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DJ Steve Aoki Crashes The Poker Party At Upcoming WPT World Championship At Wynn Las Vegas

WPT Ambassador Has Been Playing The Game For Two Decades

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Steve Aoki is one of the best-known deejays and record producers working today. The Grammy-nominated artist plays nightly to huge crowds while on tour, and has collaborated with the likes of Iggy Azalea, BTS, blink-182, Linkin Park, Afrojack, will.i.am, Fall Out Boy, Lil Jon, Taking Back Sunday, and numerous others.

But when the 45-year-old isn’t in the club pumping out his latest remix, you can probably find him at the nearest poker table. As it turns out, this jet-setting musical mixologist is quite the poker fan, and has been for the better part of the last two decades.

Aoki can’t get enough of the game, heading out after his shows to cardrooms and private games before hopping on a plane and doing it all over again the next day. It’s no surprise that he jumped at the chance to work with the World Poker Tour as a brand ambassador.

“It’s such an honor to be joining the WPT family,” Aoki said back in January when the partnership was announced. “I have watched and admired the WPT for many, many years and to now be part of the WPT family; it feels so surreal and I am incredibly grateful.”

In February, Aoki hosted a special sit & go event at his home ‘playhouse’ that featured Vince Van Patten, Maria Ho, Phil Ivey, and a handful of qualifiers including the eventual winner, Aoki super fan Chris Osse.

Aoki with WPT Ambassadors Brad Owen and Andrew NeemeCard Player caught up with Aoki at Bellagio in October, where he was crashing a meet-up game (MUG) hosted by fellow WPT ambassadors Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen. As it turns out, Aoki was just getting his feet wet in preparation for the upcoming WPT World Championship at the Wynn, where he will also be taking part in the Poker Icons Experience that will not only feature Neeme and Owen, but also poker legends Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, as well as the WPT’s own Lynn Gilmartin, Tony Dunst, Matt Savage, and Vince Van Patten.

Aoki will once again open his playhouse for a special invite-only sit & go. Fans will compete in ClubWPT qualifiers to earn their seat. Aoki will also compete in the $1,100 Prime Championship event at Wynn, which starts on Dec. 8.

“Steve’s presence at the WPT Poker Icons Experience is going to add a new level of excitement to an event already positioned to be one of the most fun community events of the year,” said WPT CEO Adam Pliska. “Steve’s extensive involvement over the year has made our 20th anniversary truly transformational and player interaction with him has provided a great way to experience the new WPT.”

Julio Rodriguez: You’ve been playing poker for a long time, right?

Steve Aoki: Yeah, it’s been almost 20 years!

JR: The story I heard is that you used to take your gig money after shows and go play poker at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles.

SA: (Laughs) Oh my god! Too many nights!

I was a degenerate back then, playing every night. It wasn’t just Commerce, either. Whatever city I was in, I would find a game, private or otherwise. I would go and play some private home game or visit the closest casino after my gig.

My sleep schedule was so busted, because I would always start playing at like 3 in the morning, play til 6, and then get directly on my next flight.

JR: How did you get bit by the poker bug in the first place?

SA: I was actually introduced to the game by my good friend who was also a very popular DJ, DJ AM (Adam Goldstein), who passed away in 2009. He and I would play together quite a lot, like all the time. After our gigs we would head to Commerce with the cash we made at the show, and use it for our buy-ins.

But he was a bigger player than me back then. He actually played for years before me, so he definitely schooled me, and was kind of my first teacher in the space.

JR: What were the games like back then?

SA: I had a lot of epic sessions. We played with a lot of other musicians and artists. We had a little crew in Hollywood that would get together.

I found it interesting how much you could learn about someone playing poker, and because we played with so many different kinds of people, you learn a lot about humans and their psyche.

I met a ton of people that way, and I grew my community of friendships because of poker. A lot of interesting things happened to me outside of the game because of playing in those games.

JR: Who was the big winner in your game?

SA: I would say Dan Bilzerian. He’s actually a very good player. In the 2010’s, he would usher me into the bigger games. I would never have been exposed to the bigger games without Dan.

Aoki with Doyle BrunsonI was just a $5-$10 player, you know? Even though I was making more money by then, I was still hedging my bets. I didn’t want my losses to be too large.

