GETTING TO KNOW THE OCTOBER NINE CHIP LEADER: JESSE SYLVIA

JULY 19, 2012 - 11:30:54 PM PST   |   WSOP STAFF

GETTING TO KNOW THE OCTOBER NINE CHIP LEADER: JESSE SYLVIA
Name: Jesse Sylvia
Age: 24
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV, NV/Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (Born in Malden)
Chip Count: 43,875,000 (1st overall)
Seat: 6
Occupation: Professional Poker Player
College: Cal Lutheran University
Marital Status: Single (Girlfriend)
Children: None
Poker Experience: 3 years
WSOP Earnings: $2,954
WSOP Cashes: 1 (1 in 2011)
Best Previous WSOP Finish: 175th place – 2011 WSOP, Event #10, $1500 6-Handed No-Limit Hold’em
Main Event Results: None
2012 WSOP: Events Entered: 14  Events Cashed: 1

Sylvia was interviewed the day after reaching the final table (July 17). Here is the transcript of that interview:

WSOP:  At this point, many people out there may not have a rooting interest in the 2012 WSOP final table.  Why do you think someone watching the broadcast might want to cheer for you?
SYLVIA:  I’m not sure, but when I dream about this, I like to think of myself as the hero of the story and not the villain.  When I made the final table, I had a lot of people coming up to me and say, ‘It couldn’t happen to a better person.’  I do not know if it’s because I am friendly, or nice, or outgoing – but I seem to get along with many people.  It felt really great to get that kind of feedback.

WSOP:  Speaking of people rooting for you – one would normally be your friend Russell Thomas, except that he’s also part of this final table.  Talk about that.
SYLVIA:  I learned a lot from Russell, who I stayed with when I first moved out here to Las Vegas.  He taught me a lot of things.  Now, he’s got a real job outside of poker and here I am playing poker for a living.  He’s said I have moved way past him, that I’ve gotten better than him – which I do not believe is true.  For about a year after I lived with Russell, I would sometimes hear his voice in my head.  He would be telling me what to do or caution me from making a bad decision.  Eventually, that became my own voice where I developed my own thought process.  But as I said earlier, I feel like a donk stuck inside a good player’s body.  I have to keep the donk contained.  I know what the right move is.  I just have to act on it.

WSOP:  When you lived with Russell did you ever discuss the dream scenario of playing for the World Championship against each other at the Main Event final table?
SYLVIA:  Of course.  After Day Two, Russell and I had dinner together every night.  We would talk about our chip counts and hands we played over dinner.  Then, his family came out and my girlfriend came and when all of us would get dinner I would be like, “I hope you’re the one I get to play heads up.  When we got down to ten-handed, we just looked at each other.  I was shaking my head and he was shaking his head back and forth.  It was apparent we were both going to make it.  Then, we went out and partied last night, afterwards.  I was sitting with him and I said, ‘Like, oh my God, – this is incredible!’  So yeah, we’ve talked about it but it’s always been a joke. 

WSOP:  The lead-up to the moment when you made the October Nine ”was not only intense, but historic.  Were you aware of the added fan interest and significance of having two women – Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille in contention for seats at the final table?
SYLVIA:  I was really torn about this.  With two girls left when we were at 12-handed, I thought for sure at least one of them would make it.  I was thinking – this is really going to be cool.  But it didn’t happen, which I think was unfortunate.  It would have been great. 

WSOP:  Can you elaborate?
SYLVIA:  Well, I have been teaching my girlfriend poker for the last five months.  She’s getting really good.  She has been playing at the casinos.  Through teaching her poker, I really got to learn a lot about what’s good for poker in terms of getting more women into the game.  There are so few women in poker.  As to the reason why that is, I got a really great point of view from her as to why that is.  She has so many guys at the table hit on her.  It’s flattering on one hand.  But she is there to play poker and it gets old.  It’s like a female sits down at the table and everyone goes, “A woman!’  Some of them freak out and have to try and make moves.  After a while she’s like, ‘Can’t I just be a person that likes to play poker?’  So, when I became aware of that through her, I started becoming much more sympathetic to that point of view. 

