After four years of shedding sweat on the field, former UB football player Travell Thomas put down his jersey and walked away from the game. He traded his helmet and pads for a different type of competitive sport - one with significantly less contact, but an equal amount of excitement: poker.
There was a time when poker was illegal, sharing the same fate as moonshine and marijuana. A lot has changed since then and now people have the ability to freely participate in the card game. The UB Poker Federation was founded last semester to hold tournaments - either on campus or in club members' living rooms - and gamble money on the cards they hold in their hand.
Thomas won $30,445 over a field of 154 players in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit at Caesar's in Atlantic City. This was his third tournament victory and his biggest win to date.
When Dominic Baranyi, a junior accounting major and president of the UB Poker Federation, aimed to establish the club, he knew it would be difficult to find students that were open about their poker habits.
"There's kind of maybe a secretive nature to people playing," Baranyi said. "You know, we don't wear a shirt that says 'I play poker, come find me to play games,' [but] I knew there were people out there like this."
There are 50 active members in the UB Poker Federation and they're always on the lookout for new members, of all skill levels, to join the competitions. Their first event is going to be a $5 buy-in fundraising tournament. It will be held next Thursday and the top finishers will receive prizes.
Ryan D'Angelo, a former UB student, delved into the world of online poker and has been successful. In 2009, he became the third player to ever win the Pokerstars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) with a grand total of almost $120,000, according to www.cardplayer.com. His lifetime tournament winnings have now surpassed $700,000 and have allowed D'Angelo to live as a professional poker player full time.
Poker fanatics can't help but remember the abrupt shutdown by the FBI of the two most popular online poker sites on April 15, 2011. This has become known as "Black Friday" to the poker world. Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker, along with a few other smaller sites, had their domain names seized by the U.S. government on charges of illegally running an online gambling site.
Thousands of players, like Baranyi, were shocked and confused.
"I played online a lot," Baranyi said. "It was very disappointing. I know there were all sorts of small stakes cash games up to big tournaments. A huge amount of games you could play and I feel like what hurt me the most was the opportunity to qualify for live tournaments. I could go on Pokerstars and play qualifiers for live events in Europe."
Baranyi saw potential for making a lot of money from the comfort of his own home through playing poker. However, as bleak as the situation was for the online poker world, Baranyi remained optimistic.
"Nevada is really making a push to try to get online poker back," Baranyi said. "The state legislators are trying to get movements going where you can come into the state of Nevada as not only residents but tourists and play online. The next move is with the Federal Government. They need to make a decision, if I had to guess, I would say we're still a little bit away from online poker. I suspect something like a monthly membership fee might be attached so the government can get their cut."
Due to the slow nature of legislative decisions in the U.S., a definitive time frame for the legalization and regulation of online poker has not been officially assembled. One thing for sure is that the poker world has certainly felt the effects of that Black Friday decision. In the meantime, students at UB will have to get their poker fix the old fashioned way: at the felt.