Before a single hand is dealt at the World Series of Poker's final table in Las Vegas on Monday afternoon, a retired state worker from Sacramento is guaranteed to walk away with $754,798.
That's just if Steve Gee is the first of the final nine players to be knocked out which is highly unlikely, because Gee is starting in fifth place, with nearly $17 million in play chips.
If Gee, 57, runs the table, he'll take home $8,527,982. Second place is worth about $5.3 million, but Gee's not gunning for second.
"I hate to lose at anything," said Gee, watching the Giants crush the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series. "I didn't pick up a tennis racket until I was in my mid-20s. After I lost to a 60-year-old guy in a tournament, I took group lessons at Sacramento City College, practiced off the wall, read all the articles to identify all my weaknesses. I went on to become the No. 1 singles and doubles player at City College.
"That's how you improve," he said. "In poker you have to do the same thing."
Poker's about 30 percent luck but 70 percent skill, said Gee. He said he's watching tape of the earlier rounds to study his opponents.
Gee has already outlasted 74,757 entrants from 101 nations, including some of the world's top professionals: Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson and Daniel Negreanu.
He'll probably wear his lucky Oakland Raiders cap and blue Adidas jacket, or his A's cap because his whole cheering section 88 people will be in Giants caps. "A's are my favorite team, Giants are second," he said.
Gee will bring his accounting skills and aggressive brand of play to the final table. He's the only Californian left in the tournament and by far the oldest five of his opponents are in their 20s.
"I was a young gun once," Gee said. "At 20 I got my own apartment and started playing poker for a living because my parents kicked me out of the house since I'd dropped out of school and played poker 60 hours a week.
With a $2,000 bankroll, he started playing 50-cent and $2 limit games.
Gee, who had run track at C.K. McClatchy High and graduated with a 3.3 GPA, couldn't get into UC Berkeley, "where almost all my Asian friends went," he said. "My parents practically disowned me the stereotype is Asians are nerds, they go to school, get good grades and go to Berkeley."
Gee's hardworking parents, who brought him to Sacramento from a small village in southern China when he was 6, weren't impressed with his poker prowess. His father was a waiter, and his mother canned tomatoes.
After a semester at Whitman College, where he was recruited to run track, he dropped out and went to Sacramento City College.
"Then I dropped out there because I was staying out all night playing poker," he said. "I played in a monthly after-hours game at the Luau Garden Chinese Buffet on Arden Way with owner Sunny Wong, his son Curt, a couple and some Greek developers."
Curt Wong, on summer break from Berkeley, took Gee to play low-ball at Sacramento card rooms like the South Bowl Card Room, the Limelight and Georgian's.
"By the time I was 22, I'd beaten all the games in Sacramento, and went on the road like a backroom pool hustler," he said. "At 25, I'd run my bankroll up to $150,000, bought a bunch of T (treasury) bills and a new Datsun 280Z. I was smoking pot, drinking, partying and chasing after girls."
But a combination of irresponsible behavior and poor money management left him penniless by the time he was 27.
"My aunt allowed me to live in a vacant house in Sacramento, so I went back to City College, transferred to Sac State and finally got my degree in accounting at 33."
Gee concedes he didn't have a plan. "I was always good at math, but I was kind of directionless. I was a Peter Pan; I grew up really late."
After getting his degree, he started out in the accounts payable department at Caltrans, moved to the DMV and then CalPERS.
In 2001, he began to play poker again but had to learn all over again because low-ball had been completely replaced by Texas Hold 'em. "Around 2004 the light finally went on," he said. "Poker's a humbling sport it's really easy to know how to play and be a mediocre player. The difficulty's in becoming an expert."
In 2008, after 20 years in state service, he retired to play poker full time. "I was making more money playing poker 30 hours a month than I did working for the state."
Gee has won $1.25 million at poker tournaments since 2006 and about $2 million in cash games throughout Sacramento and the nation.
In 2010, he earned his first World Series of Poker bracelet a badge of honor identifying the wearer as a true champion when he won the $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold 'em event and $479,000, beating 3,041 players. "I'd never won a tournament in my life," he said. "My parents are on board now because now we're playing for $8.5 million."
After the tournament, Gee, who lives in the Pocket, says he will move into a five-bedroom, five-bath house in Las Vegas and buy a new Porsche 911 and a BMW 330i.
His tournament entry fees are paid for by Poker Ace, an online site, and he travels eight months a year. "I just got back from a tournament in France, and I've got Australia in January, South Korea in February and China in March," he said.
Gee, who flew out to the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas on Friday night, is divorced. His daughter is fulfilling the dreams his parents once had for him.
"She was valedictorian at Rocklin High, graduated from UC Berkeley, is working for the Centers for Disease Control and applying to medical school," Gee said. "I'm glad she's not a poker player. I would advise young people to do your homework, stay in school and get your degree."
Poker's not for everybody, he said. "I see a lot of things at the poker table that other people don't I read the players, look for tells, identify the tendencies."