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When the chips are down

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Poker players are dealt plenty of bad hands but seldom is the entire table taken away. For online players, like Missoula's Tyson Marks, that happened on April 15, when federal prosecutors cracked down on three of the most popular online poker sites, charging them with fraud and money laundering.

"Black Friday," as it's come to be called, meant "game over" for the millions of Americans who play poker online with real money. But the 27-year-old Marks is one of the few full-time online players who isn't scrambling for another way to make a living. Last September, Marks won $2.28 million—the largest payout in online poker history—in the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars.com, one of the shuttered sites.

Marks says he "splurged" on season passes to Snowbowl for him and his girlfriend and then invested most of the rest of his winnings.

"I kind of needed the break from online poker myself," says Marks, who is better known as "POTTERPOKER" at virtual poker tables. "I can play disc golf a little bit more...Hopefully the weather will get better and I can do some fishing before the World Series of Poker."

That event, the game's biggest, to be held in Las Vegas from late May to early July, will now see a surge in participants, Marks predicts, reflecting a trend he's already noticed at poker haunts around Missoula: more players returning to live action.

"I played online poker quite a bit, and when it shut down, I said to myself, 'Well, what am I going to do now?'" says Corey Goldberg, owner of Missoula's Golden Rose Poker. "And my answer was, 'I guess I'll have to play a lot more live poker.'" So far, though, he says he's noticed only a slight uptick in activity at the Golden Rose.

With the prospect of more competition in Las Vegas, Marks is already hedging his bets. He says he's practicing games that are less popular than No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em, like Omaha split, to improve his chances of winning.

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