Pro poker player Gee seeks to step up intensity in World Series of Poker

Steve Gee hasn’t played much poker since the end of July.

What poker he has played hasn’t been very profitable.

These revelations might seem surprising.

Gee, a 57-year-old professional poker player from Sacramento, Calif., is about to embark on his biggest and most high-profile card game since he dedicated his efforts to the activity full time four years ago.

After a near four-month break, the World Series of Poker’s Main Event resumes Monday afternoon at the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater. Nine players – survivors from a starting field of 6,598 – resume action in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship.

The winner is looking at a payday of more than $8.5 million.

Gee is sitting in fifth place with 16.86 million in chips, almost 27 million behind the leader, Jessie Sylvia of Las Vegas.

But Gee isn’t concerned about his current situation. He knows from firsthand experience his seeding can change quickly on just one or two hands.

"I really believe I am one of the better players left at the table," Gee said. "But you still have to get lucky and you have to put yourself into position to win."

Gee enters play Monday as the only player to have won a World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelet before this year.

In 2010, Gee won a $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, topping a field of more than 3,000 players to earn $472,479. He has won money at three other World Series of Poker events since 2009.

He will also be the oldest player at the table that includes eight Americans and a Hungarian.

"I’m not worried about the endurance," Gee said. "It’s mental toughness that’s important."

Gee hasn’t played much poker since the final table was set on July 17. He played at the World Series of Poker Europe in Cannes, France, but didn’t have much success. Gee also found a similar rough going at the Legends Tournament at the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles.

Those poor showings, though, haven’t deterred him.

His experience at this year’s Main Event showed he could reach the final table even if he had to battle through some peril.

On Day 6, Gee was down to his last 1.38 million in chips and was forced to grind his way back into contention, including doubling his chip stack when his pair of pocket aces topped another player’s pocket queens.

On Day 7, when the field was at 27 players, Gee began play in 22nd place.

He doubled his chip stack early and then tripled his chip count when his pair of eights held as the winning hand after several furious rounds of betting.

Gee remained firmly in contention the rest of the way.

"That was a big hand for me," Gee said. "It seemed like the first seven days I was always in the bottom 10 percent of the field. I was never on the leader board."

Gee thought his play was superior in the three Main Events before this year’s tournament, even though he didn’t cash.

"I just got a bad beat every year," Gee said. "This summer, I don’t think I played as well as I did in the past, but I just got more lucky breaks."

Now Gee hopes to turn that luck into a multimillion-dollar payday.

The good news about his up-and-down play during the Main Event was that he did not get much television time on ESPN’s taped coverage. That way, he is somewhat of a mystery to rest of the field.

"All my friends have been wondering if I really made the final table because they didn’t see me on television," Gee said.

Others at the final table appeared more frequently on TV, allowing Gee to study their play.

"I’ve been able to watch my opponents and learn their tendencies," Gee said. "I know some of the players have gotten coaches and are playing a lot of poker. I didn’t get a coach during the last few months because I’m not going to change who I am overnight."

Gee, who is originally from China, has been playing poker competitively since his early 20s. As a teenager, he played nickel-dime-quarter games until he was old enough to enter California card rooms.

During that time, he earned a degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from California State University, Sacramento. Gee eventually went to work as a manager for the California Public Employees Retirement System. He put the career track aside in 2008 to concentrate on poker.

"Poker was getting popular," Gee said. "I wanted to win a bracelet now. I didn’t want to wait until I was 70."

Gee is also an avid tennis player, which he calls his favorite pastime.

Poker, however, is much more profitable.

"The Main Event is the greatest tournament out there," Gee said. "It’s the only tournament there is that can literally change your life."

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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