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'Poker Joker' Makes A Serious Breakthrough During The 2020 World Series of Poker Online

Ian Steinman Discusses Winning His First Bracelet From The Couch

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Ian Steinman has accrued seven figures in tournament earnings over the last eight years, with a number of titles won along the way, including four World Series of Poker Circuit gold rings. Coming into 2020, however, the Mountain View, California native was still looking for his first major tournament title.

Steinman had come as close as one can get in the past, with two runner-up finishes in major events for the largest scores of his career to date. In March of 2018 he placed second in the World Poker Tour Rolling Thunder main event for $201,428, and a few months later he lost heads-up in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event at the WSOP, earning $197,461.

On July 27, Steinman finally broke through with the major title on the line, defeating a field of 1,940 entries to win the WSOP Online $400 buy-in no-limit hold’em freezeout event for $110,557 and his first gold bracelet.

Steinman made a total of 15 cashes throughout the US-facing portion of the WSOPO, which meant that he cashed in just shy of half of the 31 bracelet events offered in that segment of the series. He made three total final tables, cashing for $187,812 along the way. As a result, he finished on top of the leaderboard hosted on WSOP.com.

Card Player recently caught up with Steinman to learn more about that leaderboard win, his breakthrough victory, the origin of his screen name, and more.

Card Player: Can you tell me about how it felt when the final card was dealt and you realized that you had just won a WSOP bracelet?

Ian Steinman: I had a lot of emotion. I mean, it was the culmination of a lot of playing and a lot of work. It was a combination of excitement, and a little bit of relief in a way, kind of like getting a monkey off your back. It was definitely weird because any other big runs I’ve had in tournaments have been in a casino with a lot of people around, not just sitting on my couch. So that was kind of strange… but as far as the feeling, it was mostly joy and a tiny bit of relief.

CP: You’ve won several smaller tournament titles before this, but your two largest scores have both come in runner-up finishes. You’ve been heads-up for a bracelet and heads-up for a WPT title before this. Did you feel any extra pressure for you to close it out this time?

Ian Steinman at a WPT final tableIS: Definitely. That kind of started to creep in because when I started heads-up, I had a decent chip lead on the guy and then I doubled him up and we switched positions. I just tried to reset. I remember thinking about it and just telling my brother, who was sweating me, ‘It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to beat this guy.’ I tried to reassure myself and say, ‘Don’t let your mind go to that place, because there’s a lot you can’t control. Just do what you can do, and don’t let the emotions get to you.’ That feeling was definitely there a bit, but I tried to move past it and just play cards, which is really all you can do.

CP: A bracelet would normally be won at the featured table with all the lights and on a live stream, with friends and family on your rail and watching from home. This one was won from your couch.

IS: It was interesting, because it definitely felt different. But then as soon as I won, I think I had the same kind of feeling I would have had if it was at the Rio. I mean, I’ve never experienced it at the Rio, so I can’t know for sure, but that was kind of the moment that it changed from different to the same kind of feeling. I immediately got a bunch of text messages and phone calls and it did feel like everyone was kind of there watching, even though they were all at their respective houses following a live stream or whatnot. It was weird, and then as soon as it was over, it didn’t feel much different to me. I didn’t mind. Sure, I would have liked to go out and celebrate or have some beers with my friends. But as far as the actual tournament, it felt the same to me.

CP: So your brother was sweating you. What was it like having family support right there?

IS: I live in Nevada, he’s in California. He came here for the weekend just to play a few events himself. So he was at my house playing and he was actually going to leave the day before, but he had a deep run and it got late and I told him to just stay one more night and play another event. So he stayed and played, I think he might have cashed in it, too. But once he got knocked out, he was going to go home, but he said, ‘Actually, I’m not going to leave. I’m going to watch you win a bracelet.’

So he was there, but we didn’t really talk at all. He just sat there watching me play. I was pretty zoned in. I don’t even think I said one thing to him except on the break when I told him, ‘I’m still going to win this thing.’

