Wealth in the cards for U student who won big in poker tourney

The 22-year-old senior won $1 million in a tournament aboard a cruise ship Friday.

Vadim Lavrusik

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Journalism senior Mike Schneider did.

Although almost everyone has aspirations of becoming a millionaire, for most people it will remain only a dream. But after going on a spring break cruise, 22-year-old Schneider made the dream come true.

Schneider won $1 million after competing in the Limit Hold’em PartyPoker.com Million V tournament Friday, which was aboard the MS Westerdam in the Caribbean Sea.

“It is really shocking for me to even think about being a millionaire,” Schneider said. “I try not to think about the money too much, because it has never been a priority in my life.”

Schneider, who first learned how to play poker four years ago and is now a professional poker player, joined a group of his friends for a spring break cruise. He had no intentions of playing in the fifth-annual million-dollar tournament.

“Mike didn’t decide to play in the tournament until the night before,” said Brian Clark, a computer science alumnus of the University’s Morris campus who organized the trip after receiving a seed in the tournament.

Clark, who also played in the tournament, said it doesn’t surprise him and his friends that Schneider won the tournament because he is such a good player.

Schneider said he got off to a rough start in the first day, and at one point had only 5,500 chips, but rallied back to compete in the final table with five other opponents, two being veteran tournament players.

It took a lot of luck to get to the final table and a couple of breaks, Schneider said. He won with a queen and a 10, beating veteran Kenna James, 42, who had a jack and six. James took second, collecting $700,000.

The tournament was Schneider’s second high-stakes tournament and he is the youngest person to win the tournament in its five-year history.

“Not many young players win this big, but more now than ever,” said Jerry Fuller, vice president of operations at the Canterbury Card Club, where Schneider plays about four times a month.

Fuller said four years ago there was one $1 million tournament and that now there are four a month with an increase of young players because the games are televised.

This also has caused concern of addiction in the college community, he said.

David Koeplin, director of the compulsive gambling treatment program at University Medical Center, Fairview, said that even those who are professional card players can cross the line and become pathological gamblers.

“I think it is a terrible thing when a person has a huge win like that because it will negatively affect him and others just to think and be deluded that they can win that amount again and that somehow that they are lucky or skilled,” Koeplin said.

University alumnus Joe Lang, who is also a professional poker player and Schneider’s friend, said Schneider’s biggest skill is money management and he always has been realistic and level-headed about the game.

Schneider said he will not do anything “too special” with the money and plans to put a lot of into his bank account and divide it accordingly to eight of his friends who provided money for his $10,500 buy-in for the tournament.

“My goal in life right now is to play poker and be kind of a businessman and do investments,” Schneider said. “I guess for me I’m still just a college kid that has had some success in playing poker.”

Schneider plans to graduate from the University with a journalism degree this fall and continue to play poker as a professional.