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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Steve Zolotow

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The first time I ever read about Steve Zolotow was in Katy Lederer’s Poker Face: A Girl Among Gamblers.  Lederer is the younger sister of Howard Lederer and Annie Duke, so the stories she told in the book were predictably both entertaining and intriguing.  One of Howard’s competitors and friends at the Mayfair Club in New York City was Steve Zolotow, better known as Steve Z.  There is sometimes a misconception in the world of poker that the game made everyone rich as opposed to rich people playing the game.  Sure, the game has made plenty of people rich, but a lot more made money doing other things before going after a full-time poker career.  

Before anyone had ever heard of Zolotow in the poker world and Howard Lederer for that matter, he was betting hundreds of thousands of dollars a game on sports bets.  Zolotow became richer because of his poker playing skills, but he was already a financially set man before he came to the game.  But how he got involved in the unconventional life of gambling is just as interesting of a story as his successes from playing games.

Steve Zolotow grew up in New York City, New York, and like a lot of people we’ve profiled in this series had a great interest in a variety of games when he was a child.  Obviously most kids like a variety of games when they are small, but not many of them are taking a strategic approach, and learning as much statistical data of the game they are playing, like Zolotow was.  One of the games Zolotow was interested in was poker, but he spent most of his time playing chess and backgammon.  When Zolotow was growing up in New York City, during the mid to late 60’s, backgammon had a huge following, so there was always a game to be played, usually for money.  Still as a young adult, as interested as he was in backgammon and other games he still wanted to get a college education, despite not knowing what he wanted to do for a career.

Zolotow earned degrees in both statistics and finance, two subjects that interested him.  After college Zolotow pursued a brief acting career that didn’t work out, and he was left wondering what he wanted to do.  In interviews over the years he has said the last thing he wanted to do was become a cab driver or a bartender, because he wanted a unique life experience.  He remembered his affection for games as a child and young adult, so he became a gambler.  At this point there was still money to be made at backgammon, and living in New York City there was a lot of underground clubs that offered games around the clock.

It was during this time that Zolotow became one of the regulars at the Mayfair Club in New York City.  The Mayfair Club, closed in 2000, was a private club held in a basement that has gained a legend like status in the world of poker because of the number of now famous poker players who came out of the club.  Some of the famous players who were regulars at the club were Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, Erik Seidel, and Jay Heimowitz.  Zolotow originally found the club because of the backgammon, but stayed for the bridge, chess, sports gambling, and poker.  From here on out, starting around the early 80’s, he played poker regularly, but for most of the 80’s considered himself a professional sports gambler.
In the mid 80’s Zolotow began making trips to Las Vegas with some of the other guys from the Mayfair Club to play poker, particularly when they went for the World Series of Poker.
In 1985 Zolotow made his first cash in a WSOP event, finishing 9th in the $1,000 Limit Omaha Event.  Over the next three years Zolotow made a final table each year in an Omaha event, finishing 5th in all of them.  Despite the positive results Zolotow still didn’t consider himself a professional poker player.  It wasn’t until the early 90’s that he started playing tournaments on a regular basis.  In 1993 he cashed in two more WSOP events, finishing 11th and 14th, again great finishes, but again agonizingly close to a bracelet.  Zolotow finally broke through in 1995 when he won the $5,000 Chinese Poker WSOP event for $112,500.  It’s sort of fitting that Zolotow won a bracelet in Chinese Poker because of Chinese Poker being considered more a gimmick type of game as opposed to a true form of poker.  Regardless of what anyone thought about the win, the $112,000 he collected for the victory was no gimmick.  That same year Zolotow finished in 5th place in yet another Omaha event.
Zolotow says he doesn’t have a favorite type of poker game, instead saying his favorite game is one with “weak, wealthy players.”  Zolotow has made a lot of money over the years looking for games that fit his criteria.  As a true “gamer” Zolotow has expressed a bit of sadness that No Limit Hold’em is far and away the most popular poker game, as he feels people are missing out on a lot of other games just because of popular opinion.  Regardless, it hasn’t stopped Zolotow from being a highly successful cash game player.

In case there were a few people out there that hadn’t taken Zolotow’s Chinese poker bracelet seriously, he erased all doubts when he won the 2001 $3,000 Texas Hold’em pot limit event for $243,335.  He made yet another final table that year, finishing 7th in the Seven Card Stud hi-lo event.  For his career Zolotow has cashed in 36 events, with just about half of those being final tables.  He has shown his skill in all aspects of poker, as he has made a final table in just about every type of game offered at the series, including the 2008 $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. final table, where he finished in 6th place.
All too often with success comes controversy, and that didn’t escape Zolotow.  In a story that was blown out of proportion by the accounts of many, thanks to internet poker forums mainly, Zolotow was seen on HBO’s show Cathouse.  Cathouse is a legal brothel outside of Las Vegas, but because of the connotation with brothels, Zolotow’s actions were questioned.  He addressed the situation by interview and stated that he was invited for drinks, along with another poker player, by the proprietor of the Cathouse, and happened to be in the background while the crew was filming.  It’s no secret that poker players can have questionable friends, but the simple way of looking at this is that he wasn’t, or did he do, anything illegal.

Zolotow got to relieve some memories with his friends from the Mayfair Club when he was featured on NBC’s Poker After Dark alongside Mayfair alum.  Finally, Zolotow, who tried so hard to avoid being a bartender as a young adult, now owns a handful of bars around the United States.  Z is a Full Tilt Poker Pro, look for him online.

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