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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Joe Sebok

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Joe Sebok spent his college days at Berkeley, moved into the .com world after college, and then turned his attention to poker. He had a family member who knew a little bit about it, his father Barry Greenstein. He made a big splash in the 2005 World Series of Poker, with two final tables. 2006 started with a bang, as he won back to back tournaments at the Mirage and in LA. He’s proving, on his own, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

CC: Tell us about poker and growing up for you.

Joe: Poker for me was nonexistent when I was a child. It was what my father did for a living, but of course it wasn't as accepted as it is now, so I felt very strange telling anyone about it. He really kept me completely out of it, though. We never even had a conversation about the game until I was 27 and decided to go into it myself. He couldn't have made a better decision regarding this as I was able to go out and have so many amazing life experiences that I wouldn't have had I been pursuing poker that early. There is a certain kind of obsession that accompanies one's delving into the game. I understand that now and am glad that I didn't have to contend with it when I was young.

CC: You’ve talked about the great experience UC Berkeley. What was it for you?

Joe: Berkeley for me was the place where I really started to learn who I was and what I was all about. It’s still one of my favorite places in the world to this day. I think the best way to describe Berkeley is this: it’s the kind of place where the kid you have a discussion with regarding existential philosophy is the same kid that you see screaming at the Cal football game that weekend, is the same kid that you do beer bongs with at a party on Saturday night, is the same kid who gets an ‘A’ on his Organic Chemistry midterm and screws up the curve for you, is the same kid that you would see dancing at an underground rave, is get the picture. Everyone did everything there and it was such a hotbed of energy and excitement for me while I was there. I loved it.

CC: What did you pursue after college?

I graduated directly into the San Francisco dotcom scene and so it was a natural fit for me. I loved the excitement generated by attempting to build a company from the ground up. It really is infectious when everyone around you is fired up about what they are doing and willing to put in 15 hour days to try and make it happen. It was also great because it enabled young kids to move into positions of leadership if they wanted that. I did, and it worked out for me. All that, and the beer pong matches were beyond classic!

CC: What initiated your interest in poker?

Joe: It was around 2002 and I had been laid off about four times from dotcoms. I decided to just “check out” and travel for awhile. I returned from those travels not sure what I wanted to jump into next. I knew that normal corporate America was not for me, but I wasn’t sure what was for me at that point. I had a conversation with my dad about poker and asked, just off the cuff, if he thought that I could have made it playing poker professionally. It wasn’t that I wanted to do it; I was just curious what he thought. He was so adamant in his answer that I could have done it that it sparked my interest. The rest is history...

CC: What stakes and where did you play starting at?

Joe: I actually started out playing fake money games and running computer simulations with some software I bought. I did this for about three months before I got up the balls to step out and actually enter a casino. I headed to Lucky Chances, just outside of San Francisco, and started playing the $2-4 and $3-6 limit games there. I generally did pretty well in those starting out, but got really fired up when I entered their weekly limit holdem tournament after playing live for about a week. I was very lucky and finished 3rd, and after that I was hooked.

CC: Any challenges during your first months playing?

Joe: My challenge in poker has always been reigning in my aggressive streak. I grew up playing sports year round and so I always thought that I could just jack up my activity level and that would enable me to dominate the fields. While this can help in physical sports, playing wildly and erratically usually will get you in trouble in poker. I just needed to slow down, and that was certainly true in those early months. I got beat up a few times pretty badly.

CC: Being exposed, literally, to the greatest players playing the biggest stakes anywhere in the world would overwhelm most of us during our early development. How did observing these games and players impact your development?

Joe: Well, it was never really overwhelming in the regard you are referring to. I was lucky enough to get advice from people like Chau Giang and Phil Ivey, but they always were really soft with me, knowing that I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I was starting from scratch. My toughest critic has always been Bear, so in that sense it made me need to develop a thicker skin quickly. He can be a little rough and I think even more so with people that he really loves. It probably just stems from wanting me to succeed so badly and taking it personally when I make boneheaded mistakes. I think he often feels that he didn’t prepare me adequately when he sees that, so in essence he is really frustrated not only at me, but also himself. Luckily I had also learned algebra from him, so I knew how he was going in. With all that said, he has been the best teacher I could have imagined and has probably chopped a good 6-7 years off of my learning curve already. No joke.

CC: For your first WSOP, you had just an incredible series of results, reaching two final tables. First, how did you prepare going into the WSOP?

Joe: I didn’t prepare at all going into last year’s WSOP because I didn’t have a clue what to expect or really how to prepare. I barely even knew how to play at all, so it really is a miracle that I was able to put up the results that I did. Honestly, it will always be one of the weirdest anomalies in my life that I was able to do that.

CC: What events did you play leading up to the $5k Event #20?

Joe: I played every holdem event available last year, so every one of those leading up to the 5k.

CC: Your first cash and final table in the $5k PLHE event had you at a final table filled with some terrific players. How do you feel you played, and what did you take away from that result?

