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Playing poker for a living takes a lot of research

Nate Avenson

Making a living playing poker? Many people might think this is unrealistic.

But Nate Avenson of Park Rapids has made it a reality.

The 28-year-old started playing poker at local events in 2003. He was working for a restaurant at the time and got hooked on poker after playing recreationally a few days a week in a local league.

After a while Avenson began frequenting an online poker forum, Pocket, to learn more about strategy.

"That's when it first occurred to me that I could make a living at this," he said.

Avenson started playing online poker a few times a week, first with free rolls. It took him almost a year to get to $10,000.

On Jan. 1, 2008 he stopped working at the restaurant and began playing poker full time online and in tournaments.

"When I first started, I played 268 hours in a month," he said. "That was crazy and I was going to school too."

Since then he has become more skilled and can put in fewer hours a month. But he still has to put in the hours or else he won't make money, he stressed.

Most people play poker for fun but when Avenson plays poker now it's like a job to him.

"About three months in the joy of the game was gone," he said. "There's a lot of mental work, a lot of 12- to- 16-hour days."

In order to keep beating the game he needs to continue practicing and learning new strategies.

"Your average opponent is getting better each day and if you're not always playing you'll get behind," he said.

This summer Avenson got a buy-in at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, which was a memorable experience for him.

Although he didn't make it too far in the series it was a fun trip, he said. Avenson plays against many of the same people online each day and he was able to meet many of them during the trip.

"These are some of my closest friends because I see them every day online," he said.

Avenson has become a big contributor on the Pocket Fives website and is a member of Team Bodog, where he is also a regular contributor on a forum.

Avenson admits that professional poker playing isn't for everyone and his family wasn't always in favor of his choice.

"At first my wife Heather was skeptical, which she should have been," he said.

But after he started playing and the money came in then attitudes changed. His family, too, was skeptical at first.

Poker playing for Avenson now consists of "hours of boredom with moments of intense fear," he said. "It can take a lot out of you."

Eventually, Avenson would like to get away from playing poker and move toward the business side of the industry.

When he's not playing poker he's attending school at Bemidji State University. He is triple majoring in business, economics and philosophy and earning a minor in political science.

Avenson has been published in the Minnesota Poker magazine and has a weekly radio show where he talks with professional poker players. The two-hour show is streamed online at www.blogtalkradio/mnpoker. Past episodes are also available on the site.

But as Avenson will eventually back away from playing poker full time, he said the Park Rapids area has another up-and-coming player. Jim Mastrian, a friend of Avenson's, has gotten into playing poker as well, he said.

Avenson does have some advice for others who think they can play professionally: "Don't do it."

In all seriousness, though, Avenson stresses that it's not easy and will take a lot out of a person.

"Most days are losing days," he said. "You have to distance yourself from the money involved and work on bank management, similar to stocks.

"Whenever you have a big win you have to look at the big picture," he said. "It will average out all the losses."

As Avenson finishes his degree at Bemidji State University he will continue to play poker regularly, he said. He's looking forward to utilizing his degrees, though, and learning the other side to poker.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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