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Careers

Know When to Fold Them

As a teenager, Steven Silverman of Washington, D.C., lived the high life playing high-stakes Texas hold 'em. But getting a college degree outweighed the draw of winning millions.

As told to Glen Mayers

When did you start playing? A friend introduced me to online poker when I was 16. I asked my brother to open an online account in his name, since I wasn't old enough to open one myself.

What did your parents think? At first they were against it. Then the checks started coming in. After that, they just kept a really close eye on my earnings.

What kind of money are we talking about? Early on it wasn't much. You play to build up your stake so that you can buy in to bigger games. My first live tournament was after I dropped out of college my sophomore year. I started playing in games with a $10,000 buy-in. Over the course of a few months, hundreds of thousands of dollars were either won or lost.

Why were you successful? I wasn't inherently better at poker or even smarter than other players. But I was a real student of the game and asked every expert I could find for advice. Also, I was infatuated with the game.

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How much did you make? Over the course of my career I think I made about $1.5 million. The biggest pots came from tournaments in Monte Carlo ($128,000) in April of '09, Costa Rica ($106,000) in May of '08 and a Full Tilt tournament ($350,000) in February of '09.

So why return to college? I wanted to have a normal life. Also, when I left, my friends stayed in school, and I wanted to get back before they graduated.

What are you studying? I reapplied to the University of Maryland in College Park to continue my degree in biochemistry and nutritional science.

Do you use your earnings to fund your education? No, my dad was wise enough to set up a prepaid college plan, so my education is pretty much paid for. However, with my poker earnings I can pretty much buy anything I want.

Do you ever feel tempted to get back into it? Sometimes I do. I'll front money to a friend so that he can play a game, and if he wins, I'll make a percentage. But my priorities are to finish my degree and then possibly get an advanced degree.