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A Poker Life: Jeff Madsen

Madsen Finds Quick Success and Then Rebounds After Some Struggles


Jeff MadsenAt just 21 years and five weeks old, Jeff Madsen won his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet in 2006. Less than a week later he won his second, defeating Erick Lindgren heads-up in the $5,000 six-max no-limit hold’em, one of the most prestigious titles of the summer. Madsen bookended those wins with two third-place finishes in Omaha eight-or-better and seven card stud eight-or-better events, securing the title of 2006 WSOP Player of the Year for the University of California Santa Barbara student.

In the eight years since, Madsen has remained successful, with 111 career cashes and eight more titles to his name. But did Madsen’s debut on poker’s biggest stage set up incredible expectations that were perhaps impossible to live up to? Or has the pro, now 29-years-old, found balance in the game through hard work and determination?

Poker Beginnings

A friend first introduced Madsen to poker the summer after he graduated high school in Pacific Palisades, California. While poker was booming on television, Madsen was playing with friends and starting a collection of poker strategy books. While attending UCSB and studying film Madsen began to make regular trips to the nearby Chumash Casino, which is a native American owned property with a legal gambling age of 18. It was there that he gained in experience and learned about the other games outside of hold’em.

“They had Omaha hi-lo there,” said Madsen. “And I read a lot of books in the beginning like Supersystem and all the multi-game books. Just reading all those books got me interested in those games just from the beginning.”

In The Shadow Of A Breakout Performance

A few years down the line in 2006 he took $10,000 to Las Vegas planning to play six events. Right off the bat he placed third in the $2,000 Omaha eight-or-better on July 5. By the 26th of the month he had cashed for $1,467,852 and secured the WSOP Player of the Year title. He ended up finishing fourth in the Card Player Player of the Year, making one more final table to bring his total earnings for the year to more than $1.5 million.

In 2007, however, Madsen fell back down to earth. He only cashed for $137,000 that year, less than one-tenth the amount he earned in one month in 2006. The following year was hardly any better, and all of a sudden Madsen was faced with the tough realities of tournament poker and just how hard it is to achieve what he did at his first WSOP.

“I knew I was a good player, but I hadn’t really played on the professional poker circuit, so it’s definitely a learning process any time you’re kind of new to this environment and the variance,” said Madsen regarding his mindset after his initial breakthrough. “I didn’t just think I would win everything, but I just knew I was a good player, so maybe — you get a little comfortable, and you can’t get comfortable, or too relaxed, and sometimes you take spots that are too high variance that you normally wouldn’t, but you just won, you have money, so, those things kind of affect it naturally.“

In 2009 he got things back on track, winning his first title since 2006. In February of 2010 he notched the third biggest score of his career when he topped a field of 766 players in the 2010 Borgata Winter Open to win $625,006. In 2012 he final tabled the World Poker Tour Legends of Poker and a $1,500 no-limit hold’em shootout at the WSOP. In 2013 he finally got back to the top of the mountain, winning his third career bracelet in a $3,000 pot-limit Omaha event at the WSOP.

It seemed that over the past few years Madsen had been able to center himself again and focus on the play. “I think I’ve just been playing good, it’s just working out and last year was good too. My cash rate wasn’t as high last year, but it’s still high, good results last year. In 2012, I cashed a lot too, it’s been going well for a few years now.”

“The better you get, you don’t let things affect you as much,” he said in regards to how he got back on track. “You just play optimally at all times.”

Heating Up Again Heading Into The WSOP

So far in 2014, Madsen has cashed 14 times, winning two titles along the way. First he took down a smaller $1,000 preliminary event at the WPT World Championship at Borgata and then followed that up by topping a field of 584 in the Heartland Poker Tour California State Poker Championship main event, topping a tough final table that included the likes of Doug Lee and Amit Makhija.

“It was a really good event,” said Madsen of the win. “It was a pretty tough final table, but it was still comparatively, fairly fine. I was fortunate to double up through Amit (Makhija) right away, and I had him on my direct right, he was obviously one of the toughest players at the table, so that worked to my advantage, and I won a couple of key all-ins at the right time, and once I got some chips I didn’t really look back. Again, I’ve been winning this year so with that confidence… you can’t have an oversized head or an ego and play dumb, but if you have confidence, people can feel that at the table and it’s going to work to your advantage in a lot of pots, and it helps you trust your reads and stuff like that.”

With that HPT coming in late April, Madsen had built plenty of momentum heading into the biggest time of the year in tournament poker. “I’m just kind of crossing my turning point where I’m not liking the rookie part of my career anymore, and I’ve always been comfortable with my game, but in live poker, you only play so many tournaments here, so eventually, you’re gonna see different spots that you haven’t seen before. And the better you get, the more comfortable you are with those different spots.”

“I’m just playing good deep, and my reads are on right now, and obviously winning key flips. And when you’re running above average and playing well, it’s kind of an unstoppable combo. So all my games feel good right now, my mixed games are good right now, too.”

Rapping It All Up

With his tournament results back on track in recent years, Madsen is now looking to spend some more time on one of his other main interests.

“I’ve got a lot of freedom so I kind of just do what I want, which is good — that’s why poker is one of the best jobs you can have,” he said in regard to where his life at the moment. “I feel like I’m doing really well, and once I get to a certain point, maybe I’ll take a little time off poker and pursue other stuff a bit more. But you know, I’m definitely into hip hop and rapping, so I think that’s something I could definitely see myself doing for a long time as well.”

Madsen has messed around a bit making music with fellow poker pro and hip-hop beat producer Prahlad Friedman. Madsen sees that there are parallels between poker and rap, which is often obsessed with self-actualization and “hustle,” themes that are clearly central to the life of a poker professional as well. “Yeah, I think they’re definitely related, and obviously I like listening to music sometimes when I play. They’re definitely my two favorite passions, for sure.”

Madsen is hungry to keep progressing, both in his career in poker and in hip-hop. “It’s just something about the hustle and about the competition of it.” ♠