But Dan introduced me to a very large game, which I wrote about in his book. He got up and asked me to take his seat. It was actually Bobby Baldwin’s game at Aria, and Jean-Robert Bellande gave me a stack, which was the $20,000 minimum. The game was playing $100-$200-$400-$800, and there was sometimes a $1,600 straddle.

In my mind, I was like, “This sucks. I’m just going to lose $20,000 and have to pay it back.”

I was folding every hand, but I obviously wasn’t going to blind out. So, I was dealt K-Q suited and knew I had to play it. The flop hits Q-6-4, and the guy to my right went all in. I obviously [called all-in], and then Bobby went into the tank.

I didn’t know it at the time, but he had A-Q. Luckily for me, the two of them had a lot more chips, so the all-in was for about $400,000 of Bobby’s money. The tank took a while, so I just got up and left the table. I walked outside the room.

When I came back in, thank God Bobby finally folded. The other guy had a straight draw, but my hand held and I was able to scoop my first big pot, something like $70,000 total.

That’s when I got the bug for playing big games.

Aoki with Phil IveyJR: It must have been a dream come true then to form a relationship with the World Poker Tour.

SA: It makes sense. The WPT is a global brand and I’ve played poker all over the world. I played in Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, numerous places in Europe. The list goes on and on. I’m a professional DJ but based on the places I’ve played cards you’d think I was a professional poker player instead.

The tour is also aligned with my own history of playing poker for the last 20 years, since they are now on year 20 as well.

JR: What was it like hosting an event at your personal ‘playhouse?’ Phil Ivey was even there to compete.

SA: Ivey has become a good friend over the last ten years or so. There are a few poker players that I’ve befriended, and he’s one of my closest in the community. We connected over music, as he is a big music buff and a fan of electronic music. We even made some fun Vines back in the day, pre-Instagram and TikTok, if you can imagine that.

But that was a fun game. We had fans from all over the world try to win a trip to play. One of them was actually from Germany, and he was a true mega fan. He had five or six different Steve Aoki tattoos on his body, and a massive mural on his arm. He comes to all of my shows. I’ve caked him something like 27 times!

(Editor’s Note: For more than a decade, Aoki has been throwing cakes in the faces of the biggest fans at his concerts. They consider it an honor. The local bakers who make each cake also get backstage passes to the show!)

Chris Osse Wins SNG at Aoki's 'Playhouse'His name is Chris, and he definitely deserved to get in. His video submission was by far the best, as he made himself play at the table as eight different fans of mine. Crazy enough, out of all the players that night, he won. I was so happy that he got it.

JR: It sounds like the next WPT event that you will take part of will be at the Wynn this December.

SA: I can’t wait for the World Championship. I am looking forward to playing some cards with the WPT crew and fans alike. The premier meet-up game is going to be an absolute blast, but I can’t lie – I’m also really looking forward to having another sit & go at my crib.

JR: Are you going to brush up on your tournament game at all beforehand?

SA: I never study, man! I just need to study the human face, you know? It’s a human game. I already know the basics, so I just need to trust the gut. Sometimes you trust the gut more than the [math] and you win. Sometimes.

JR: Do you wear headphones at the table?

SA: Never! I’m not that guy. I need to be attentive. I need to be situationally aware. I need to focus on the players and their patterns and how they play. I understand the grind, and why players will dig in for hours on end with their headphones, but I’m more interested in paying attention to the table.

JR: If you were to listen to music at the table, what would be on your poker playlist?

Aoki at his Las Vegas PlayhouseSA: Ha! I actually do have a poker playlist. It’s mostly reflective kind of tracks. These aren’t the cake throwing tracks. These aren’t the tracks from my show. It’s going to be music that I like to vibe out to, and that changes constantly. I’m always updating it. Right now, I like Odesza, and Rufus Du Sol. Even some down-tempo techno records.

The key is that I’m trying to chill. I’m not trying to increase my party level, I’m trying to hone in. Sometimes I’ll even listen to some binaural beats. I’m a big practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, which I know a lot of top poker players do as well.

Play with Steve Aoki and the rest of the World Poker Tour’s ambassadors this December at Wynn Las Vegas at the WPT World Championship.

*Note: All photos credited to World Poker Tour / Joe Giron.