Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Alaei, Bobby Baldwin, Stu Ungar and, now, Jeff Madsen. That’s amazing company to keep, and by winning his fourth career World Series of Poker bracelet this week, Madsen joined some of poker’s greatest superstars in reaching that milestone by the age of 30.
“It means a lot,” Madsen said. “Those guys are definitely all legends you know, and I’m still really young. It's cool to be in that kind of company.”
Madsen’s entry into the poker world came back in 2006, when he absolutely exploded onto the scene with a performance for the ages just a month after his 21st birthday. Not only did he win two bracelets, but Madsen narrowly missed out on shattering a bunch of WSOP records with a pair of third-place finishes.
That victory earned him the 2006 WSOP Player of the Year, making him the youngest player ever to achieve that honor by a long stretch. As good as he was playing, and as much as he was improving with a heavy volume of online play, it took him two years to make another WSOP final table and seven before he would return to the winner’s circle in 2013.
“My game has come a long way,” Madsen said. “I won two right away, but it takes a while to understand how to manage in the poker world and play your A-game all the time with consistency.”
His renaissance started with his third career bracelet and continued on into the 2013 WSOP Europe. From the time that series started in October 2013, through October 2014, Madsen cashed at least once every month. Madsen’s tournament schedule took him around the world and he made it count, notching nine final tables and six victories.
“I was cashing at a higher rate than I've ever cashed and won more tournaments in 2014 than I ever have in a year,” Madsen said. “But I got to a point in where I kind of hit a wall and I was definitely not playing as much. I think sometimes my mind takes time off, but I don't know. I think being kind of a feel player, for as good as I am, maybe I still let emotions or life distractions affect my game.”
What followed that unbelievable run was a dramatic shift in the other direction, in which Madsen went more than three months without posting a result coming into 2015. He put a mark on the board at the PCA and cashed a couple times at the LAPC in February, but Madsen then had another stretch of nearly four months without a result coming into this year’s WSOP.
He wasn’t too fazed, and while it took Madsen a couple of weeks, he broke that dry spell with a deep run in the Millionaire Maker. It would still be another week or two before Madsen truly got back on track, but the highs and lows throughout his career helped give him more experience.
“If you're losing a bunch in a row, you just have to have mental toughness, I think,” Madsen said. “I think it's related to just bankroll management and life distractions, and then a bad mental streak where I kind of over-try. Whatever it is, I can sometimes be streaky, but I've been doing this for a while, so I know it's temporary.”
The best moments in Madsen’s career have largely come after his worst stretches, and there’s a definitive ebb and flow to the way his time in poker has played out. As the second week of June came to a close, Madsen made good and built up a big stack early in the $3,000 Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo event.
He kept on building, and by the evening of June 17 Madsen was battling the likes of David ‘ODB’ Baker and Omaha specialist Rami Boukai at the final table. Madsen would eventually go on to defeat Jean Marc Thomas to win his fourth career WSOP bracelet and break through after a streak of bad luck.
“I just happened to be on the worst run of my career, but I knew how it was probably going to end based on how my career has been in the past,” Madsen said. “I usually end a bad streak with a good run.”
The generation of poker players that grew their games online, to which Madsen belongs, fall into two categories: Those who specialized, mostly in No Limit Hold ’em, and those who chose to play as many different games as possible.
While both of his 2006 bracelets came in hold ’em, Madsen’s ability to play a variety of games was evident from the get-go, as his third-place finishes that year came in Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo and Omaha Hi-Lo.
“I think when I started playing poker, I made it a point to just play Omaha and Stud Hi-Lo and the games that maybe other kids weren't playing,” Madsen said. “In the beginning, I was just reading books, like Super System-esque kind of stuff, and I've always wanted to keep it well-rounded and be good at the other games.”
With the bad run in his rearview mirror, Madsen can take a deep breath and reset for the rest of the summer. It’s easier said than done when things are going the wrong way, but with 10 years of tournament experience under his belt Madsen knows that staying mentally sharp is paramount during the long summer grind.
“You know, you need balance, and it's okay to take a break,” Madsen said. “It's okay to do other things. I come in wanting to play every day, but I was already getting a little worn out. I knew that I was playing fine, but there’s no other time of the year where you're playing this many tournaments, and you just have to be locked in and focused or it will get away from you a little bit.
“I just love to play poker, so I'm always wanting to play tournaments. It's more about changing my mindset, working on mindset and working on balance while I'm playing. It's my job, there's nothing else I do besides play poker for money, other than working elsewhere in poker.”
That “elsewhere” Madsen’s referring to is another element he’s added to his poker career -- that of a mentor and a coach. While other industries might scratch their heads at a 30-year-old being the one handing out sage advice, Madsen’s understanding of the game allows him to pass along knowledge that can only come with years of experience.
“I think that's kind of a natural progression,” Madsen said. “I’m just doing some private coaching, which I started a few years ago, and then just doing stuff with the World Series of Poker Academy, and minimal seminar stuff. I don't think it's my favorite thing to public speak, but it's cool to see the progress in my students and stuff. It's pretty rewarding to just be able to teach, and it's pretty fun.”