So, in a strange way – I felt as though I had a certain connection with the goal of getting a woman to the final table and that being really exciting.  When we got down to ten-handed and Gaelle (Baumann) was really short, obviously I was rooting to just get rid of a player and make it to the final nine.  But when she busted out – well, I will not lie, my first thought was that I was thrilled to make the final table.  But then I saw her in the payout room afterwards and she was like distraught about her shove with ace-nine (final hand).  I told her she played it fine.
 
WSOP:  You are the chip leader going into the finale.  The last three years, the chip leader has finished second, first, and second.  Right now, if a wizard were to magically appear and offer you a guaranteed second-place finish would you accept the offer?
SYLVIA:  Honestly, I would have to think about it a bit more.  But my gut instinct is that I would not take second.  I think the way I think about this is unique to me because I am different than a lot of people who get to this stage.  There is a common thread that poker players do not care about money when it comes to playing.  But I do not really care that much about money even away from the table.  I have taken months off and traveled.  I lived in Costa Rica for three months, where I lived on like $1,200 the entire time.  I can live on no money and be very happy.  Of course, we have already made a lot of money (by finishing at least ninth) – but it’s not like that’s enough money to do whatever you want the rest of your life.  So, thinking about it a bit more, I might accept the five million dollars.  But I still think I would be a little more inclined to go for the glory.

WSOP:  Talk more about money in terms of its value to you as a poker player.  After all, money is one of the tools of your trade.  
SYLVIA:  I am a huge, huge believer in the idea that the people in your life make you rich.  If you have really good people around you and great relationships with those you care about, you just feel good.  Everything just becomes more amazing.  I am not sure what happened to me the last few years, but I became more aware of this.  I think part of it was that I switched from mostly playing online to having to go out and play live poker.  I had to interact with people more.  I also got out more and that’s how I found my girlfriend, by getting out.  I look around and I see the entire world as my friend.  I see someone and I just feel something for people, even if I have not talked to them before.  

WSOP:  Can you explain more about that?
SYLVIA:  I was playing at the Bellagio some time ago and I saw Doyle Brunson coming out.  He was on his scooter.  He was coming out of Bobby’s Room.  As he drove past me, we locked eyes.  I saw him.  And, he saw me.  Then, he flashed me that big Doyle smile.  I thought to myself – it’s so cool.  Then, I thought a bit more and I realize – hey wait a minute.  I don’t even know Doyle.  He mind-tricked me into thinking we have been friends for 25-years.  And that’s how I feel the world should be like.  Obviously, you can’t trust everyone.  But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I think people like positive people.  So, money is great.  But the way you conduct yourself with people in this world is so much more important.  I can do that with no money.  Obviously, it’s much better to have money.  So, the more I think about that earlier question – I think I would go for the glory at this point.  

WSOP:  What is your personal background? Where did you grow up?
SYLVIA:  I grew up on a little island called Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts.  It’s a really crazy place.  In the winter, it’s a lot of people who have lived there for 30 years.  Like my dad – he bought his property there years ago for like nine-grand, which would be worth I can’t even imagine today.  There are like 30,000 of us who live there year-around.  Then, when the summer comes – it’s like 150,000 people.  Everything changes.  There are celebrities with $10 million summer homes on the beach.  So, I would call it a very bipolar place to live. 

WSOP:  What are your parents like?
SYLVIA:  My dad is an engineer on a scientific research vessel.  He’s the head engineer and takes care of a lot of things on the ship.  He’s really opposite of me in some ways because I would never be able to learn those things.  I always wanted to be an inventor when I was growing up.  As for my mother – she does a lot of different things like landscaping, seamstress work, and clothing design.  But she is mainly a florist.  My mom went to fashion school along with my sister and they designed a line of clothing together that was featured at one of the summer festivals on Martha’s Vineyard.  I was there for that last year.  There were like many people wearing clothing my mom and sister had designed and they were walking the red carpet, which was really exciting.  She has a really creative side. 

