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A Poker Life: Eddy Sabat

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Sep 16, 2015


There comes a point in most poker players’ lives when the game of poker stops being fun, and starts to resemble the 9 to 5 grind that pushed them away from a traditional job in the first place. Perhaps they’re in the middle of a prolonged downswing. Maybe they’re struggling to move up to the next level. Or maybe they are just tired of living out of a suitcase. Whatever the reason, it happens to the best of us.

But it doesn’t happen to Eddy Sabat. At least not yet, anyway. The 29-year-old unequivocally loves the game of poker, and, despite competing for the better part of the last decade, he’s showing no signs of letting up. Spend a few minutes with the California kid, and you’ll begin to remember why you love the game too. His passion for poker is downright infectious.

With $2.7 million in career earnings, Sabat has become one of the more consistent players on the circuit. This is his story.

Poker Beginnings

Sabat was raised in Lancaster, California, a Mojave Desert city about an hour north of Los Angeles while his father, an engineer, worked at nearby Edwards Air Force Base. As a standout athlete, Sabat spent the majority of his childhood days playing sports.

“I grew up dreaming of becoming a baseball player,” he recalled. “I liked basketball too, I didn’t exactly have the build for it. Being a middle infielder, though, that was at least a realistic possibility. I wasn’t a top recruit or anything like that, but I was good enough to try and walk on at the University of Southern California. But that’s where poker kind of took over.”

Although it wasn’t until college that the poker bug bit hard, Sabat had already been introduced to the game by his older brother Joseph.

“My older brother and his friends used to play card games. I looked up to them and obviously wanted to play too. They played games like baseball and black mariah. I thought hold’em was the most boring game to be honest. I took those games to my own friends and we’d play with a coffee can full of quarters.”

Joseph was the shark in the game, but it wasn’t long before the game began to click for Eddy.

“My brother always won because he was so aggressive and used to run us over, but one day I just realized that I could trap him. I started checking strong hands and letting him bet. Eventually he just quit me out of frustration and we haven’t really played since.”

Building A Bankroll

Sabat followed his brother to USC and decided to major in accounting, but most of his undergraduate time was spent playing poker.

“I was part of a ping pong team in college, which I was really into back then,” he said. “One of the guys on the team was telling me about how he was playing on PartyPoker. I told him that I used to play with my brother and he gave me $200 to play with online. I ran that money up to $2,000 by playing $3-$6 limit hold’em. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though, so it wasn’t long before I lost it all.”

Despite that initial negative experience with online poker, Sabat was still hooked. He began watching the high-stakes games, seeing big pots get pushed back and forth. Soon, he decided to try again.

Eddy Sabat“I was fascinated with the idea that people played for real money online,” he admitted. “At first, it was like a game to me, but to all of these other people, it was a job. I wanted that to be my job too. So I put some more money online and I ended up doing really well in this late night $3 rebuy tournament. Back then, there was a glitch on the site that allowed you to add-on to your stack while you were all-in, because the software thought you had busted and were rebuying. So all the top players were building these huge stacks. I think I won it six times, which really helped build my initial bankroll.”

He was still going to classes and was on track to graduate, but Sabat had already turned himself into a bona fide online poker pro.

“After I switched to PokerStars, I started to become more aware of my stats. I found out that over the course of two years, averaging just $33 per buy-in, but I was making something like $60,000 a year. I was doing all of this while still in college. I still finished school, but it was all about poker by then.”

Transitioning To Live Poker

It was clear that Sabat wasn’t going to become an accountant, so he turned his attention to live tournament poker.

“I played my first real live tournament at the end of 2007. It was a $330 buy-in WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City. I remember being down to 1,000 in chips at 400-800 blinds and somehow came back to chop the tournament for $40,000. I regret making the deal because he ended up winning the ring, but it was still a huge score for me. That tournament made me a big fan of Circuit events, so I went to Harrahs Rincon in San Diego and won a $500 single-table satellite into the $5,000 event. I got third in that for $70,000. They actually just gave me a pile of cash, which was surprising to me. I was 21 years old and I had a six-figure bankroll.”

After his initial success, Sabat jumped into big buy-in live tournaments with mixed success, but even he admits he probably wasn’t ready at the time.

“I had some fake confidence after those scores,” Sabat admitted. “I played a couple of $10,000 events, even though I didn’t have the bankroll for it. I blame it on being 21 years old and lacking the experience to know what it’s like to take a $10,000 hit to the gut. I went from averaging $33 per buy-in to playing in $10,000 events. It took a little while to get used to that jump.”

A Life Changing Score

By 2008, Sabat had put together a small string of cashes in tournaments ranging from the World Poker Tour and Latin American Poker Tour to the Las Vegas series at the World Series of Poker. Then a friend convinced him to take a trip to Macau for what amounted to a $3,500 buy-in event on the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.

“I went because the flights were only like $700 and I thought that was reasonable,” he said with a laugh. “I ended up winning it for something like $3.5 million in Hong Kong dollars, which was almost half a million in U.S. currency. I was actually terrified on the flight home. I was riding so high after the win, it was like heaven. I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me on the plane or something. My brain didn’t want to believe it was real.”

Grinding The Tournament Circuit

Sabat continued to run well with a streak of cashes at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and even a few big final table scores at the WSOP for $160,000, $300,000 and $121,000, respectively. He even ran well at a time where a lot of the poker community was hurting.

“On a Sunday about seven months before Black Friday, Full Tilt crashed. I ended up getting blinded out of a $1,000 tournament I was in and my friend and I both emailed support. My friend got a refund the same day and I got an email response saying I was getting nothing about four days later. I was very polite to the guy at support, but still got a standard response that basically ignored me. That would never happen on PokerStars. I basically stopped playing on the site and cashed out, so I didn’t get hurt at all when Black Friday went down.”

Since his Black Friday, Sabat has recorded a third place finish in the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $436,000 and a win at the California State Poker Championship for $129,000, but his most notable score was a deep run in the 2014 WSOP main event, where he finished in 16th place for $347,000.

“I don’t know how someone gets recognized for finishing in 16th place, but that tournament is different,” he explained. “People come up to me now just because they know me from the ESPN broadcasts.”

Though they were skeptical of his chosen profession at first, Sabat credits his parents for his continued drive to succeed.

“I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it weren’t for my parents’ support,” he admitted. “There are a lot of ups and downs in tournament poker, so to have them be fully behind me at all times is a blessing and keeps me focused. They have a blast rooting for me online when I’m traveling around the world, so I’m always motivated to bring home a title. It’s my dream for them to watch me win a bracelet in Vegas one day.”

Moving Forward

In many ways, Sabat is still the same excitable college freshman who was sweating the high stakes online poker games, watching big pot after big pot get pushed back and forth.

“I was and still am kind of a poker nerd. I remember knocking Barry Greenstein out in a tournament at Foxwoods and being so happy to have him sign a copy of his book Ace On The River for me. I still watch all of the poker I can on TV. I love it all. When I made my run at the WSOP main event, it was crazy to watch it all back. It’s actually still saved on my DVR.”

Although he has his degree in his back pocket, Sabat has no plans to ever quit playing poker.

“I want to play poker until the day I die,” he said. “I swear I still love the game as much or more than the day I started playing. It’s not like every once in a while I get to itch to be an accountant. There are definitely some downsides, but you can’t beat the freedom you get with this job and more importantly, it’s just so much fun. I see some people who are miserable, but I’ve never gone through that. Even when I go 0 for 10, I’m happy. This is the dream.” ♠