Some pay tuition by winning at poker

The online poker industry is booming, and some students turn the trend into a daily job.

Hunter Fritz is putting himself through college one poker hand at a time.

Fritz, a sophomore, is part of an online poker community that’s grown significantly in recent years, making high-stakes games popular and giving students a chance to cash in.

In early 2003, online poker was virtually nonexistent, but by 2007 had grown into a $2 billion industry, according to, a Web site that tracks the online poker industry. According to the site, almost 120,000 players were online at any given time through April of last year, with combined daily pots totaling up to $200 million.

Fritz said he got into poker for fun, but as he became more successful, his interest in the game grew. He started playing at practice tables and others that required a small monetary buy-in to play. Since then, he’s worked his way up.

Fritz knew he’d arrived on the poker scene last year when he won a tournament that netted him $160,000 in winnings, he said, adding that he now plays about three hours per day and considers it his job.

And Fritz isn’t the only University student putting himself through college with poker winnings. Among others, marketing junior Ryan Tongen said he plays online 30 to 40 hours per week and pulls in a six-figure income each year.

Fritz said he’d rather play online than at a physical table because he enjoys the comfort of his own home, prefers to play up to six tables at once and thinks non-online games progress slowly.

“It allows for a lot of freedom,” Fritz said. “You don’t necessarily have to work as many hours, but at the same time you have to deal with a lot of stuff no one else has to deal with.”

He said poker players often deal with a life of highs and lows. Fritz once lost a single hand costing him about $15,000, he said, and he thinks his best hand earned him about $10,000.

When he plays poorly, Fritz said it feels like getting punched in the stomach.

“Poker is a game of short-term luck,” Fritz said.

After playing significant amounts of online poker everyday for more than a year, Tongen said dealing with constant highs and lows loses its impact.

“I lost seven grand the other day and I was pretty much fine,” he said.

Tongen said playing poker for a living tends to take the fun out of the game.

Balancing poker and school can be challenging at times, both players said. Last semester, Fritz took time off school, which he said gave him perspective and now he’s determined to finish his degree.

Tongen said he hasn’t had much trouble balancing school and poker, but at times the money earned and time spent playing poker can make staying motivated for school difficult.

Both players said they plan to play poker for the foreseeable future, but won’t depend on it as a sole source of income.

“Nothing is certain, and at the end of the day, you’re gambling,” he said. “So if the worst happens, I’ll still be safe.”