Peter Traply graduated from college in February, but the babyfaced Hungarian is in no rush to join the rat race for ever scarcer jobs.
He is making a killing in poker.
So far this year, Traply has earned north of $531,900 at poker tables around the world and online, and he shows scant sign of stopping. In Hungary, ravaged by the recent economic crisis, poker has become something of a national pastime, and for some people, a source of income.
The Poker Association of Hungary reckons some 50,000 people out of 10 million Hungarians play poker live, and 200,000 more do it online. Most took up the game in the last few years. That draw gets stronger as job opportunities dwindle. The crisis has sent Hungary's unemployment to nearly 10% its highest in 13 ye-ars, and prospects remain dim.
By now, as many as 2% of fresh university graduates hope to follow in Traply's footsteps and make at least part of their living from poker, said Gergely Tatar, chairman of the poker association. The average monthly income in Hungary is $640.
"Online, you can start with a few hundred dollars and if you are good, you can make as much as $10,000 per month in a year or two," Tatar said. "Eastern Europeans are used to taking risks ... they have always lived this way," Tatar added.
As the crisis intensified, so did Traply's celebrity. In April he played a marathon session of online poker to earn $132,000 in two days. Since then, as the government unrolled tough spending cuts to keep the state budget in check, Traply has won a first-place bracelet at the Las Vegas WSOP World Championship of Poker, netting $350,000, and scored other prizes around Europe.
Popular as poker is in Hungary, only about 5,000 people make a steady living, experts said. But their numbers are growing, despite the obvious risks of losing heavily.
Eastern Europe is an outstanding growth area for poker, and Hungary is one of the most active places, said Adam Szakmary, who does marketing for a number of local online poker outfits.