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A Poker Life: Rob Salaburu

Outspoken Pro Settling Into Career After Main Event Run

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Rob SalaburuRobert Salaburu is considered a relative newcomer to the world of live tournament poker, but he has made a big impression in very short amount of time thanks to his televised run in the 2012 World Series of Poker main event.

The 28-year-old poker pro wasn’t afraid to rattle some cages en route to his eighth-place finish, where he earned just shy of $1 million.

The Texas native isn’t letting any of it go to his head, however. When asked to confirm some facts from his Wikipedia page, Salaburu said the fact that he had a such a page in the first place was ridiculous. Brash and outspoken, it’s no surprise that the guy “people love to hate” became one of the more memorable faces of televised poker in recent memory.

Poker Beginnings

Rob Salaburu was born May 9, 1985 in San Benito, Texas. After stints in Brownsville and Corpus Christi, Salaburu settled in San Antonio. By all accounts, he was born and raised a Texan.

“When you travel and meet strangers and ask them about their background, most will tell you they are American. But if you meet someone from Texas, they will always tell you they are a Texan. There’s a lot of pride associated with living in Texas. The people are nice and willing to help out. They are humble and not in your face.”

Salaburu discovered poker while still in high school. For his friends, it was just a way to pass the time, but for him, it was a newfound passion.

“I got hooked,” he admitted. “We’d play all sorts of games like ‘baseball’ and ‘follow the bitch.’ After I learned how to play hold’em, I got started playing online and just took it from there.”

Poker came naturally to Salaburu, who was always hyper-competitive as a child.
“I hated losing more than I loved winning. I was always the most aggressive player on the field. Even as a young kid playing soccer, they would catch me out of position because I’d be the guy who never got off the ball. I wanted to be a part of every play, and that kind of attitude definitely came with me to poker.”

A Love-Hate Relationship With Money

Salaburu and his older brother were raised by their mother, who struggled as a single parent, yet never allowed it to affect her youngest son. After he was born, Salaburu’s mom went back to school and became a teacher, which allowed him to get a solid education.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but it never felt like that was an issue,” Salaburu told ESPN. “We ate every night. I just didn’t feel it. Now, I lose the kind of money in a month she made in a year. She knew how to make a dollar stretch.”

Playing online poker under the name ‘Treadinwater,’ Salaburu found relatively quick success. He banked more than $375,000 playing multitable tournaments online between 2009 and Black Friday, but didn’t always hang on to it.

“When I first started, I had a complete disregard for money, which is definitely an asset as a player. However, it can also get you into trouble. Now, I think I’ve found a decent balance. I can go through money, but I’m also pretty confident in my ability to create it pretty quickly. If you want to live a true gambling lifestyle, you really can’t give a f—k. Once you start caring about the money, you won’t be able to pull the trigger when it really counts.”

When asked why he referred to himself as a gambler rather a poker player, Salaburu explained that gambling isn’t always just about giving in to the luck of the draw.

“I’m a poker player first and foremost, but I don’t hide from the fact that I’m also a gambler,” he said. “I gambled as a kid. Not really for money, but with friends for bragging rights. If I make this shot, you’ll have to do this and if you hit that shot, I’ll have to do this. Being a gambler is all about confidence and believing in yourself.”

Salaburu has extended this philosophy to his poker game and says confidence often allows him to pass up situations determined by the flip of a coin.

“I’ve found that a lot of the younger online players have trouble with the patience part of the game, because they don’t realize that there is a time you can take your foot off the gas. They see A-K and get it in on a flip because that’s the standard play online. But you don’t have to take that spot in a live game. You can grind and wait for a better opportunity. Yeah, you may have an edge when you get it in, but you can’t control the outcome of a flip. I don’t mind giving up some equity in exchange for being able to better control my own destiny.”

The 2012 WSOP Main Event

Salaburu went into the 2012 World Series of Poker without much live tournament success. He had a few smaller four-figure scores in 2010 and 2011, but hadn’t cashed in a live tournament in nearly a year. The $10,000 WSOP main event changed everything, however, when Salaburu navigated his way through the 6,598-player field to make the final table and become a member of the November Nine.

Along the way, Salaburu’s mouth got the best of him a few times and he became a polarizing figure to ESPN audiences. Some loved the brash youngster who seemingly had no filter, while others felt that he was going to far. Salaburu, however, doesn’t mind his TV portrayal.

“The producer for ESPN pulled me aside and told me I was ‘making’ his show that season,” he recalled. “Poker is boring, but at least I was some kind of spark plug that brought some interest to the game. Obviously there were times I was portrayed as a jackass, but that’s fair because I am a jackass. People on the forums love to talk shit about me, but at least they are talking about me. At least they know my name. I don’t know who they are.”

Salaburu entered the final table seventh in chips, but was still confident that if things went his way, he’d be there at the end with a shot at the title. Instead, a cooler saw him lose most of his chips to Jacob Balsiger. Then, Jesse Sylvia’s Q-5 suited came from behind to best his pocket sevens and send him to the rail in eighth place, worth $971,252.

“I went in there gunning for first, but knowing full well that I could easily bust in ninth. I was fortunate enough to make it that far and be a part of something huge. At the end of the day, I made almost $1 million in a poker tournament and they can’t take that away. Maybe I’ll lose it all and wind up on a street corner, but I’ll still have a story. I’ll still have a Wikipedia page,” he said with a laugh.

“To dwell on it isn’t healthy,” he added. “The past is the past.”

Moving Forward

Salaburu’s time in the spotlight made him a bit of a poker celebrity, but he isn’t buying it.

“Whenever I’m in casinos, I’ll get the random poker fans who come up and want to take a picture,” he said. “But I find that to be really awkward. Poker fame is stupid. I mean, really, who cares? It’s funny when some of these guys get on TV and think they are some kind of celebrity. I’m not Brad Pitt or anything. Outside of Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and a couple other players, there are no real poker celebrities. Those guys will get recognized at the grocery store, but I’m just a guy who happened to make a final table one year.”

Though he loves playing poker for a living, Salaburu isn’t about to start pretending that he has an important job. Instead, he prefers to fully acknowledge the fact that he plays a game for a living.

“Someone asked me if I felt worthless playing poker. I don’t, but does playing poker mean that I’m lazy? Probably. Poker is all I know at this point. It’s a means to an end, but I don’t want to be playing for a living when I’m 40 either.”

Salaburu only plays one or two tournaments a month, preferring to play private cash games instead. He spends most of his downtime with his girlfriend Terra Marie and is looking into investing in a couple of side businesses with his older brother. The time away from the table hasn’t really hurt his results, either. In the year since his big score, he’s cashed nine times and even went deep in the 2013 WSOP main event, finishing in 355th place for $32,242.

“Planning for the long term never occurred to me before,” he admitted. “With me, the long term was about planning where we were going to drink the next night. But now I’m a little bit more mature, a little bit more conscious of my future. We’ll see what happens.” ♠