Tom "Durrrr" Dwan
01 February 2009
Since the early 1990s when future Vice President Al Gore emerged from his secret bunker in the hills of Kentucky and dropped the Internet in the laps of the American youth there seems to be two constants; first, it’s now ridiculously easy to ruin the life of your ex-girlfriend, and second, really fucking smart kids are dropping out of college to get crazy rich.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen left Harvard behind to start up Microsoft and force the entire world to surf the web with Internet Explorer. Michael Dell sold computers out of his dorm room before leaving the University of Texas-Austin to figure out a way to cram a webcam into every college student’s laptop. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while attending Harvard so that every twenty-something guy had a distribution channel for those “private photos” their ex-girlfriend took on her webcam.
All joking aside, each one of those men took advantage of Internet technology and their wicked smarts to create an empire. Over the last three years the online poker world has watched a similar phenomenon as a teenaged Tom Dwan crushed the biggest online cash games, backed a number of players in live and online tournaments with great success, and found live tournament success of his own as he built Durrr Inc. into a poker powerhouse.
However, Dwan – perhaps known more to his countless fans by the screenname “durrr” – might just be more confident in his abilities than Gates, Allen, Dell, and Zuckerberg combined. That’s why he’s throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the poker world to prove he’s the best – and he’s willing to lay anybody who thinks otherwise a better than even money price.
“I’m making this heads-up challenge to the world. Anyone can accept. Four tables, minimum of $200/$400, and I’ll put up $1.5 million to their $500,000. We play 50,000 hands minimum and if they end up a dollar after rake they keep the side money or whatever. So basically, if you and I played and you won a dollar, you would get my $1.5 million and if I won a dollar I would win your $500,000.
“So I’m giving a million dollars free if anyone thinks they can do it.”
Whether or not Dwan gets any takers remains to be seen, but if nobody takes him up on the offer it won’t be the first time. At the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, Dwan found himself paired against Phil Hellmuth in a now much-ballyhooed match. On the third hand of the match Hellmuth got Dwan to move all in pre-flop with pocket tens while Hellmuth held pocket aces. When Dwan made a set on the turn, Hellmuth, as he’s known to do, began to berate his opponent. The 21-year-old seized the moment and with cameras rolling offered the Poker Brat the chance to play again.
“Pick your stakes heads up; I’ve said it a million times. We can play right now if you want. We will play as many matches as you want. Learn to play heads-up No Limit,” Dwan told Hellmuth, while also apologizing for the suck-out. Hellmuth and Dwan were never able to come to an agreement despite Dwan’s persistence at the table that day. Still, he thinks this proposition might just get some takers.
“One of my good friends, Brian Powell – I hang out with him all the time, he’s a poker player – recently was out to dinner with someone who was super convinced I was terrible at No Limit and they had a big edge on me. (Brian) was just laughing a lot and said, ‘Just so you know, he’ll lose millions minimum before quitting,’ and this is basically my way of making that more obvious to everyone just so that hopefully there will be some games.”
The legend of Dwan began almost five years ago at a stakes level that most BLUFF readers are familiar with. After depositing $50 in March 2004 into his first poker account at ParadisePoker.com, the kid who would go on to be the biggest name in online poker was learning the ropes in $6 buy-in sit-n-go tournaments.
“The lowest games they had at the time were those $6 sit-n-goes. I would have liked to have played lower, but it was all they had. So I would grind up $6 sit-n-goes,” recalls Dwan. “I remember being down to like $12, maybe $14. By the summer when I graduated high school I had made maybe $15,000.”
Things escalated quickly for him from there. By the fall of that year Dwan had a big chunk of money sitting in his NETeller account and higher stakes were calling. But so was college. Dwan enrolled at Boston University and was majoring in engineering even though he was still continuing to work his way up the stakes online. He managed to keep his success at the tables hidden from most people, even his closest friends at school.
