CUTTING IN: Poker got big in my circle of friends in 1998, when I was 18 and the card shark movie "Rounders," with Matt Damon and Edward Norton, came out. A year later, I realized there was real money to be made -- a friend of mine was playing online and making lots. When I started, I'd go online and consistently cash out $5,000 every 10 days or so -- it'd be a series of smaller wins, not just one big win. (The way it works is that you buy in -- it used to be with your credit card -- and have money sitting in your account. Once you win a certain amount, you can cash out.) Then it took me less and less time to make the $5,000.
BETTING HIS LIFE: I was going to the University of Maryland, but I stopped after a year because I wasn't doing well. I was playing too much poker. At first, my parents didn't like it at all. My mom still doesn't like it much. But once they saw me making money, they respected it a little more. Honestly, though, I don't have big plans for the future. I just want to play.
THE BIG GAME: A couple of years ago, I decided to give live tournaments a try. The World Series of Poker was perfect. It's a month or so of tournaments -- all different kinds, most for $2,000 to $5,000 -- leading to the main event. I ended up coming in third in "Limit Hold'em Shootout" this May. I won $30,000. The tournament's main event got like 2,500 people, so first prize was $5 million and second prize was $3.5 million. But I tanked there. I was building up chips all day, then in one hand I lost them all.
CARD TREK: There are so many poker tournaments now that if I feel like going, I'll just up and go. This year I went to Bermuda, Aruba and Vegas. I'm thinking about going to St. Maarten in a couple of days. People are like, "Oh, you get to go here and there!" But I've gotten jaded. It's stranger now for me to be home in Silver Spring than to go on the road for a couple of months. I'll probably move out west soon -- that's where all the big tournaments and casino card rooms are.
CHIP TIPS: Poker's not as easy as it seems on TV. You have to play enough to gauge situations -- what'll be most profitable, basically. You have to manage your time and money well. To play a high-limit game in a poker room, for example, you have to be really good and have a lot of cash. But sometimes people just play regardless. That's usually a mistake. Once I knew there was money in this, I went and read all the big books. But it doesn't really substitute for playing long hours.
As told to Tony Sclafani