He was probably pretty nervous, actually, because he was there the first time I lost heads-up for a bracelet. I got heads-up with Eric Baldwin and he had a 3:1 chip lead on me to start, but I won every pot when we started, maybe 15 or 20 in a row. And I had him 10:1 in chips or nine to one in chips. I had him all in with the best hand and right then, my brother ran into the Rio. He had just got off a plane and showed up. I lost that all-in.

We ended up playing a few more hours, then bagged up for the night. I went on to lose the next day, so I was always joking with my brother about how he was bad luck and he should have never showed up. That wasn’t really serious, but I know he felt a little nervous and he probably felt some relief this time when I won with him there.

CP: How did this tournament play out for you? Did you get off to a hot start and build a stack right away or was it more of an up-and-down affair early on?

Ian Steinman at the 2018 WSOPIS: I started out just crushing. I think we started with 20,000 in chips and I had run it up to 200,000 within a couple hours. I felt like I was just going to cruise, but then I actually took a few beats and got down low and it turned into a grind until we got down to the final few tables. With two tables left, I built it up again and managed to head into the final table with a chip lead. But then again, some pots didn’t go my way and I think I was in seventh or eighth chip position when we were eight-handed.

It was a little weird because at least one of the other final tables I made this series, I had the chip lead early on and didn’t end up winning and I kind of got that feeling of like, ‘Oh, no, not again.’ Because things just really weren’t going my way at first at the final table, which had happened before and I ended up busting in fifth or sixth. But this time, I won my flips when I needed to and I got the chip lead back. The one other big stack let me take over. I don’t know if he was just really card dead or playing sort of passive, but it worked out that I basically was able to play as the chip leader, even though I wasn’t yet. And that helped me get back into the actual chip lead. From then on it was pretty smooth sailing.

CP: You cashed 15 times during the US-facing part of the WSOP Online, with three final-tables. As a result, you ended up on top of the points leaderboard for that segment of the series. Can you tell me about the overall experience of grinding this series everyday online throughout July, and what it meant to you to ultimately end up on top of that hotly-contested leaderboard?

IS: It was definitely quite a grind. I’m prepared for it when I get to the Rio during the summer, ready to be exhausted by halfway through the summer. At first, it didn’t seem like it wasn’t going to be as much work or take as much mental energy, but it turned out to be a lot. I had quite a few cashes, so I frequently ended up playing for eight to ten hours a day. Also, it is pretty hard to sleep when you’re done playing poker, especially after you have a decent run. I was running a sleep deficit and playing a ton, so I was really drained by the end.

But the fact that I saw myself near the top 10 or top 15 on the series leaderboard, and I kept thinking that if I got a win, I could [finish on top]. And I really did want to win, because it is going to be the closest thing to the WSOP Player of the Year that I could get this year. I know it’s not really the player of the year, but I still have a lot of pride for winning that leaderboard.

The last couple events I was sweating it pretty hard. I got a min-cash in the last event and busted. Then all I could do was sit and wait for the other guys near the top to see if they busted. I think with three tables left, there were four guys that could still pass me. So I was sweating it a little bit. But also, it was just kind of fun. When it’s out of your control, there’s nothing you can do but just kind of enjoy the sweat.

CP: How did you first get into poker? Was playing online a big part of your rise through the ranks in this game, or is your background more in the live scene?

IS: I was more infatuated with live poker than online, because when I first started playing poker for fun as a teenager, I remember going to my friend’s house and he was watching the Moneymaker WSOP main event. My friends and I were watching and immediately were like, ‘Oh, let’s play poker.’

When we started, no one had a clue what they were doing. It was just basically, ‘Can I outsmart my friends?’ I played completely off feel for a while, just with the same guys, and I realized, ‘Oh, I think I’m smarter than this guy, and that is why I’m beating him.’ And that was what really got me into the idea of poker and playing a lot. In live poker you see your opponent and you try and get in their head, and that’s always been really interesting to me.

