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From DM Screens to Poker Tables

Written by Geoffrey_Fuller - Published on May 28, 2014

It’s like real-life Revenge of the Nerds. An awkward teenager who grew up on D&D or Magic: The Gathering starts playing poker, soon rakes in a fortune and begins living the high life.  It’s not just every Dungeon Master’s dream: it’s a possible reality.  And after a few successful improv hands in hotel rooms during conventions, it’s a reality I’ve been talking about with my gaming group for awhile now, so apologies if I bend your ear for a bit.

Even without Three Dragon Ante RPGs are the perfect training ground for games like Texas hold ’em or Five-card stud. Both require strong analytical skills to quickly calculate probabilities. Both require creativity, mental endurance to maintain focus for periods of time, and smart decision making. But only one offers the chance to set yourself up financially for a lifetime- and it’s not the one with fire breathing lizards.  Sorry Expy.

The best example of this role-playing-to-riches that I found was documented in David Kushner’s 2005 book Johnny Magic and the Card Shark Kids. It tells the true story of Jon Finkel, a nerdy kid from New York who would become arguably the best MtG player in the world. He then took his skills to the underground tables of New York City, the online poker world, and eventually Las Vegas itself, where he counted cards at the blackjack tables and won millions at the World Series of Poker.  Sort of the opposite of Ben Affleck.

While money can be made in professional role-playing games, the experience of another guy, David Williams, illustrates just how different the worlds are. Williams was accused of marking his cards in a 2001 World Championship Magic: The Gathering tournament and earned himself a one-year suspension from competition. (I guess he failed his Bluff Check)  During his year off, Williams began to shift his focus and put some skill ranks into poker.  In 2004 he took home $3.4 million for a second-place finish at the WSOP and has collected more than $8 million in his career. In retrospect, Williams was on the winning team in a 2012 Magic: The Gathering tournament with a field of over 1,700 players. He took home $2,000 in prize money.  That’s like Platinum pieces versus Copper pieces.

One of Williams’ biggest hauls came at the 2010 World Poker Tour Championship when he claimed first place to the tune of $1.53 million.  Now Williams’ journey to his big score in Vegas began with a walk to the tables.  But the thing I’ve found out about this is that there are no closed doors or glass ceilings and you no longer need to travel to a casino or find an underground den, ala Rounders, to play. Just like MMOs, poker’s popularity and accessibility extends online.  For instance, gaming hub casino.betfair.com recently expanded to include options for web-based players in the Garden State. In addition to poker, they have other table games and a variety of arcade-like slots, ala video gaming.  So it’s like Xbox Live but with dollars instead of Gamerscore.

Not that Gamerscore or experience in RPG tournaments doesn’t matter.  In fact just the opposite. According to my Google Fu, the fraternity of WSOP bracelet winners who have roots in professional role-playing games include: Brock Parker, Alex Borteh, Eric Froehlich and Eric Kesselman.  It also extends to other professionals like Justin Bonomo, Noah Boeken, Isaac Haxton, Scott Seiver, Jeff Garza and Adam Levy.  That’s enough people for a whole party of adventurers, a few of whom have taken the Leadership feat.  One day maybe ‘Geoffrey Fuller’ will be on that list.  Or you.

Anyways, when you take away the wizards, dragons and magic spells of our beloved D&D, Williams, Finkel, and thousands of others are essentially still playing the same game.  Just with decks instead of dice. Peel back the layer of fantasy and what is lying underneath is a foundation of strategy, problem solving, risk weighing and chance.

Or, in a nutshell, poker.

Which, if you’d like to include directly in your D&D games, has a medieval version called Primero.  Thanks for listening about the hobby I play when I’m not rolling d20’s.  Have any experience with cards?  Use any games-within-games in your campaigns?  Tell us below.

Written by Geoffrey_Fuller

I’m a freelance blogger, RPG enthusiast and amateur filmmaker from Knoxville, Tennessee. I have a pet plant named Gerald.

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One Response to “From DM Screens to Poker Tables”
  1. Kristoffer says:

    Hi Geoffrey thanks for the article

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