Born in China and raised in Sacramento, Steven Gee will be the oldest player at the World Series of Poker final table. The 56-year-old will compete against nine others beginning Oct. 28 in Las Vegas for a prize of $8.5 million. Gee will start in fifth place, with 16.9 million in chips, about 27 million chips behind the leader.
Gee, who ran track at McClatchy High School, left his post as a senior manager at the California Public Employees' Retirement System to play poker professionally in casinos in 2008.
He spoke to The Bee about his long journey to the final table.
>How do you feel, getting ready to sit down at the final table?
It's been like a dream. I never thought I'd be here with the last nine players.
>Tell me about the hand you won when you were facing elimination from the tournament. With two eights, you went all in. One of your opponents called your bet with two 10s, and the other called with an ace and a king.
That was the key hand of the tournament for me. I was down to my last 4 million chips. I was essentially dead. With a pair against a higher pair, you're a 4 1/2-1 underdog.
I had already picked up my bags, put on my jacket and shook hands with everybody, because I knew I was done.
>The "flop" (three cards turned up) was a 5, 6 and 7, the "turn" (fourth card) was a blank a card that did not affect hands and the "river" (final card) was 4, giving you a straight against your opponent's pair of 10s.
I couldn't contain myself. I had to jump up and yell. I had just tripled up from 4 million to 12 million. Now I was in the middle of the pack, and I had chips to play with. Then I had a fighting chance.
>Does this mean you're thinking about playing in tournaments more often?
In the poker world, I'm still relatively unknown, because I don't play tournaments. I play the highest stakes cash games in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. In light of this, maybe I'm a serious tournament player as well. I now have more tournament earnings than cash earnings. I'm going to add more tournaments to my schedule.
>What's the difference between playing for cash in a casino and playing in a tournament?
The cash-game players are the better players.
>That's because the amount the players bet is smaller relative to how much the players have in their stacks in cash games.
In cash games, you can't really go all in. In tournaments, if you just watch the TV, there's a lot of all in. There's a lot more math involved in the short-stack strategy as opposed to reading cards, reading players and actually playing the hands.
The cash-game scene is our bread and butter. The tournaments are more for fame and ego. You can't be ranked as a top player unless you win tournaments. The cash-game players are sick of it. We're always being overlooked, so we're jumping into the arena now.
>As a young man, you played poker professionally, but then you left the game. Why?
At Whitman College (in Walla Walla, Wash.), I never even got my foot on the track. I stayed for half a semester and got homesick and came back. I ran track for two years at Sacramento City College, then dropped out to play poker. I was a professional poker player for seven or eight years. I went broke. I was financially irresponsible. I had to get a job.
>Jesse Sylvia, the leader at the final table, has a large advantage. How much of a difference does that make?
The big chips allow you to lose a couple of hands and survive. Jesse knows he can push everybody around. He should be the favorite to win the title. But if you look at the history of the final table, the chip leader doesn't always win the title. Like me, Jesse was previously short stack, too.