Interview with Jeff MadsenBy Steve Marzolf
Everyone at the Rio was talking about Jeff Madsen during the WSOP after the just-turned 21-year-old became the youngest player to win a World Series bracelet - make that two of 'em. Besides more than $1.4 million in winnings, Madsen took home a contract with Full Tilt and the respect of some of his favorite pros. We caught up with him at the end of vacation before his last year of college to find out what it feels like to become a pro overnight.
- How did you first get started playing poker?
- It was pretty basic. I would play pretty casually with friends. Then I went up to Santa Barbara for college and started playing at an Indian casino nearby. It's called Chumash Casino. It's on an Indian reservation, so they let you play at 18. That's where I got most of my experience, and some online also. I went to The Bike four or five times. That was the only place I snuck into.
- Did you lose a lot when you first went to Chumash Casino?
- I think I started playing low limits and I had already read a book or two to get me started. So, I think I did okay for a beginner. I mean nobody is a winning player when they first start, so I think I did all right.
- How were you doing cash-wise? Most college students are broke.
- I never had a big bank roll, but I was always fine. I mean I wasn't personally paying for my college or my dorm or anything so I had money. I never really, before the World Series, had a big bankroll.
- Do you consider yourself a pro now that you've made this big showing?
- Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I signed on with Full Tilt and have a management company, so it would be stupid to say I'm not pro. I'm still starting to realize everything that's different. Right now it's just my schedule and how some people recognize me. Someone handing me a magazine to show me a big article with me in it. People asking for my autograph. Stuff like that. It's weird, but I'm sure it's going to get more strange.
- How are you going to balance this with school?
- Well I'm going to be at school. I have a year left, but I'm going to play as much poker as I can. I'm going to do some tournaments, but nothing that will affect my grades. I'm a film studies major, so I'll see what I can do with that. But, I'll definitely be playing a lot of poker - like almost too much. I'm going to play every tournament, almost.
- What was your playing schedule like before the Series this year?
- I didn't even play that much. Last year, it was just occasionally at the Indian casino and some online, but I played a lot more my sophomore and junior year. I was just in school, didn't have a large bankroll and didn't really play that much. I've already been playing a lot more, and I have to play online for Full Tilt at least three times as much as I was last year. I love it, but sometimes it's annoying playing for 13 hours. But that just means I'm doing well.
- What were the events leading up to the World Series like, getting your bankroll together?
- I knew I wanted to play, no matter what, but I didn't have any money. To play I had to borrow money from my parents and some from this little college fund that my grandparents had set up. It wasn't just for college; it was for me. But I still had to borrow money from it. And I was going to pay it back because I knew I was going to do well. So I borrowed about $9,500 for six tournaments.
- What does your family think?
- At first, obviously, they were a little skeptical about this, but I've been playing long enough to think that I'm a good player. And I didn't have to convince them that much to lend me money because I was going to pay them back. The college money I borrowed, I had way extra in that account, so I wasn't really worrying about that. I was more worrying about just coming home with no money, like I thought I could do it and totally failed.
- Did you have any moments during the Series that seemed surreal?
- The best moment poker-wise was when I was playing Erick Lindgren and it was like a movie, just that whole battle of the heads-up match. We both play pretty similarly. He's going for his first bracelet, and I already had one. So, I kind of snatched it from him, pretty much. That was just a fun heads-up match.
- Did you splurge on anything with the cash that you won?
- I'm going to do some more spending. But, I didn't really have any nice clothes for going out, so I went and bought a lot of nice clothes, probably the most I spent at one time at a store in my life. I bought nice food every night. Then I came home and went to Best Buy and spent a shitload, too. That's kind of small-scale compared to when I buy a car.
- What do you think you are going to do with film? Are you going to pursue both careers at once or are you going to jump into poker and pursue film later down the road?
- I mean, if anything I'll be in poker, but I think film will be there too. I don't know how I'm going to do both. I'll see. But I still need another year of college to see what exactly I like the best. Do I want to do writing or what? I'm definitely doing poker with film. I've talked to a lot of people casually. It's just about who you know in the industry, so a bunch of people are just like 'Oh, you're into film. I know somebody at this company and blah, blah, blah.' It's about who you know, and poker has kind of helped me set up some connections.
- How overwhelmed do you feel at this point?
- I think it's kind of dying down a little bit. I'm at my home in L.A., and it's kind of mellow right now. It was crazier in Vegas. I was more overwhelmed when it first happened, but I am kind of getting used to it pretty fast, which is good.
- Did you meet any pros at the series that made much of an impact on you?
- All the guys at Full Tilt are really good guys. I haven't really had the time for them to help me out with my game and everything. We'll see in the future who helps, who becomes my mentor.
- Did you get any big compliments or words of wisdom from anybody?
- Yeah, every pro I play with is like, 'You're a kid, and what you've done is amazing.' So many people have said that to me. It was pretty overwhelming. Everyone was just singing my praises every time I sat down at a table.
- Did you have any idea you were that good when you left for Vegas?
- I mean, I don't want to sound arrogant, but I knew I was a really good player. Like obviously I didn't think I would do that well. I really thought I was going to be pro eventually, but I didn't know it would be two bracelets in one year, player of the year and all that stuff. In poker you kind of have to be confident and know you're good enough. If you have any doubt, you're not going to play as well.
- How do you feel being the poster boy for the next generation?
- It feels good. I like it. A lot of my friends, random people, young people have said, 'Oh you're an inspiration, and I want to start playing more.' I like being an influence for the younger kids to get better and make a name for themselves in the poker world.
- What surprised you the most about the game when you went out there and were playing at the series?
- Just the actual vibe and everything was such a huge scale compared to any other tournament in the world - just how long everything took and the size of it. When you see the World Series of Poker, you think it's going to be so tough. Then a lot of the tournaments are just people who aren't very good. There are pros in there, but sometimes it's not any different from your local casino tournament. Like, some of these guys just won some of the seats online and don't even understand the game very well.
- Did the pressure get too much having never played anything on that scale?
- I'd say maybe at first, but I knew that I couldn't play like that, so the first couple days I was like, 'Oh it's just kind of crazy.' But, I started to play poker... and it's just poker.
- Any advice for kids who want to come up in your footsteps now?
- I'd say just study poker like a class or something. Develop your own style. Don't put yourself in the position to go broke at any time or worry about the money. If spending money is what you are worrying about when playing a tournament or something, then you are not going to be able to play without fear.
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