt the other player a lot. “He just went ballistic in the chat window, and was yelling and cursing at me,” Schwab said. “And for a solid day, all he was trying to do was hurt me. He was willing to lose money himself to cause me to lose money. I was kind of freaking out, because this was my job.” They eventually made peace – but that sort of encounter is nothing to joke about.
A math major during his time at the College, Schwab learned the tricks of online poker in a game theory class he took with Stewart Johnson, professor of mathematics. However, Schwab was closest with Ed Burger, professor of mathematics, with whom he took several classes. Upon learning that Schwab was playing poker for a living, Burger was quite taken aback, to say the least. “He was so squeaky clean, wholesome,” Burger said, pointing out Schwab in photos of his “Abstract Algebra” class in the spring of 2000 and his “Piatic Analysis” class in the fall of 2001. “Look at him: young, baby-faced, adorable, seemingly so innocent. I think it’s just a racket. I mean, what a con artist, because look what he’s doing now – he’s playing poker and winning millions and billions of dollars.”
Always “a really smart guy and a great math student,” in Burger’s words, Schwab never “took himself or the situation around him seriously.” After he took this class in game theory and became quite the poker pro, Schwab invited a group of his friends and Burger over to Dodd living room for a big poker match. “In my memory, Burger got killed,” Schwab said. Burger remembers there were about six of Schwab’s cronies all playing in the room. “To my embarrassment, I was pretty lousy,” Burger said. Poker ability aside, Schwab remembers Burger as the professor to whom he was closest at the College.
Although Schwab would steer desperate seniors away from making a career out of online poker, he would recommend it as a hobby. “If it turns out that you’re really good, then maybe it could turn into a career,” Schwab said. He did offer one tidbit of advice to aspiring poker players: “Take out a sheet of paper and write down the words, ‘I fold,’ and put it in your pocket. If you’re ever not sure what to do at a poker table, take that piece of paper and read it out loud.”
Stay tuned for more poker advice for Schwab, who will visit the College on May 14 to lecture about game theory.