"I want to be here when my kids grow up," says Mogelefsky. "For the things I wanted to accomplish, it was worth it to make the sacrifices. Even today, I don't really want to play poker for a living, but I sort of backed into it and it allowed the lifestyle and things that were important to me . . . It was going great until April 15."
Mogolefsky had the best week of his poker career just before Black Friday, earning more than $15,000. He generally never let his Full Tilt account rise above $10,000 before withdrawing the money. But by that time, the company was already experiencing financial problems.
Full Tilt refused a withdrawal at the beginning of April. By the time the feds seized its assets 15 days later, Mogolefsky had $28,000 in his account. It was frozen.
"I know how to pick them," he says, laughing ruefully. "I went from the mortgage industry to the poker industry, the two biggest collapses of the last 10 years . . . I was in shock. Not only am I not able to produce more money, but the money I basically earned the last three months is also gone."
The closest casino to his home is Harrah's Cherokee, three hours away in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But it doesn't offer enough action to make a living. So Mogelefsky began flying to Florida, crashing at his in-laws' place in Fort Lauderdale and playing the poker rooms at dog tracks and Indian casinos. The competition isn't particularly tough, but the pots are small and he can't churn the hands that he could online.
Still, with a family of four to feed, he has no other choice but to gut it out.
"It's hard because my expenses are through the roof, just from traveling, and then I have to eat. All the gas, all the extra costs, and I'm not able to put in nearly as many hours, and now I'm away from my family all the time."
Like most players, Mogelefsky has no illusions about the government's riding to the rescue. The feds may have crushed a $2.5 billion industry, but they seem to have no idea how to resurrect it in more palatable form. Nor do they seem to acknowledge all the families they've cast adrift.
Says Mogelefsky: "It's month to month, but the game plan is, hopefully, I can make enough playing live to survive until that day comes, whenever it may be — five years from now? Two years from now? Ten years from now? — when I can go back to playing online."
Vanessa Peng is a vivacious, engaging young woman from Singapore. She came to the States with her newly remarried mother when she was 8, settling in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
It was a culture shock, to say the least. She and her brother found comfort playing video games as they slowly assimilated, and the seed of competition was sewn. She eventually would study law in little Lexington, Virginia. Her eureka moment came when she watched a friend play poker online. "I was completely fascinated."
It wasn't until her third year of law school that she found the time to dive in. She started with $25 in her account and played the penny tables, slowly learning the game. She was thrilled by the competition and the mental challenge.
"The thing about living in a very, very small town is, you get bored pretty quickly," says Peng. "Since I didn't have much of a social life in that little town, I was able to play a lot of poker in that six months. By the time graduation came, I was supposed to be studying for the bar . . . but I was so wrapped up in poker; that was kind of what took over my life. On top of everything else, the legal market had sort of crashed at this point."
She found a job working with a divorce attorney in Chicago but discovered she didn't have much stomach for it. Then she failed the bar. It was something of an omen.
"I was able to take a step back and really reexamine my life. Around that time poker was going really well for me. I had my first five-figure month, and I just really started re-evaluating, thinking maybe this is what I was meant to do."