An original poker young gun

Updated: October 17, 2012, 11:06 AM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Editor's note: Coverage of Steven Gee's run to the WSOP main event final table continues Tuesday night on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

Steven Gee isn't like the rest of the players at the WSOP main event final table. He's not sporting the collegiate youth of Jacob Balsiger or the online superstardom of Greg Merson. He isn't preparing like Russell Thomas and hasn't become a domestic star like Andras Koroknai. Gee stands out as not only the oldest player remaining at the final table but also the oldest player to make the final table during October/November Nine era. However, as compared to the other elder statesmen during the previous four November Nines, the 57-year-old is far from an unknown amateur. In 2010, Gee outlasted a field of 3,042, capturing his first WSOP bracelet in a $1,000 no-limit hold 'em event, making him only one of two players left (Merson is the other) who already knows the exhilaration of winning a WSOP bracelet.

Gee definitely believes that the experience in 2010 contributed to this year's final table run.

"Going back to 2010, winning that tournament gave me a lot of confidence for this year knowing that I could go through a huge field like that," Gee said.

The Sacramento native has been playing poker since his early 20s. Similar to many of the stories of the current poker generation, Gee learned the game in college. Also similar to the younger players, too much partying and poker led him to drop out of college and pursue poker. Disappointed with his choice of a career path, his parents "practically disowned" him, he said.

[+] EnlargeSteven Gee
AP Photo/David BeckerSteven Gee enters the WSOP main event final table fifth in chips.

His parents' displeasure for his choices didn't satiate his hunger for the game. He remained dedicated to the craft and worked extremely hard to improve, playing mostly low-limit draw lowball.

"In those days, I was really hungry, motivated and driven," he said. "I would play 60 hours a week. The only reason I put in only 60 is because [the casinos] closed on Sundays. I was playing 10 hours a day."

Gradually moving up in stakes, Gee eventually was playing in some of the biggest games in California in his early 20s. Although it is the norm today to see young players dominating the felt, he was an anomaly back in his day. Ironically, Gee was an original poker "young gun" well before the term was ever in vogue in the poker world.

"I never thought about the age thing, then or now," Gee said. "I guess I was the young gun playing with all the guys that were 40 or 50 years old. … I knew I was younger than everyone. I had a few guys in their 30s that I hung around with, but … basically, I was on my own."

Although Gee found success early, poker wasn't always an easy road. His decadent lifestyle eventually led to the evaporation of his bankroll. Gee found himself penniless.

"Early, I won a lot of money playing poker," he reflected. "But [eventually] I went broke. I think the reason for that is I did what a lot of young guys want to do. We partied. We drank. We smoked and we chased women. I wasn't really focused on money management and I didn't play my A-game all the time. I just didn't think I could ever lose or go broke, but I did."

After some soul searching at age 27, Gee decided to return to college and earned a degree in accounting at California State University in Sacramento. Far removed from the haphazard world of poker, he became a completely different person, going to work 9 to 5 every day. Starting out as an accountant, he eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder in a software development company and then a public pension company. In 2008, he was managing more than 30 people and consultants and making almost a six-figure paycheck.

Gee still longed for the days back on the felt, even after 20 years of being in the business world. After witnessing the poker boom, Gee did the unthinkable in 2008. He quit his stable job in the heart of the recession to return to the unpredictable and volatile world of poker.

"I was making close to $100,000, and I quit that job," he said. "It's hard to believe. My friends, my co-workers, my managers, the staff. It was hard for all of them to believe. And I had to tell my parents … and they said, "'Here we go again. Didn't you learn your lesson?'"

Gee did learn his lesson, but felt comfortable back in the world of poker as the game had become mainstream since the Moneymaker effect.

"I saw the rising popularity of poker. … We weren't considered hustlers anymore," he said. "Poker went mainstream, and I saw the tournaments on TV and I said, 'I can do that.' I did it in my 20s and I realize it's a new game, but I can do this."

Initially, Gee returned to his roots and the cash games in California, but he longed for the fame and fortune of a tournament victory.

"Well, I started out playing cash games and I was very successful but the dream was to win a tournament because that's where all the glory was," Gee said. "You win a tournament and then the media wants to talk to you. The dream was to win a bracelet. That's been my dream all along."

Unexpectedly, Gee's dream was realized fairly quickly as he captured his first WSOP bracelet in 2010, which garnered him vindication toward his unpopular decision to turn pro a couple of years earlier.

"When I won the bracelet, that kind of validated everything for me," he said. "Not just my family but my friends as well. They began to think that maybe I made the right decision. That was one of the most important things that it validates you as a poker player when you win that bracelet. … It was the greatest accomplishment of my life."

However, when asked to compare winning his 2010 WSOP bracelet with his current 2012 WSOP main event run, Gee admitted that it is no contest.

"I have to tell you that [2010] was an incredible feeling. It was a magical feeling. I didn't think I could ever top that. But there's no comparison in 2010 and 2012. The 2012 run is beyond belief."

As the day approaches for Gee to return to Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino, he didn't see the need for specific training for the WSOP main event final table.

"After all this time, you are who you are," he said. "The level that I am is the level that I'm at. I'm not going to be an Ivey overnight, and I'm not going to be a donkey overnight, either."

Gee may be the oldest player among the October Nine, battling for the most prestigious title in all of poker, but when the cards hit the air on Oct. 29, age won't make any difference.

"It doesn't matter if you're 20 or 50," Gee said. "It's just poker."

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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