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Max Steinberg: 99 Percent Of The Time Stay In School Over Becoming A Professional Poker Player

Bracelet Winner From This Summer Talks About His Recent Success


Max Steinberg wasn’t even old enough to gamble when he started playing. He was a kid with only a few dollars in his online poker account to share with his brother. His online game has since been sharpened into a weapon to be reckoned with, and his live tournament numbers aren’t too shabby either.

Steinberg has $1,359,111 in career casino winnings, including a first-place finish in this summer’s World Series of Poker event 33 ($1,000 no-limit hold’em) and a second-place finish in the World Poker Tour Legends of Poker main event just last month.

Card Player was able to ask Max a few questions about being a teenager with over $100,000 in his bankroll, bad beats, as well as staying prepared to thrive in the game of Texas hold’em.

Logan Hronis: As you think back, talk about the effect the money from your first big score (a second-place finish for $144,773) had on your mindset and lifestyle. How does a 19-year-old react, winning such a large sum of money before you were legally allowed to gamble?

Max Steinberg: The money actually didn’t affect my lifestyle at home too much. I moved back to Iowa after the tournament, and my big splurge was buying a $7,000 used car. I lived in a house with three friends, where rent was $350. My main way of throwing money away, so to speak, was buying meals for my friends and other things (which, in hindsight, I regret). The biggest change, however, was that I decided to play more tournaments. I went to China, London, Australia and Spain to play, as well as just see the world. I also didn’t hesitate to hop on a plane to see friends in other parts of the U.S. I went from a kid who didn’t like vacations, to traveling all over every month. I was rarely home for more than a month or two at a time.

LH: Do you feel that having that kind of money at a young age forced you to become more responsible in a hurry, or was the fact that you were responsible at a young age the reason you were able to make it work? Explain.

MS: I was somewhat frugal at a young age, and I mainly wanted to use the money I won to move up online. So I didn’t spend as much as someone else in the same position. That being said, I still spent way more money than I should have, but it was something I had to learn from. Unless you’re somewhat insane, it takes the experience of having and handling your own money (and subsequently mishandling it) to finally figure out how to manage it properly.

LH: You left college to become a poker professional. Do you have any advice for teenagers/young people thinking about doing the same?

MS: Leaving college was basically a cop-out. I was 19 and overwhelmed with a college experience that started off well, but began to deteriorate. Nothing was ever tough for me in high school, so when things started to get hard, all I wanted to do was abandon ship. That being said, one has to go to college as long as they have some sort of goal or career they want to pursue. For me, I could have played poker and continued going to school easily, and I just wanted to take the easy route.

If someone asked me whether they should drop out of school to pursue a career in poker, in 99 percent of cases, I’d tell them not to. The exception would be if they either, A: Had the desire to become the best poker player in the world and were willing to work hard enough to get there or, B: Wanted to make enough money to start a business they were passionate about.

LH: Do you still prefer heads-up and six-max tables to traditional hold’em games? Can you describe the reason you gravitated toward these types of games?

MS: I prefer heads-up because I have a greater opportunity to really slaughter someone at the table. There are so many spots to exploit someone. Six-max, especially without antes, is more about choosing your spots and being disciplined. Six-max and full-ring with antes can be a lot of fun, which is why I enjoy live tournaments. My strategy when the antes come is unique, so there’s a satisfaction in owning people using a strategy that they don’t understand.

LH: Talk about the hand in the WPT this year when you were heads up, and Josh Hale spiked a flush on the river and the chip lead. After playing countless hands of hold’em, do those sorts of things bother you? How long does it take before you can forget about it?

MS: I was actually very proud of myself for the way I handled that beat. I obviously felt some emotion from it, and any poker player who claims they don’t feel emotion from a beat like that is full of crap. It was an emotional moment, but after we got all-in I thought to myself, ‘How can I be constructive in this moment?’ I decided to think about how Josh may react to winning the all-in, and how I would adjust. When the river came a heart, I sat down and let my emotions run their course while I focused on trying to play my best. I think I played very well after that all-in, even though to an outside observer it probably looked like I was getting a little run over.

LH: What is your favorite venue to play poker in California? In the world?

MS: In California, it’s a little casino in Livermore called Casino 580. I have a couple friends who used to be prop players there, and it was always fun to come in and play against them and hang out. It’s a surprisingly nice casino, considering it’s not in a big city. In the world, I’d say the Wynn [in Las Vegas]. It’s well run and very comfortable, the floor managers will also accommodate people when they want to start their own games, and we had $5-$10 [pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better] running a couple of nights this summer, which was a blast.

LH: Tell us about your opinions on the online poker situation. If it is resolved, do you see yourself playing considerably less live tournaments?

MS: Like most professionals, the fact that online poker is essentially illegal in the U.S. is ridiculous. I’m optimistic that it will be resolved, hopefully by way of federal legislation. If it is resolved, I definitely see myself getting back into online, but I don’t see a drop off in the amount of live tournaments I’ll be playing.

Tags: Max Steinberg,   Online Poker,   WSOP,   WPT