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A Poker Life -- Steve Brecher

Brecher Wins Millions with his Semi-Professional Hobby after a Successful Career in Computer Programming

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Steve Brecher at the 2009 WPT Bay 101 Final TableSemi-professional poker player Steve Brecher came to the game by a well-traveled path. He started playing poker at the Cameo Club in Palo Alto during his college days at Stanford. The main difference is that while most poker baby boomers were taking this approach to the game around the turn of the 21st century Brecher made his first ventures onto the felt in the mid-to-late sixties.

“The first time I played poker was when I was in college about 45 years ago. I played California lowball at the Cameo Club. It was pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. For one the dealers would deal themselves hands, but like blackjack dealers they had to play those hands by certain rules,” said Brecher reminiscing about his earliest poker sessions.

Poker was just a passing interest for Brecher at that point in his life because he was at the start of a career in computer programming. Shortly after graduating from Stanford he moved to New York for a while and he even enrolled in a graduate program in philosophy at Columbia for a short time. For the next few decades he went back and forth between the Bay Area, Southern California, and New York a few more times before settling in the Reno area.

All the while he was working in the field of computer programming, primarily as an independent contractor who followed the work wherever it took him. In 1987 he created a software product for Macintosh that became a retail hit. That product was the program Suitcase, and its success gave him financial independence.

His experience with poker was limited during this time when he was at the forefront of the biggest growth industry in the United States. “I always loved what I did with computer programming, which is why I started doing it in college. I had my own computer in 1977. I was really knee deep in computer software for most of my life,” said Brecher of his career and true interest in life. There was a stretch in the mid-80s when he lived in Southern California where he played limit lowball, but his experience with cards remained in the background during the late decades of the twentieth century.

“I wouldn’t say that there is a direct translation from computer programming to poker except that there is a common element in my personality that is helpful for the games,” said Brecher when he was asked about the correlations between poker and computer programming. He continued, “The quantitative analysis is in both, and by no means am I a mathematician who has a college degree in mathematics, nor do I use mathematics professionally, but I have always been interested in systematic approaches to things, whether it be computer programming or poker. I’m interested in the game theoretic aspects of poker. I aspire to have a certain game-theoretically optimal base and strategy that I can vary to exploit situations as may be appropriate,” said Brecher. To an observer on the tournament floor it appears that Brecher is a problem solver who in many cases is trying to solve the puzzle of poker strategy.

He took up poker after his career in computer programming slowed down and it has become a semi-professional hobby for Brecher. “I do take it seriously and I enjoy it tremendously. If a pro is someone who depends on an activity for day-to-day expenses then I’m not a pro, but on the other hand I have some aspects of a pro. I play in major tournaments and at the moment, and I say at the moment because there is such huge variance in this endeavor, I am a winning player. I won a major event with a $1 million prize,” said Brecher.

His biggest triumph in poker took place back where he got his start in poker in the Bay Area. He defeated a field of 390 opponents at the 2009 World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star $10,000 main event and he took home $1,025,500 in prize money. “It meant a lot; I had been playing a lot of major events starting in December 2003 with the Bellagio Five Diamond. I had cashed a respectable number of times, including making final tables, but I had never won any major event with a four-figure buy-in. It was really cool to win not only a WPT event but my first major tournament.”

Brecher no longer plays in cash games since he prefers to participate in the largest events on the tournament trail but he was playing live cash games in Reno in the early 2000s on most weekends. “I played in a lot of small no-limit games with $2-5 blinds. I was a winner in that game but it wasn’t a significant amount of money. Like many players I started out as a losing player and only later in life was I able to consider myself a winner. For example in my early years at the Cameo Club in Pala Alto I was a losing player, but when I was back living in Northern California in the late 80s every few months or so I would go to Cameo Club in the evening to play lowball and by that time I felt I was a winning player. At that time the incoming college players were the ones we wanted to come into our games so I guess it takes time to build up that experience,” said Brecher of his learning curve with poker.

Brecher no longer plays in cash games now that he is in his 60s and prefers to travel the tournament trail in search of the most talented competition in poker’s largest events. He does have a companion to share his experiences on the road with in his girlfriend of three-and-a-half years, Kendra. “I spend a significant amount of my time on the poker road and she is able to accompany me at nearly every event I go to and I’m very grateful for that support, it’s great. Especially for me, who is not the most gregarious person. In tournaments I’m purposely not gregarious because I’m trying to focus. It was before her — and would be without her — a lonely endeavor. I’m really glad that she is able to travel with me,” said Brecher.

As far as his future goals with the game are concerned a gold bracelet would be nice, but it is not the end-all-be-all of his poker existence. “I really do want to take home a bracelet at some point, but not so much that I play a full schedule of World Series events in order to get a bracelet. I’m still limiting myself to the bigger buy-in events. I like bigger chip stacks and better structure. It gives me more time for whatever strategy I have to take effect,” said Brecher. “It’s a personal preference that I like deeper stack events. I believe it is more in accord with my relatively tight style. I’m not as much of a gambler as those who prefer shorter stack events.”

Brecher has used his patient style effectively and he now holds $2,106,447 in career earnings spread out amongst 40 cashes. In addition to his big WPT win he has also won three other poker tournaments with various buy-ins. He offered this piece of advice to players about his approach to the game that has led to his aforementioned success. “The main thing is one that is kind of obvious and that’s patience. A significant part of a multi-day tournament is periods where you are not being dealt cards or playing hands, and if you let that get to you, you’re going to get yourself in trouble. If you ask any successful player what the important aspects of the game are, patience will be near the top of the list. This is just a reiteration of that well-known touchstone.”