Jared Hubbard’s job demands that he spend hours at a time intensely concentrating on four computer monitors simultaneously. Is he an air traffic controller? No. He wagers large sums of money daily. Wall Street broker? Guess again.

Hubbard, 23, of Winona, Minn., is a professional online poker player — one of the few people who actually make a living at it.

Poker’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, with the growth of online poker rooms and TV coverage of poker tournaments.

The consulting firm Christiansen Capital Advisors, which specializes in analysis of professional gambling, projects that Internet gambling revenue may total $18 billion in 2007.

While the National League of Poker estimates that thousands of people nationwide are profiting from online play, the average player is more likely to become a gambling addict than he is to suddenly roll in the dough. A spokesperson for Gamblers Anonymous said that 3 to 5 percent of gamblers are known to eventually become addicts, and the actual number may be three times as high.

Among the few online poker players who stay in the black comes an occasional wild success story like Hubbard’s. Ranked as the world’s No. 1 player in the six-man single table tournament (“sit-n-go”), he belongs to the top poker site Pokerstars.com’s Supernova Elite club, a ranking so difficult to achieve that it currently has only four members.

Hubbard’s success is no surprise to friend and fellow poker player Brandon Misfud, who has followed his pal’s career closely.

“He is one of the two best sit-n-go players, and without question the best six-man sit-and-go player in the world,” Misfud said, citing Hubbard’s top ranking on Sharkscope.com, a site that ranks online players based on total profit.  “It takes dedication, commitment and a lot of practice to be as good as he is.”

Having the nerve to lose

The dark-haired Hubbard’s medium-size build and quiet, serious demeanor belie the sarcastic wit and determined mentality that those close to him are familiar with. He also possesses a deep knowledge of his career, gained through intense study.

Hubbard credits his success to the ability to apply what he has learned and to adjust to the sometimes unpredictable world of online poker: “No matter how much money you make, losing $8,000 in a day is going to suck. You just have to get used to it.”

While he doesn’t necessarily have any idols, the player he respects most is Phil Ivey, who has won five bracelets in the World Series of Poker events.

“He can play virtually any two cards profitably in many spots,” Hubbard said.

 Hubbard began playing poker in high school. Like many players, he was intrigued by the poker movie “Rounders,” starring Matt Damon. When an injury took him out of sports, he began playing poker online.

A former business administration major at Winona State University, he began to play seriously when he found out that he was being laid off from his college job at Bay State Milling, where he worked loading flour trucks.

 In the fall semester of 2006, Hubbard was  making about $100 an hour playing poker. He decided to postpone his last semester to play full time — and hasn’t looked back since.

“I love the game, the money and the freedom,” he said. “I mean, find me another job where I can enjoy what I’m doing, make around $200 an hour, have the freedom of making my own schedule and take as much time off as I want, whenever I want.”

Winning over Mom and Dad

Hubbard’s parents were skeptical of his new career path at first. His father, Glen Hubbard, was unhappy with his son’s decision to forgo his last semester. But once Jared’s success proved more than a fluke, Glen accepted his decision.

“I don’t know how he can keep his head on straight, playing that amount of games at once,” Glen said. “The fact that he made more money than I did last year makes his decision a little easier. At first I thought it was just a fad that he and his friends were going through, but he is really dedicated with the time he puts into actually playing and studying the game.”

Hubbard’s mother, Paula Hubbard, was initially wary, as well, but he managed to convince her by presenting spreadsheets and statistics displaying his profits. “I still feel strongly that he should finish his last semester of college, as he should be able to juggle his poker as well as his studies,” she said.

Big ups, big downs

Hubbard’s normal workweek is usually 45 hours, often squeezed into four days. To maximize profit, Hubbard plays eight to 12 games simultaneously. Variance is an unavoidable reality of poker play. On a great day, Hubbard may make $11,000. On a bad one, he may lose $5,000 to $8,000.

“The losing days are smaller and less frequent than the winning days,” said Hubbard, who projects that he will make at least $250,000 this year. “I mean, even when I do have what I consider a bad week, I make at least $2,000.”

Hubbard also has experience in live poker. In October, he competed in the first U.S. Poker Bowl in Las Vegas, to be broadcast early this year on the Fox Sports channel.

During the game, another player accidentally took one of the cards dealt to Hubbard. The floor man declared Hubbard’s hand dead. “I thought it was an absolutely ridiculous ruling, since I was being penalized for someone else’s mistake,” said Hubbard, who had paid $8,000 to enter the event. “I made sure I let them know that.”

This summer, he also competed for the first time in the 2007 World Series of Poker, the largest buy-in event that he’d ever played — and he was out of the game in about half an hour. He was holding pocket aces, the best hand in Texas hold ’em poker, but lost to a much inferior hand.

“I loved it when we got all the chips in,” he said. “Then I’m out of the tournament one minute later. It can be a brutal game.”

While he enjoys poker as a hobby, he approaches it as a job.

“People think it’s just 'gambling.’” said Hubbard. “It’s probably at least 90 percent skill in the long run.”

Recently, Hubbard has debated going back to school to finish his last semester. But as a guy whose current goal is to purchase his first house with cash, he believes school can wait indefinitely.

“Basically, you go to school to get a good job and make good money,” said Hubbard. “I already have a good job.”

Candyce Cook is a journalism student at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.