The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Accounting grad wins big in poker tournament

Accounting and poker have similar qualities: One looks to save money, the other tries to win it. In the case of A.J. Van Gilder, having the skills to do both wins big.

Van Gilder, a Class of 2005 accounting graduate, recently competed against 25,000 students from 55 countries in the second annual online College Poker Championship.

The game featured more than 10 times the number of participants as the 2004 World Series of Poker.

“I have an analytical nature inside of me that intrigued me to accounting and poker,” Van Gilder said. “They have similar characteristics.”

He came out of the nine-month-long competition in fourth place, earning $6,000 for himself, $1,000 for charity and bragging rights.

“I’ve played in a lot of tournaments before, but I’ve never done this well,” Van Gilder said.

With the level of skill that Van Gilder, 22, needed to perform well in the tournament, it is perhaps surprising to hear that he learned how to play the game only two years ago.

“My friend Jeff kept bugging me to come play cards with him, but I didn’t want to play a game that was just based on luck,” Van Gilder said.

Van Gilder won that night of poker, and from then on, he said he was hooked.

“It’s a lot more strategy and thinking through stuff,” he said. “It’s like flipping a coin. In the long run, you can win.”

Since then, Van Gilder said he has made room for poker in his life.

Some may think a person who can defeat almost 25,000 other poker players around the world is constantly perfecting his skill, but Van Gilder said he only places bets in online poker games once or twice a week.

During the summer, he said he spends a few hours every day playing cards.

But staring at a computer screen can only go so far, Van Gilder said.

He said he enjoys finding time to play live rounds of Texas Hold Em with his friends whenever he can.

“When you’re playing live, you’re able to look at who you’re playing against,” Van Gilder said. “You get to see if they’re either fumbling or sweating. You can pick up on that. It’s called a physical tell.”

Among those friends is one of his poker mentors, Matt Smith, a student at Florida State University whom Van Gilder had met in an online poker game.

“He’s really helped me (with poker) to where I am now,” Van Gilder said. “Just watching him play is amazing. He can explain (the) logic behind every play.”

Van Gilder gives credit for his academic success to Janice Bell, chair of the Accounting Department at CSUN.

“She took me under her wing and helped me with advice about CSUN and accounting,” Van Gilder said. “I’ve seen how she’s helped me and other students. She’s been an amazing mentor.”

His interest in accounting led him to work for Bell as a student assistant in 2002.

“He was an excellent student assistant who did the work so quickly,” Bell said. “I just adore him. He’s a good person.”

Van Gilder joined the Accounting Association two and a half years ago.

As a reward for placing in the top 10 in the poker tournament, he was given $1,000 to donate to charity. He chose the Accounting Association.

“It’s such a well-rounded organization,” Van Gilder said. “It really helped me get a job for my future.”

Van Gilder said he had the future of less fortunate students in mind when he decided to donate the money to the association.

“I hope they set up a scholarship for students to help reward those that are academically strong and involved in the association,” Van Gilder said.

The College Poker Championship consisted of three rounds, with the first round remaining open for 37 weeks.

Before he nearly beat out all the contestants in the poker tournament, he almost failed to qualify for the competition.

“It took me four tries to get into round two,” Van Gilder said. “After that, there was only one shot.”

It took Van Gilder four hours to complete the last round of the poker tournament. It was around 1:30 p.m. on the Sunday before his last ever CSUN finals week when he learned that he had placed fourth and won $6,000.

For now, Van Gilder said he is content playing an occasional game of poker online or with friends. Although he is no longer qualified for entry in the 2006 College Poker Championship, he is registered to play in the Chumash Casino Poker Tournament in July.

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