I started playing a little bit online around then, just a few bucks here and there, but I always wanted to play live poker. I went to college in Santa Barbara, they had an 18 and over casino so I was playing a lot of low-stakes cash games there. As soon as I turned 21, I started playing the daily tournaments. I grew up near San Jose, so it was Garden City and Bay 101. I did a lot of live playing before I started grinding online in college, but I’ve always loved live poker and preferred it over playing online. I like talking to people and trying to get in their heads. Being around people is a lot more entertaining to me than sitting in front of a screen.

CP: How did you pick your screen name, ‘APokerJoker2’?

A Poker JokerIS: That was something I made on PokerStars. I think the day I turned 18, I made that account. I didn’t put that much thought into it. I was like, ‘Poker, Joker… that rhymes’ and I put an ace and a deuce on either side of it, because I feel like I won some big hand with A-2, or something. I can’t even remember exactly why I did it, but when I made my screen name on this site, I just used the same name. It’s not clever. I wish I had some really clever screen name, because there’s some really good ones and I’ve thought of some good ones since then.

CP: Where do you fall on the debate that was being held after the 85-bracelet WSOP Online was announced, with some saying that this would negatively impact the prestige of a bracelet? How did you feel about winning your first bracelet online instead of live?

IS: When I first heard it, I didn’t really think it was that big a deal because I think they were already planning to have an increased amount of online bracelet events this year. There were going to be 14 this year, which was up a handful from last year. It has just kind of become another variant of poker, I guess: online no-limit hold’em versus live no-limit hold’em. One could argue that online is not the same or not as skillful, but you can argue in both directions I think.

I’m kind of with the people who are saying that the guy who won a seven-player field seven-card stud tournament in the ‘80s, his bracelet’s worth just as much as someone who wins the $10,000 six-max event today, because that’s what was there at the time. A couple thousand bucks was a lot heftier of a buy-in back then, so not everyone could play those, and people didn’t have the same access to tools to improve their game that are available now.

I’m of the belief that, if they call it a bracelet event, it’s going to draw out a lot of people, the competition is going to be really tough. If it ends up being a small field, that’s probably because the buy-in is really big. Each bracelet event is just a little bit unique, but it’s still a bracelet event and is going to attract some really good players, no matter what.

CP: Getting back to your journey to becoming a poker pro, you said you were playing while attending college. At what point did you transition to taking poker more seriously, or start playing for a living?

IS: In college I was grinding hard to make eight bucks an hour. I remember having all my notes and my logs of my sessions. I was playing a lot in a small game, and the rake was high. But I was pretty proud of that at the time, especially because that was decent money for a kid in college, to make a couple hundred bucks a week. Despite playing a lot, I wouldn’t say I was playing professionally then. I ended up dropping out of college and playing a bit of low-stakes between when I was 19 and 21 when I could still play online. And then Black Friday happened in 2011 and I couldn’t play as much online anymore.

I went back to college around then, but I found some cash games and some local tournaments and ended up dropping out again. I found myself sitting in class and asking myself, ‘Why am I even here?’ I was thinking about what game is good right now. So I ended up dropping out because I thought I could do better with poker, especially back then because the games were really good. I grinded a decent living for a while, but when I was 22 or 23, I ended up waiting tables for six months to save up a $10,000 bankroll. At that point I moved to Nevada and basically haven’t looked back since.

CP: What are your goals as a poker pro moving forward?

IS: For a while, my goal was trying to win titles, which was probably a bad goal. In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten some coaching, and I started to realize those kinds of goals are pretty silly. Winning any one tournament outright is something that’s really hard to control. So now, my goal is just to keep improving and to try to not get complacent even though I’m doing well right now. I just want to play as much live poker as I can when it comes back and put myself in the position to get good scores. I would love to win a WPT title. I was close to winning one, when I finished second, but it’s not really a goal. I’ll definitely play some more WPT events and try to put myself in a position to win one, though, and see how it goes.Spade Suit