Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Playing for keeps

There are only a few minutes to spare before 2 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, and the Florida State Poker Championship at Pompano’s Isle Casino is set to start — but without one of its star players.

There is an empty seat where Hayden Fortini is supposed to sit. Seconds after the receptionist announces the beginning of the tournament, Fortini rushes in, dressed in a white jacket and a maroon Hollister shirt with dark glasses on top of his head. Just like a typical FAU student, this 19-year-old psychology major pulls giant headphones out of his pocket and starts moving his head to the beat of “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.

To the 147 players at the Isle Casino, Fortini is known as the “Poker God,” and he’s eager to win some cash in this $900 buy-in.

Although he didn’t win anything in this recent competition, Fortini has won many other competitions, which has given him a solid reputation in the poker community.

Fortini won over $100,000 in two poker tournaments in the Battle at the Beach competition at Isle Casino in March. But this freshman doesn’t plan on living the big life — he plans to invest a lot of his winnings and stay in school to earn a degree.

At the age of 16 he first took an interest in poker, but never imagined winning so much money.
“I got my start playing with friends after school in high school when I was a sophomore,” says Fortini. “I used to watch [poker] on TV and saw how people would win so much money.  I said I could do it, so I caught on to it and learned.”

And he claims that he taught himself how to play the game.
“I taught myself the basics. I had friends who helped me, but I pretty much taught myself.”

According to Fortini, the friends he used to play with in high school only played for entertainment, but he saw an opportunity with poker.
“They all played for fun, it was something to do after school. I was the only person who took it serious and saw myself going places with it.”

It wasn’t until his senior year at Vero Beach High School that Fortini started playing for money.
“I’ve played in about eight tournaments with a buy-in of $900 or more — those are considered big tournaments,” he explains. “I was playing to support myself and pay for my schooling.”

During one competition, he won $15,000 playing cash games that paid for his two 2008 summer classes, as well as his first-year tuition at FAU.

While living in the dorms, Fortini played several times on the Web sites www.fulltilt.com and www.pokerstars.com, winning $8,300 twice.

March 24 was the first of three Battle at the Beach competitions at the Isle Casino, in which Fortini would eventually win the big bucks. He paid the $900 entry fee and played against 258 other players. He then took home $59,044 as his winnings.

His second competition at the Isle Casino was held on March 29, where 111 contestants played in a Heads-Up competition. Fortini beat out the other players again and won $50,000.

His total winnings: $109,044.
“The first time I won it was an amazing feeling; I was shocked. I felt a lot of my hard work I put in paid off,” he says.

Senior Sam Mayer, friend of Fortini and fellow poker player, was there to witness his winnings.
“He’s a really good player, one of the better players at the Isle,” says Mayer, an international business and finance major.

Mayer also competed at the Battle at the Beach tournament, taking third place and winning $15,000 in the last competition, which Fortini didn’t participate in.
“We joke around saying he could have won that one too,” says Mayer.

Fortini explains that his plans for his recent cash winnings include “not losing it.”

“I plan on investing some of it so when I’m 40 I’ll have money in the bank. I’m buying a new car, a BMW M3, used,” says Fortini. “I’m also looking to invest in a property that I can rent out.”

Fortini’s family and friends support him during his competitions, all giving him different advice on how to spend the money.
“I’ve heard things like, ‘You should spend your money. It’s not going to be worth anything in 10 years.'”

His mom feels that her son is very responsible with his money, and is not worried that he’ll blow it all away.
“It can be very scary for a 19-year-old to have that much money; it’s a big responsibility. Any average 19-year-old would squander it away, but I’m proud of Hayden. He’s very responsible,” Kelly Fortini says about her son.

Fortini knows how much his mom trusts him with his money, and he knows how much she supports his gambling.
“My mom is really excited and happy for me. She knows I’m smart with my money. She knows I worked hard for it and I’m not going to blow it.”

This poker player claims that he  doesn’t have any special tricks up his sleeves, and the only advantage he has when playing is experience.
“You learn from experience, just like anything in life. You need to learn from your mistakes when you play,” explains Fortini, who plays five times a week.

Sam Mayer, who’s also played poker since he was 16 years old, says poker is not only a game of luck but one of strategies.
“You can learn poker in a day, but it can take you a long time to actually master it.”
Because Florida’s legal gambling age is 18, Fortini is able to compete all over Florida. However, most states outside of Florida require an age of 21 to participate in gambling games. But that’s not stopping him from expanding his poker ambition.
“I want to go to the Bahamas and Europe to play over the summer,” explains Fortini. “I plan on doing it, but it’s expensive to play.”

Fortini’s also wants to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He explains the competition has a turnout of about 5,000 people who all buy in at $10,000.
“My dream would be to win that tournament. That would be awesome!”

Although Fortini has been successful with his poker winnings, he doesn’t plan on making poker his profession.
“He did at one point want to be a professional poker player,” explains his mom. “But when he started school he changed his mind.”


Poker Definitions

Cash games: For cash games, a player can put in any amount of money and will receive chips that are worth the same amount. For these games, you don’t buy chips that represent a part of the prize pool. If you bet $200 in chips it would be similar to putting $200 into the pot. If you run out of chips, you can always buy more.

Heads-Up: In a Heads-Up tournament, the pot is being played by two players. In this type of game, a bunch of tables are set up for one-on-one poker. Each winner of a table gets matched up with a different winner from another table and plays. The game continues until there is only one winner.

Buy-ins: When a player enters a tournament, they must pay a fixed buy-in at the start of the tournament that would give a certain amount of poker chips.


19-year-old Fortini’s income

Most FAU students don’t earn this much money during their college career. These are Fortini’s winnings in just over a year.

Spring ’08: $15,000

Fall ’08: $16,600

Spring ’09: $104,044

Summer ’09: $5,400

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