Friday, January 28, 2005

More About Poker at Duke U.

For college students, poker is becoming a good 'deal'
By JON SCHNAARS, Special to the TimesIt's a Friday night at Duke University, and all books and calculators are packed away in exchange for some Natural Lights, a pack of Parliaments ... and a deck of cards.On any given night, the commons room is bustling as 11 guys crowd around a circular table.The clicking of chips and the rustle of cards are the only noises to break up the nervous silence. The smell of spilt beer mingles with cigarette smoke. Conversation is light or non-existent as the young men - the group is conspicuously male - utter only what is demanded of them by the rules of the game.The game is Texas Hold 'em, no limit.This scene has become increasingly common on college campuses. From Pennsylvania to California, poker has found a new breeding ground at the university level.A convergence of factors makes the game both popular and highly competitive. Students play to escape, to compete, to socialize, and to make money.Here at Duke, the popularity of poker has exploded.Starting in fraternity sections and off-campus houses, a game of Texas Hold 'em can be found in dorms every day of the week.Alex Guttler, a senior at Duke, has witnessed poker's jump in popularity."It's something the (fraternity) brothers had been doing for a couple of years. But then with the games on TV, the popularity of Hold 'em took off and now everyone wants to play," he said.Mike Guadano, also a senior, got involved with poker as a freshman. For him the game is a release from the stress of academia."People like to play because it's competitive. It's no different from kids playing pick-up basketball at the gym. Poker helps get that competitiveness out."At Bloomsburg University, senior Mike McGrath has seen Hold 'em attract a following."It's obviously growing everywhere," McGrath said. After learning Texas Hold 'em in the summer of 2003, McGrath returned to school to find a whole new poker scene."Games come together all the time. Usually just by word of mouth. There's a group of us who play a couple times a week, but you can find a game pretty much any night of the week," he said.The residential structure of college is conducive to poker. In apartments and dorms, people who might not otherwise socialize will sit down for hours to try their luck with the cards.At Penn State University, seniors Steve Schukraft and Aaron Goldfarb can always find a Texas Hold 'em game."We have about eight or nine guys who play together," Goldfarb said."The buy-in is never huge; we'll play for $5 or $10, and just have a good time," Schukraft said.The internet has become a resource for college students looking to play poker. At sites such as, or, players can log on and play against people around the country and the world. Fake money tables are popular, but with a credit card account, students can raise the stakes."I definitely play on-line the most," McGrath said. "You can log on and get a game in 30 seconds. It's a different game though; you have to play much differently. You can't see your opponent, so it removes a large part of the strategy of the game.""When you know you can get into a new game right away, a lot of people play different. Players will make different calls then they would if they were sitting at a table," McGrath said.Duke sophomore Jason Strasser plays on-line almost daily. He got serious about the game while working as an unpaid intern last summer."I considered (poker) as part-time work," he says. "I spent between 15 and 20 hours a week just playing on-line." Sitting at virtual poker tables on lunch breaks and at home after work, Strasser's winnings were in the thousands.Some students venture off-campus to the higher stakes realm of casino poker. At school in Pennsylvania, only a couple hours from the bright lights of Atlantic City, N.J., McGrath estimates that he plays casino poker six times over the course of the semester.With programming on ESPN, Bravo and the Travel Channel being marketed toward the college-age group, it is no wonder the game's popularity has taken off. Even the institutions of learning are getting on board with student governments, academic clubs and departments sponsoring tournaments. It's definitely become part of the fabric of college life.
* Jon Schnaars is a 2001 graduate of Penncrest High School and is now a senior at Duke University where he plays Texas Hold 'em in his spare time. He is the son of Debra and Doug Schnaars of Upper Providence.

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