Max Steinberg has wasted no time making a name for himself in the poker world.
At just 25 years old, Steinberg has cashed 17 times, made eight final tables, earned five second-place finishes and won a World Series of Poker bracelet. That comfortably adds up to just under $2 million in winnings.
While the young star took home his bracelet at the 2012 WSOP in a $1,000 no-limit hold'em event, Steinberg really grabbed people’s attention in 2013. By raking in nearly $600,000 in seven tournaments, he demonstrated that his early success was no fluke.
Most notably, Steinberg made a huge roar on Day 3 of the 2013 WSOP Main Event. Sitting at the featured table with legendary player Phil Ivey, Steinberg took out the nine-time bracelet winner.
But the year isn't over yet. Steinberg’s next task is in Paris at the 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event.
I spoke with Steinberg about his great run and his thoughts about his final tournament of the year.
Nick Juskewycz: Max, you've cashed 17 times in your young career. How have you been able to find instant success, but also maintain it?
Max Steinberg: I started playing poker when I was 17, so I had four years of experience of playing before I was 21 through online poker. So, I had started to develop as a poker player, and I was really making some good money before I turned 21. I even started playing in tournaments when I was 19 and cashed with a second-place finish in Costa Rica. I've just been working really hard for eight years now playing poker, but some of the consistency and the success I've had has to do with a little bit of luck, too. I think I've had some good fortune.
NJ: When you were learning and studying the game growing up, was there anyone specifically you liked watching or think you play similar to today?
MS: When I was growing up, I really liked Phil Ivey. It’s funny now that I've grown up, he’s still considered one of the best players in the world. He’s certainly someone I've liked watching, but I don't think there’s anyone I play similar to. I sort of changed my style a couple years ago. I do some things that are completely uncommon in the poker circuit today. I feel like I have my own style.
NJ: Speaking of Phil Ivey, take us through that hand you played with him at the Main Event. What were your thoughts and emotions as that went down?
MS: I was actually transferred to the featured table that was going to be on TV. This happened in the middle of the day, and I had no idea this was going to happen. I started the day with so few chips, and I had assumed I was going to be knocked out. Instead, I end up going on this outrageous run, and I was moved to the featured table.
I wasn't feeling that comfortable at first because it was such a change, but I finally settled down and my chip count grew even more. All of a sudden, I’m in this hand with Phil Ivey. I flopped a huge hand, which was basically the second-nuts (middle set) on a relatively dry board. But the way it played out, I felt like he played it in a way he could have had a really big draw. I thought maybe like a flush draw and a straight draw, and if he has a hand like that, I’m not a huge favorite against him. So before the hands were tabled, I thought I was only going to be around a 60-percent favorite. As soon as I flipped over my hand, he had this very incredulous look on his face. I realized he probably had bottom-set, which he did.
It was such a crazy experience where I won this huge pot and eventually became the chip leader of the entire tournament at one point. It was a whirlwind, and I was getting all these interviews. But that’s the thing about tournaments—you have all this stuff happen, but you have to keep playing. Good stuff and bad stuff can easily affect you. There were a lot of emotions involved, and I had to try and keep steady and continue to play my A game. I wanted to finish well and celebrate later.
NJ: Where does that moment rank for you all time?
MS: Well my bracelet is definitely No. 1. I mean, knocking out Phil Ivey is great, but getting around 150th (finished 131st) in the tournament isn't satisfying at all. Some of my second-place finishes, like the one at the National Championship, are up there. Early in my career, I sort of tussled with Phil Hellmuth and got him to really talk some smack about me. So that was a pretty funny and nice poker moment, especially when I ended up eliminating him in a tournament that I got second in. So, there are a few good moments up there.
NJ: Since you've experienced a lot in your young career, do you feel comfortable in any situation?
MS: I wouldn't say I’m comfortable in every situation, but I think I’m more comfortable than most others. There are going to be situations where it’s going to be tough to not be upset or overwhelmed at something that’s happened. But I've made about eight final tables, and having as many experiences as possible will help you be comfortable in pressure-packed situations.
NJ: You've had a great year, but it hasn't all been great. You were in the driver’s seat to win your second bracelet in the $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em Mixed Max. You were a 97-percent favorite with the river left to win, but it didn't fall your way, and you ended up with another second place. You still bounced back quickly. How?
MS: Today, one bracelet just isn't enough to really get your name out there. There are a lot of people with bracelets today with how much the game has grown. Having one bracelet doesn't necessarily mean you’re a great player. But having two bracelets really puts you ahead of the one-bracelet winners. It would have been really nice to get two. However, it really motivated me. I ended up playing another tournament ($5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six Handed) the next day, and I ended up getting 15th. It was one of the toughest tournaments of the year, because, usually, the short-handed tournaments have a lot more pros and fewer amateurs. I just felt motivated saying to myself, “okay, let’s get back in that situation” and see if it works out this time.
NJ: You talked about the importance of winning two bracelets. You won one in 2012, but you've cashed seven times in 2013. Which year is better in your mind?
MS: That’s a tough question. I feel like I played better this year, so this year was probably better. Just the amount of cashes, getting a few second-place finishes in some tough tournaments, the overall amount of winning really stands out. When I weigh it against 2012 when I won my first bracelet, that was a huge accomplishment, but in the end, I feel like 2013 was my better year.
NJ: It’s important to recognize that 2013 isn't over with WSOP Europe remaining. Other than winning, do you have any goals this week?
MS: When I go into tournaments, winning is obviously the goal, but my expectations are that I’m not going to win. My expectations aren't even that I’m going to cash. If I do, it’s a plus. If I make the final table, it’s an even bigger plus. If I win, or more likely get second since I seem to do that a lot, it’s an even bigger plus. I think I've prepped well. My goal is to just stay focused while I’m in Paris. I’m not going to just go out and have a good time. This is work. I just want to play my best and see where that takes me.
NJ: What’s going to help you the most in Europe?
MS: Just all tournament experience from this year, especially the late-tournament situations leading up to the final table. I've been there before, and I know how others are going to react then. I have a good feel what people will typically do, I know how I’m going to feel and how I can manage my emotions.
NJ: You haven't played in the WSOP Europe since your twin brother, Danny, finished sixth at the Main Event in 2010. Is there anything from that tournament you can use this time around?
MS: I’d say the World Series of Poker Europe is a lot different than the World Series of Poker, because in the World Series of Poker, there are a lot more Americans. Then, obviously, there are a lot more Europeans at the World Series of Poker Europe. Europeans play much differently than Americans. They’re more loose and aggressive. Age is also a big factor. In America, for people 40 or older, you can generally bank on them being some type of a conservative player. Sometimes you can find some crazy ones that are much older. Europe is a lot more aggressive, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means I have to approach my game differently. I can’t run as many bluffs. Had I not gone to Europe before, I wouldn't have known that. It’s nice, because I've played a few European tournaments and seen a lot of aggressive players.
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