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Ace in the House

Online poker player and author Dusty Schmidt plays the system to win big big big
by: L.E. BASKOW, Dusty Schmidt, working in his usual playing spot in his Portland home office,  is a prolific online poker player who recently wrote a book about his profession, "Treat Your Poker Like a Business."

Dusty Schmidt considers himself a professional poker player and not a gambler.

After all, gamblers lose money.

Schmidt, by his own account, has never lost money playing online poker in any month since he started in summer 2005. Schmidt says he has made as much as $180,000 in one month, and never less than $30,000.

The 28-year-old Portland resident says his career earnings top $3 million - net. And, after taxes, he boasts of saving much of his money.

It's all because Schmidt doesn't gamble, per se, thus the self-explanatory title of his new book, 'Treat Your Poker Like a Business' ($39.95, Imagine Media).

Schmidt quits when he's losing money and keeps playing when he's winning. It's a pretty simple approach, knowing when to say 'when.'

'That's why I felt well qualified to write that book,' says Schmidt, a Southern California native who lives in suburban Portland with his wife, Nicole, and 3-month-old daughter, Lennon. 'When things are going bad, I advise just quitting; if things are going well, I'll play as long as I possibly can. Most people are the opposite.'

Schmidt hardly envisioned playing poker and making millions. He wanted to be a pro golfer - still does, actually. In fact, he hadn't played poker until Christmas Day 2004, when a friend of his, Matt Amen, asked him to enter an online game for him (Amen was only 20 at the time and not allowed to play). Schmidt did it, in exchange for a shirt - true story.

'I started to play and got hooked,' Schmidt says. 'It was intriguing, seeing all this money flying around. I thought, 'If I could get good at this, what would be sweeter than staying in your house and making money?'

But, Schmidt wouldn't take up the profession full-time until he had hit rock-bottom in his life. As the story goes, the aspiring young golfer suffered a heart attack at age 23 - classified as a vascular spasm, he says - and bills mounted and Schmidt had $1,000 to his name, considering himself on the brink of homelessness. Amen, a fellow golfer who played at the University of Oregon, convinced Schmidt to take his final $1,000 and play online poker as a business.

In June and July 2005, Schmidt made about $17,000, playing about 800 hours worth of poker. The rest is history. Schmidt has studied the game extensively, played countless numbers of hands on sites such as pokerstars.net and he has become generally regarded as one of the world's preeminent online poker players.

Schmidt doesn't consider himself any better than other poker players. Doesn't feel any luckier. And his secret is not secret at all: Schmidt simply sits down at his computer, takes the money in his account - $126K recently - and plays as many hands as possible. Sometimes, it's 20 games at one time, displayed on two, 30-inch monitors in his home office.

He has worked with a sports psychologist on concentration, being able to follow up to 20 games of poker hands and players and betting trends.

'It's amazing,' says Amen, who now lives in Southern California. 'I do the same thing he does for a living, with about 10 percent of the wealth. Same tables, same time put in. He's just way better than me.

'He's just awesome, he does everything it takes to be a good poker player. He just works incredibly hard at it. The first couple years, he played about 300 hours a month - every day for 10 hours a day. It was a joke.'

Known as 'Leatherass' in the online poker community - a reference from the movie 'Rounders' - Schmidt played 1 million hands in 2007. And, he won an Aston Martin for the feat. He didn't want an Aston Martin, so he asked for and received a Lexus LS460 instead. Although he and his family live in a nice, big house, Schmidt claims the car as about the only posh thing in his life.

Nicole Schmidt, a Clackamas High and Oregon graduate, says her husband has the right personality and mindset to be an online poker player.

'He knows the reason behind every move, and he treats it with a non-emotional response,' she says. 'He doesn't allow himself to get too high or too low. He treats every situation by playing the best statistical chance.'

Of course, she had concerns about her husband spending too much time in front of computer screens, especially in 2007. 'Weekends were nonexistent at that point,' she says. 'That was a tough year, but it was an investment for both of us. We made a sacrifice and it set us up for however long, got a nest-egg going.'

Paying it forward

Schmidt plays whenever he feels like playing. Again, strategy is involved, because Schmidt, like all good players, will seek out tables where weaker players are present and playing with lots of money - 'and we're chewing them up,' he says.

'He's very regimented in what he does to prepare for his session,' Nicole Schmidt says. 'He takes it very seriously, sets a goal for the day, like playing X number of hours or hands.'

Schmidt has always had other interests. He had a dream of being a player on the PGA Tour, a dream derailed when he inexplicably suffered the heart attack while leading the money list on the lower-tier Golden State Tour. He still plays golf, and prepares for pro tournaments, and he serves as volunteer coach with friend and head coach Casey Martin at Oregon.

He's quite a competitive fellow. At one point he issued a challenge, posted on his blog and with a news release, stating that he would face anybody in the world in a golf/poker showdown for $1 million.

It got him in hot water with the United States Golf Association, which withdrew his amateur status - after first approving of the move - for violating the body's excessive gambling on the golf course rule, just for issuing the challenge because the actual event never took place. 'I had violated the spirit of the amateur game,' he says the USGA told him. Schmidt, with an attorney and then by representing himself, lost the court case in Portland.

The USGA fiasco still bothers him to this day. 'The USGA screwed me bad,' he says. But Schmidt felt vindicated, with a moral victory, because the presiding judge sided with him but had to rule for the USGA based on the case itself.

'I don't regret the challenge. I regret how it turned out,' he says.

Schmidt has turned into a philanthropist lately. In December, inspired by the 2000 movie 'Pay It Forward,' he took laptops into downtown Portland and literally played poker to help the homeless, winning $21,000 to help fund apartments, furniture, clothing and computers for at least three people.

The endeavor was done through a homeless advocacy group, but Schmidt plans other such things through his newly created foundation, 'House of Cards.'

'He's really ambitious and wants to do other businesses and volunteer work,' Nicole Schmidt says. 'He doesn't want to be 'just the poker guy.' '

And Schmidt is the rare person who can succeed in treating online poker like a business.

'I'd say there's maybe 1,000 people doing it for a living,' Amen says. 'And there are 300,000 players on 'Poker Stars' and 200,000 on 'Full Tilt.' '

Schmidt tried his hand at the World Series of Poker, bowing out on the second day. He doesn't have any grand desire to play in card rooms or on television shows, content to make his living from the comfort of his own home.

'Because I play so many hands, statistically it's hard for me to lose money,' he says.

In retrospect, poker filled the competitive void left by being unable to pursue his golf dream.

'I could have stumbled into anything,' he says, 'like online chess.'