Joe: I played tragically awful at the final table because I really didn’t know how to play yet. I was unbelievably nervous because I didn’t know whether my decisions were correct or not. The TV exposure didn’t bother me at all, but the fact that I had the potential to do something idiotic and lose, which is exactly what happened, is what plagued me. I am never afraid of failing at anything, but it doesn’t set well with me when I cause that failure myself. Luckily that is happening less and less these days.

CC: You then made a second final table in the $5k LHE Event 28, your pocket 3’s being chased down by Annie Duke’s K-7, in 5th place. What do you remember about that event?

Joe: It was basically the same situation as the PLH final table. I was just scared and hoping I didn’t do anything stupid. I managed to get the chip lead at the table, but squandered it away with a lack of maturity and experience. I really felt that I should have won this tournament, and I think I would if we held the same event today, we all got to the final table the same way, and we got the same cards. I have just grown up a lot and my game has as well. I was disappointed, to say the least.

CC: You seem to focus a great deal on tourneys. Is that the case, or do you have a mix of cash games with tourneys?

I play both, but tournaments are where the adrenaline is and where the threat of death is. In a tournament you can die, figuratively of course. When you run out of chips, that’s it. It’s over. I enjoy the added stress of this possibility vs. a cash game. I have chosen to focus more on those because that’s just what I enjoy more and I feel that I am better at. The pressure doesn’t get to me there, and I think I have an advantage over my opponents because of it.

CC: Where and what do you play?

Joe: If I am in LA, I typically play at the Commerce. In Vegas, it’s usually the Bellagio. You can usually catch me playing limit anywhere from $30-60 to $80-160 and no limit in whatever game is being run. If I am playing online it’s usually on Full Tilt, playing the same level of games.

CC: You went through a challenging time after the WSOP in the fall and winter, where results in the big tourneys just didn’t happen. How difficult was that time for you and how did you turn it around?

Joe: That time absolutely drove me nuts. I am not used to not being able to perform in whatever it is I am doing, so I was going crazy. With that said, in everything I have ever learned in life, I have always raced out to a quick start and then had to deal with a regression period, which is exactly what happened in poker. I felt a little lost and like I was trying to play catch-up. Luckily I came out of it though and recorded a couple of wins in May, and now I feel primed and ready to go for the WSOP coming up. Those two wins really enabled me to just be comfortable with my game and know that I can play.

CC: How different was your performance during May than in the previous months?

Joe: The main difference in my play was basically just slowing down and taking more time, as well as not continually trying to run over the table regardless of game circumstances. Poker players need to be able to shift gears when the time calls for it, and I hadn’t been doing that effectively.

CC: You’ve been working on a variety of different things away from the table. Tell us what you’re pursuing.

Joe: I am just trying to take over the world. Nothing too big. Seriously though, poker has enabled me to get involved with many different projects that I have been stoked about. I write all the time for several different magazines/sites, as well as currently co-hosting our radio show, “The Circuit”, which is an absolute blast. We are hoping to blow the show up pretty huge, so stay tuned to see what happens with it next. As well, I will be doing some of the color commentary for the Fox Sports’ PokerDome series, starting after the WSOP, and this will hopefully open up a few other doors to do some additional broadcasting. Other than that I am always looking for new projects to get involved with, so stay tuned. I get bored pretty easy...

CC: How difficult is it to balance your outside interests and your poker performance?

Joe: This is incredibly difficult, to be honest with you. If you want to succeed in anything though, you have to apply yourself and be willing to sacrifice for it. I am sacrificing a certain amount of my personal life right now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way...for now. People close to me would probably like to change a few things though...

CC: How do you prepare for a big tournament?

Joe: I really don’t do much out of the ordinary. I just make sure that I get enough sleep the night before and then make sure that I go running the morning of. The running is sort of meditative and keeps me calm once I sit down at the tables.

CC: Your results in May indicate that you are in form heading into the WSOP. What are your plans regarding events that you’ll be playing?

Joe: Same as above. The WSOP is going to be hectic though, for all players, and we are going to have to do some juggling in order to keep our sanity. Still, it’s a problem that I think all of us love; poker being huge. We are just going to need to make sure that we leave enough time for ourselves to rest and stay focused. It’ll be tough, but I am sure I’ll find a way. I just want to play well and then I believe the results will take care of themselves. If I had to throw it out there, it is certainly to win a bracelet...or four. Ha-ha. I feel like I am capable this year and just want to have a good showing.

CC: Harrah’s is anticipating record numbers for the events this year. What couple of thoughts would you give to someone entering their first WSOP tourney?

Joe: Just play your game. Don’t try and deviate from what you know and what you are comfortable with. I tried last year and it was my downfall. Also, just focus on your table and what is going on there. It doesn’t matter how many players there are or how much time is left normally. You will do much better if you just focus on playing poker.

CC: Finally, how do you think you’ve changed, personally and professionally, since this time last year?

Joe: I am much more focused and much more aware of how to win tournaments and how to manipulate other players at my table. I just think I am a more complete poker player now, and hopefully a little tougher for my opponents to handle. I am really having a blast and loving everything I have been able to get involved in this past year. I just hope it continues and I am lucky enough to keep doing things that I love.

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