“I don’t know when this was exactly, but at some point we partook in some alcohol but we were underage which was obviously not allowed so we needed to get money for it. Obviously no one’s parents would give them money for it and there was some $200 splurge [on alcohol] that I paid for and I was like, ‘Oh it’s fine, I’m running good,’” says Dwan. “And one of my buddies was like, ‘What does that mean?’ He had a slight idea that I was playing poker but was shocked that I made $200 and I was like, ‘Oh no, it’s okay. I’ve run pretty good in poker lately.’ And he says, ‘Well you can’t blow all your bucks in one day.’ And I was like, ‘Nah dude, it’s a little better than 200 bucks.’
“And then, I think I gave him an over/under and he said $2,000 and I was like, ‘Over,’ and he was shocked. The biggest shock that I can remember was freshman year in college. It was somewhere late in the year and by this point I had made like $100,000 in poker or something.”
It took Dwan only four months to build up his bankroll to $10,000 and as his bankroll climbed so too did the stakes. After eight months of play, that $50 initial deposit had been turned into a $100,000 bankroll. While most of his action at this time was around $2/$4 or $5/$10 No Limit he was still taking the occasional shot at higher stakes to test out his skill level and look for a boost to his bankroll. It didn’t always work out in his favour, but Dwan shows an understanding of the poker economy that most players his age haven’t quite grasped yet.
“I had sessions where I lost $5,000 and was just like, ‘Holy shit, that’s a lot of money.’ It’s $5,000. Everyone in my family would flip out if they knew I lost $5k. I guess I’ve become slightly desensitized to it but more accepting of it where I realized that if I didn’t lose then the other people in the game wouldn’t play. I still needed to be losing a large amount of the time or else I wouldn’t get the game for a small amount of time.”
It wasn’t too long before his success at the tables was becoming the focus of his life – even over school. Dwan, however, doesn’t blame poker for him dropping out of school but a lack of focus and he actually credits the game for helping him find his way in life.
“A lot of people say, ‘You failed out of school because you focused on poker.’ And that’s really not true. The thing is, I failed out of school cause my alarm clock was set and everyone else that I was friends with on the same floor, at the same college, in the dorm, would get worried that if they don’t wake up for the alarm clock they’re gonna need to work at McDonald’s or some job they don’t like or whatever it may be. And I didn’t have that worry.”
College life was actually the biggest distraction for Dwan. Too many times he found himself wanting to hang out with his friends and just be a college kid. Academics and poker both took a back seat to extra-curricular adventures.
“It wasn’t like I was playing poker during school time – that would have been okay, I would have been doing something productive. Instead it was just some of my friends would be going bowling and I’d go. Some of my friends would be playing pool and I’d go. Some of my friends would be going on a trip and I’d go,” says Dwan. “I’d just do whatever it may be freshman year. And I just didn’t care. I knew if I (flunked) out that it just wasn’t that big of a deal. Still, to this day I still wish that I had graduated college.”
Despite wishing that he’d stuck things through at Boston University, Dwan realizes now that leaving school was the best thing for him. He’s found poker and is extremely focused on being the best cash game player alive, something that has 100% of his attention.
“At the same time, if I got into college tomorrow, I’m sure I would fail again. And that’s why I never tried to go back. It was tough sitting through class. When there was a smart teacher teaching an interesting subject, I was fine. But when there was either a non-interesting subject or a teacher who wasn’t that smart or was teaching in a poor way where I felt like I wasn’t going to learn anything, it was tough to sit there.
“So I started buckling down and playing a bunch of poker. If I had more interest in classes I might have graduated from school and not been where I am in poker but I guess luckily the classes I had weren’t that interesting and some of the teachers were just teaching busy work. So over that summer I played a ton of hours starting at $2/$4 No Limit. I had maybe $70,000 in NETeller and maybe $10,000 (in online accounts). I ground that $10,000 up to – by the end of the summer – a ton. I don’t know, maybe $200,000 or something.”
It wasn’t long after he dropped out that his friends realized they were in the presence of a poker prodigy. It’s not that Dwan was bragging about his wins. They only discovered it after seeing him in action for themselves.
“One of my pretty good friends who didn’t really know much about the poker (success), who probably would have guessed that I could barely afford the car I drove, walked over and said ‘Hey Tom, how you doing?’ and looked at my computer screen and saw like $200,000 in play at $50/$100 PLO tables and just shit himself. I remember for the rest of the night whenever somebody would come to the door he would be like ‘No no no, he’s busy. Don’t worry about it,’” laughs Dwan.
