Poker players do not need anything to make a living, apart from a laptop and an Internet connection. In recent years, these dedicated gamblers seem to be increasingly drawn to Budapest, along with backpacking Americans and Englishmen here for bachelor parties. The stories of every player are different, but one thing is common; since poker games are online and are accessible from everywhere, these high rollers actively choose to live in the Hungarian capital, where they feel great because it somehow fits their lifestyle. We meet a few to find out why.
Based on the popular adventures of the womanizing gun-toting bearded millionaire poker champion Dan Bilzerian, we can say that poker remains cool these days. The reason is simple: a card player has no boss, does not have set working hours, and has no responsibilities – nobody has any expectations of them, and most importantly of all, they are not tied to one place, because they can “work” from anywhere.
This is how 21-year-old Sebastian Veigli arrived in Budapest from Australia. He has been playing poker seriously since the age of 16, following the footsteps of his father, who was inspired to join the poker world by a man with the convincing name Chris Moneymaker. When Sebastian's father retreated to Budapest for his retirement, he brought his son with him, who immediately thought that it is wonderful to live in Budapest, so it was not a question for him to establish roots here.
Sebastian admits that there are lots of things he does not know about the city's gambling scene; he does not even know if it is legal or not to play poker here. However, since he only plays online, such concerns do not bother him, because he is doing fine and gets to have lots of fun with his prizes. “I got to know quite a lot of people here, mostly foreigners who live here. As this city counts as very cheap for us, the poker players love to be here and have fun. The city is full of bars and clubs that are open every day; that you cannot really see in Austria, for example.”
Affordability is the aspect of the city that he likes best, but towards the top of his list he also mentions the climate, the very effective public transport, and Hungarian girls. He added: “It is not easier or harder to get the local girls with poker than with any other profession. The initial surprise luckily does not influence what happens later, because I think the girls here are interested in interesting and confident men, so if you are a professional in something, whatever it is you are doing, it sounds good. Those women who are interested in this, and are willing to understand the essence of the game, will surely find it interesting, but of course it can happen that they immediately think I am a hopeless gambler.”
Still, Sebastian never lies about his "profession” because it is a very important part of his life, and he could never be with somebody who would not tolerate this. Konrad Kowal, coming from Canada but having Polish roots, has a slightly different opinion about the question of women. “There are some guys who have Hungarian girlfriends, maybe their partners stand behind them when they play or I don't know. But it is a fact that once I had four girls in my room when I was playing, and I did not react to their questions for so long that they thought I went into zombie mode, and left me there,” Konrad recalls. He also said that he thinks that women in general do not really have a good approach to poker players, as they think they are gamblers who can become homeless at any point. So, in bars he usually says that he is an entrepreneur.
Konrad started to play at the age of 20 because he had to move away from his parents, and for this he needed a fast income. Budapest was not an immediate destination for him: he went all around Canada and Poland, he lived in Las Vegas, and arrived here only after visiting many locations, but he settled here.
He thinks that the poker scene in Budapest is currently very good, because there are another 20-30 foreigners who are good at it, who were helped by the locals since the beginning. Konrad said that there is no rivalry between them anyway, because they almost never play against each other (everybody likes to play with different bids on different levels), and apart from some money being involved, the whole thing is all about relaxing and having a good time.
Of course, money is also important – otherwise the entire phenomenon would not exist: Konrad's greatest win was 8,000 dollars (1.8 million HUF), and his biggest loss was 3,000 dollars (about 710,000 HUF). Of course, these are not gigantic sums: in case of the number one-player of Pocketfives, Patrick Leonard (who has lived in Budapest for 3 years now), it is not rare that he has 100,000-dollar wins; moreover, they say that a Hungarian guy won 220,000 dollars (52 million HUF) once on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
By the way, Konrad also adores the city. One major reason for this is its location – because of Hungary's time zone, he can start playing at around 7pm instead of at 2am. He also loves Széchenyi Baths, the city's Buda side, and hanging out at Fröccsterasz in good weather.
Naturally, there are some poker enthusiasts who are less interested in the game itself, and only think of online poker as a money machine. One of them is Diego Ventura, a Peruvian who moved here with his Hungarian wife. He believes that poker is a tough contest, where the goal is not to defeat a specific somebody but to win championships, which can be a good starting point for an investment. He won his biggest prize – 107,000 dollars (roughly 26 million HUF) at the championship called Sunday Million, while his greatest loss was “just” 20,000 dollars (about five million HUF).
Apart from those few who decide to settle for some reason, poker players generally do not stay in one city forever. One probable reason for this is that a player pays taxes where he is registered, according to each country's laws, and if they do not spend more than half a year here, then only the laws of their home country apply to them.