Know when to hold em’

Ferris student rakes in cash as a professional poker player

Ferris sports communications freshman Jake Carlson began playing poker professionally when he was 18. Photo by: Aubrey Kemme | Multimedia Editor

It’s difficult to balance classes and homework while working 25-plus hours a week. So a Ferris student turned to the world of professional poker.

Freshman sports communications major Jake Carlson has been a professional poker player since he turned 18. Carlson became infatuated with the game a couple of years prior. He began watching a YouTube series his sophomore year of high school called PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Shortly after he was exposed to the game, Carlson began studying it and learning the tricks of the trade.

“Sophomore year was when I saw the game for what it was,” Carlson said. “Junior year was when I really started to read books on strategy and take some classes online and apply myself and found out it was a beatable game.”

Carlson began playing poker with some friends from school in a poker club they created. He and his friends would take turns hosting weekly Friday low-stake games. Poker soon went from child’s play to a profession.

Carlson figured poker would be the most efficient way for him to make money so he pursued it as a part-time job. He makes a self-estimated $25 an hour at the poker table.

The first night Carlson played in a casino was on his eighteenth birthday when he won $500. Since he began officially logging his winnings in after Christmas, he has made $640.

Any good card player understands the concept of odds. After winning multiple games and earning hundreds of dollars, there are bound to be bad hands and substantial losses.

“There’s been some sessions where you walk out a couple hundred dollars down,” Carlson said. “But it’s one of things where you have to have a mindset of in the long run you know you’re making money.”

Carlson has not had any significant losses to this point, or losses that he could not recover from. He has confidence in his ability as a poker player but that has been the undoing of many people in this society where gambling addictions have become more common.

Some have fallen victim to the cycle of losing big and trying to keep playing to compensate but end up digging the hole deeper. Carlson believes he will not fall into that trap.

“You’ll never catch me playing slots or blackjack. Poker is just a game where I’m in control when I’m at the table so I know exactly where my money’s going and most of the time it’s in my pocket,” Carlson said. “I love the game a lot. But if it got to the point where I was a losing player, then I’d step away.”

Country singer Kenny Rogers said it best: “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold em’.”

Those lyrics serve as a metaphor for life and knowing when to walk away. Carlson knows the dangers of gambling and doesn’t like the concept of it. However, he is a winning player right now in a game of more than pure luck. He doesn’t plan on walking away any time soon.

“I can see myself playing this until the day that I die as long as I don’t become a losing player,” Carlson said.

Carlson has yet to play in a national tournament. He enjoys playing at casinos and venues in Grand Rapids like the Card House. Half No Limit Hold ‘Em is his game of choice where buy-ins can be from $200 to $320 depending on the place. Carlson believes there’s more long-term money in playing these styles of games.

Poker is not his only passion. Carlson’s father raised him as an avid hockey fan. The success of the Ferris hockey program over the years played a role in him coming to Ferris.

Carlson grew up in Grand Rapids and is a Detroit Red Wings fan as demographics suggest, but has also been a Toronto Maple Leaves fan the last five years.

Carlson’s childhood goal is to become a broadcaster in the NHL. He plans on pursuing that dream by getting an internship with the Grand Rapids Griffins during his time in college.