WSOP:  What would you be doing as a career if not for poker?
SYLVIA:  My sister talked to me and she suggested I be an actuary.  That might be what direction I would go.  My one sister has a civil engineering degree and I am like her, which is kind of the analytical type, whereas my other sister is a designer, which I am so jealous of.  I think being an artist is so incredible.  I can do a lot of things with numbers.  But when it comes to drawing figures or something like that, it is not happening.

WSOP:  Aside from possibly winning the World Championship – which changes everything, perhaps -- do you see yourself being as involved in the game in ten years, as you are now?
SYLVIA:  I always want to be involved in the game.  But I am not sure I want to be grinding it out every day ten years from now.  I told myself that I will play the WSOP every year that I can, because it’s so different.  It’s not like going out to the casino every day.  It’s much more exciting as it builds and builds as you get closer to a gold bracelet.  Cash games are not really like that.  So, I will probably always play the WSOP.  But I also hope I get to the point in my life where I am financially stable enough to do other things and not have to depend on poker for all my income. 

WSOP:  What other things would you be interested in doing?
SYLVIA:  I am interested in going to film school.  I still plan to move to Los Angeles and get involved in film.  If I can make it a little deeper, I can take more time off.  Film school is something I really want to do a lot.  I am interested in writing scripts, and perhaps direct.  I do not have the production part of it down, yet.  But, we’ll see.

WSOP:  What are your favorite movies? 
SYLVIA:  High Fidelity.  Fight Club has to be up there.  Inglorious Bastards is also one of my new favorite movies.  It’s one of the best movies made in the last ten years.  Anything by Kevin Smith is absolutely amazing.  I think the world of Kevin Smith.  Then, there’s Schindler’s List.  My girlfriend got me into The Godfather recently.  I had always thought I had seen them.  But then I watched them more closely all the way through with her, and I was like, ‘Wow – these are beautifully-done movies.’  One of my favorite things to do is just hang out and watch movies.

WSOP:  This has to be a high point for you, so far as your poker career goes.  Were there any low points along the road to get here?
SYLVIA:  I never had moments of sheer despair.  But -- let me tell you my high point, because it kind of leads into it.  I was a senior in college.  I was basically dead broke.  I came home on one of the breaks and did a job where I was working in like 12-degree weather.  It was brutal.  I made some money and put it into (online poker) when I got back to college.  I was pretty good at tournaments, but I had horrible bankroll management.  Most players will tell you that you can the best player in the world, but if you fail at bankroll management, then you have no chance.  I did well at first, and ran up what I put in up to like eight grand.  I was really excited. 

Then, I satellited into a (big Sunday online tournament) where I ended up making a three-way deal and I made over $100,000.  At the time, I did not even have a computer.  My laptop was broken.  I was playing in the math lab where I was tutoring people.  I had all these people around me who were in shock.  They were watching me win like one-hundred grand.  That was a pretty cool experience.  Fast forward six months later.  I had decided to break from school and decided to just play poker full-time.  I wasn’t going to get a job.  I started playing Pot-Limit Omaha.  It’s so much fun.  But it can also be so brutal.  I think the first week I played I went from a $30,000 upswing to a $60,000 downswing.  By the time it was over, I had like $10,000 left and maybe some money in the bank.  I had gone back home (to Martha’s Vineyard) and I was driving along the beach with my sister.  I remember looking out from the beach and thinking about all the money I had lost.  I remember thinking, I can’t deal with this.  You should never have to go to your job or whatever you do and feel like this.  In time, I realize that you just have to deal with the bad and then eventually the good will come back.  And now, this feels so amazing.  I guess I could work a regular job like be in an office.  But I also need my peaks and valleys in life.


 
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