The perceived correlation between playing cards and trading stocks is so strong that when the markets were booming some managers even looked favorably on potential employees with poker chops. Trainees at the investment firm Susquehanna International Group are given Getting the Best of It, a book on gambling technique by David Sklansky, as assigned reading. On the other hand, Wall Street skill sets are hardly guaranteed to be transferable; the wolves of Vegas are more than happy to take on players from mathematical and financial backgrounds. Chosenpromise, who's the most seasoned of the players interviewed for this story, considers a million hands played to be the test of time. He's hit that number and has emerged as a big winner.

The high odds against major-league success haven't dampened the enthusiasm of 26-year-old Dante Conti. He recognized the parallels between the game and money management soon after his division got axed from Bank of America's Los Angeles office early this year. Looking to unwind after the trauma of being fired, he went to Las Vegas for a weekend. A couple of his friends are professional poker players, and Conti took notice. "Poker seems easy compared to investment banking," he says. "Reading people's betting styles and knowing what to do against them, it all came to me pretty naturally."

Conti spent the next few weeks playing $500 single-table poker tournaments for three to five hours a night, and developed a winning habit. He's found a new job in finance, but continues to play online poker at night. "Weirdly," he says, "considering all that's happened, there seems to be way less uncertainty in poker than there is on Wall Street."