Two years after he started playing online poker Dwan had made his first million. He’d also moved to Texas to share a house with another young online player who also played the high stakes and constantly walked away a winner, David “Raptor” Benefield.
“We signed the lease (on the house in Texas) the first time I hit a million. No one knew I made a million because I chose not to tell anyone probably until I had a losing streak and was bitching about it to Dave.”
Even though he’d cracked the seven-figure club and was still heading up, he wasn’t done making his mark. Working his way up the ladder at this point wasn’t easy and he still had days where he lost – only the losses were getting bigger and learning to deal with six-figure swings was something the 19-year-old was finding less than enjoyable, though he still recognized the learning opportunity each loss presented. His first big loss, for over $500,000, came at the hands of David Benyamine.
“It was the first time that I realized there were many things I did wrong. Usually in the past I would look at my losses and bitch about what the other person did wrong, fix whatever I did wrong, and say ‘Ok, I’ll get a run again and beat them the next time.’ And I realized there were things Benyamine did wrong in the session, yet I realized there were more things I did wrong. And the fact that I hadn’t even realized that meant there were some things I probably didn’t pick up on.”
Playing against the likes of Benyamine was only going to educate Dwan. As he began regularly playing the highest stakes available online it meant he had to play the world’s best players; Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Eli Elezra, David Benyamine, and Gus Hansen as well as the growing group of online pros that were relatively unknown commodities at this point. And while he had online poker forums buzzing about his wins – as high as $1.3 million in a single day – his parents didn’t quite know that their son was creating an empire.
“I remember talking to my dad the next morning (after the big win) and remember he said something about ‘Have you been up all night?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he was like, ‘Why? Get some sleep. What’s wrong with you?’ And I was like, ‘Oh dad, I won 1.3 million.’ And he said ‘Aren’t you tired? Why you been up all night? Wait – what did you just say? What?’” says Dwan.
Dwan’s empire would soon include other players. In 2007 Dwan and Benefield both started using their poker profits to back other promising players. At that year’s WSOP the pair backed two players who won bracelets and countless others who had deep runs. “I staked a ton of people that summer and Dave took half so we both did well,” says Dwan, thinking back on the last WSOP that he wasn’t able to play in, as he was still a few weeks away from turning 21. And while cash games are his bread and butter, he’s also smart enough to recognize there is some serious value in large buy-in tournaments.
Not long after turning 21 he made a World Poker Tour final table – the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods – and finished fourth for $324,244. He then recorded a runner-up finish in a $5,000 buy-in event at the Borgata Poker Open in 2008 before making his now-infamous appearance at the NBC Heads-Up event.
That same month he made the final table of the $25,000 buy-in WPT Championship at the Bellagio. Busting in ninth place earned him $184,670 and prepared him for his first WSOP experience. His debut appearance at the Rio was one of the most highly anticipated in recent poker history, and while he didn’t walk away with a bracelet his results didn’t shock anybody. Dwan made two final tables posting eighth-place finishes both times. Despite having what many observers considered a successful Series, he remembers it more for the cash game action, where he suffered his first seven-figure loss day.
“I had my first day where I lost a million in a day and since then I’ve had a few more days like that. I was playing cash games more than the (WSOP) events. There were times I would show up three hours late to events ‘cause of cash games and stuff. It was just obvious that the cash games mattered more.”
And that will always be the case with Dwan, the cash games will always trump any tournament success. That’s exactly what is behind the challenge he’s laid out to anybody with the bankroll to do it.
From $6 sit-n-goes to the action in the world’s biggest games, Dwan has had a meteoric rise over the last five years. Still, the game has an endless number of possibilities for him, both within the cards and away from the felt, but whether you’re one of those thinking of stepping up and accepting Dwan’s challenge or you’re just interested in being a railbird on the action, keep in mind he might not be at the tables forever.
“All you can do is try to ascertain the perfect information and obviously that’s impossible to do. Because of that, I think poker’s a way more interesting game and can stay around for a lot longer. At the same time, at some part of my life, I plan on playing far less poker than I’ve played recently.”