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A Poker Life: Sam Soverel

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jul 20, 2016

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Because tournament results are so easy to track, the top players on the tournament circuit tend to command most of the poker world’s attention. As a result, there are countless excellent cash-game grinders who often fly under the radar and are only known by their peers.

Sam Soverel may just be the best young poker pro you’ve never heard of. The 25-year-old high-stakes phenom has been dominating the live ring games for the better part of the last six years and, had it not been for a great two-year tournament stretch, including winning a World Series of Poker bracelet, it could have been years before Card Player’s readers were given a proper introduction.

Even though he only plays tournaments when he can’t find a good cash game to terrorize, Soverel has managed to rack up $2.15 million in live tournament earnings, the majority of which has come in the last three years. In fact, his 2016 campaign has been so stellar, that he currently sits in third place in the Card Player Player of the Year race.

Poker Beginnings

Soverel grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida and was obsessed with winning from an early age.

“When I was a kid I used to compete in track and field,” he recalled. “I remember that I ran sprints. Then, in sixth grade, I had hernia surgery and, during my recovery, I played a lot of video games. I’ve always been into games for some reason. I played chess for a bit, then I got into competitive StarCraft, and then I found poker. I tried to do all three of those things for a while before poker kind of took over.”

After cutting his teeth in home games, Soverel turned his attention online, even though he couldn’t legally play yet.

“I played poker with a lot of my high school friends. Our home games were small. We’d play for quarters or maybe a $10 sit-n-go. It was mostly for fun. I started playing online when I was 16 under my dad’s name. I would deposit $10 and run it up to $1,000 before I ran into trouble trying to cash out. I did that a bunch of times. The money was important to me, but I treated it more like a video game, so it was fun just to try and build it up.”

Sam Soverel at the WSOPSoverel’s father wasn’t around much, and his mother left when he was just 15, so it was up to his sister Emily to keep him on track. Poker took a backseat to getting his life squared away, but after getting into college, the game called him back.

“I really relied on my sister during those years,” he admitted. “She was the one who got me through it all and made sure I was okay. I ended up at the University of Florida and I got a scholarship and some federal aid to cover my expenses. The plan was to get my degree in economics. But during my second year, two of my high school friends whom I used to play poker with, got me back into it. I dropped out shortly after that. I made something like $100,000, just running up my bankroll by taking these big shots. I played anyone. I played a lot of hands with people who were better than me. I had a big list of the regs on Skype and would message anyone just to find action. I even started playing $25-$50, which was pretty reckless with that bankroll.”

He moved to south Florida to continue to grind online. Once the law changed in the state that allowed the limits for live poker to go up, he started going to the casinos.

“After Black Friday, I was kind of stuck,” he explained. “I got about $30,000 back from PokerStars, but I also had some on Ultimate Bet and a lot more on Full Tilt. I started playing $5-$10 live and ran good right away. I spent about a year traveling all over the state, living in hotels, looking for the next game.”

Soverel was tired of living out of a suitcase, so he moved to Las Vegas, hoping for more consistent game options.

“In 2012, I moved to Las Vegas. The games got really privatized in Florida and I wasn’t into the politics behind any of it. I didn’t want to deal with the hustle of it. But in Vegas it’s much easier for a game to pop up every once in a while.”

Finding Tournament Success

Ever since the move, Soverel has continued to make cash his focus, often playing the biggest game in the room. But when the high-stakes games started to run less often, Soverel began looking for more action. As a result, he started playing in the nosebleed tournaments that run monthly in Las Vegas, and it wasn’t long before he started crushing.

In the first four years of his professional career, Soverel had only cashed in five tournaments. Only one cash constituted a major score, when he finished runner-up in the WPT Jacksonville Spring Series in 2011 for $187,762.

Then in October of 2014, Soverel won the $50,000 buy-in Super High Roller at Aria for $480,200. In December of 2015, he made two final tables in the Aria $25,000 buy-in High Roller Series, earning $159,000 and $74,880 for second- and fourth-place showings.

In January of this year, he won the $25,000 event for $309,400. He followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the WPT L.A. Poker Classic main event for another $316,440 and then took second in an April $25,000 at Aria for $136,800. Most recently, Soverel took a few days off from cash games to play at the WSOP and managed to win a $1,000 pot-limit Omaha event for his first bracelet and the $185,317 first-place prize. That’s a massive amount of success in a short period of time for someone who doesn’t even like to play tournaments that often.

“I play tournaments when they are nearby, but I don’t really travel for them,” he explained. “I really only play tournaments when there aren’t any games running. It’s a lot of fun to go out with friends and celebrate a big win, but I don’t care about the attention. I play poker for the money.”

Although he doesn’t care about the prestige that comes with big tournament wins, Soverel does admit that he has a newfound admiration for tournament players after putting in some more hours at the tables recently.

“I used to think all of the tournament players were pretty bad,” he said. “But I’ve been playing a lot more tournaments lately and I’ve gained a new respect for the top tournament guys. I did a lot of work on short stack strategy and ICM considerations, because those things don’t really come up in cash games.”

Moving Forward

Although tournaments have brought him some recent media attention, Soverel has no plans to stray from his cash-game-first mentality. But his days of 80-hour work weeks are most likely a thing of the past.

“I enjoy playing poker, but I hope I’m not playing for a living at 70 years old,” he said. “When I first starting playing, I played every day. The last three or four years, I’ve been much more selective of when I play poker. I’m not sick of poker, but I’m just not as competitive as I used to be. Back then, I wanted to be the biggest winner in the room, but these days I’m much more focused on finding a balance and being a well-rounded person.”

While he might not have poker in his plans for the rest of his life, Soverel is worried about the overall health of the game and thinks other players in his position need to do more to promote growth.

“The biggest problem is that a lot of poker players don’t make it very fun for the amateur players,” he explained. “I don’t understand how you can berate these people when they make a bad play. They are obviously very smart, successful people outside of poker or they wouldn’t have the money to lose. And without them, a lot of these pros would be struggling to beat each other. It’s a bad environment and poker pros need to realize that this is entertainment for a lot of the amateurs. I don’t really agree with Daniel Negreanu on a lot of issues, but I really admire the way he acts at the table. He’s never mean to the fish and he always takes the time to sign autographs or take pictures with fans. I don’t even think we should call them fish. In Macau, they call them VIPs. I think stuff like that is great for the game.” ♠