Ian Steinman is only 30 years old, but for those that have followed the career of the young poker pro his recent gold bracelet victory in World Series of Poker Event #27 ($400 No Limit Hold’em Freezout) for $110,557 was a long time coming.
“I’m still kind of shocked by it,” Steinman said. “I kind of expected it to happen, but when it did I was like…I don’t know…it’s definitely really cool. A lot of people have been telling me they’re happy for me. It’s good to see other people are happy for me.”
When Steinman says he “expected it” it’s spoken without an ounce of self-congratulation or ego. In fact, it’s the opposite. It comes from a place of a player who has grown up in the game and evolved into a consummate pro. A pro who understands that through hard work and volume and by putting himself in a position to win, with time, it would come.
“At the same time, it’s just one poker tournament that I won,” he quickly added. “I usually don’t get excited about winning any one tournament, but this one was a little more important to me.”
“But if there’s anything to be a little bit too excited about, it’s probably winning a bracelet. I like to kind of keep my emotions in check with poker, but I think it’s one of those times where you can kind of celebrate and be a little different than usual and treat it like something special.”
That celebration was put on display in a video shot by his brother, Justin, that made the rounds after Steinman’s victory. In it, a stone-faced Steinman, zeroed in on his screen sees the final card hit and finally explodes with emotion.
— Justin Steinman (@JTSteinman) July 28, 2020
The video captures not just a moment of a big score but perhaps a moment of some relief. Steinman has spent half his life pursuing poker. At first playing home games with his friends, dreaming about winning a bracelet like Chris Moneymaker who they watched on ESPN. After he found his way to online poker as a teenager, Steinman took to grinding the daily tournaments at the old Bay 101 in San Jose, CA, just outside his hometown of Mountain View, battling against players like recent bracelet winner Pat Lyons.
A move to Carson City, NV allowed Steinman to play on WSOP.com where he became a top-10 ranked player in the U.S. and took down the 2016 WSOP.com leaderboard. And since 2017, he’s also won four WSOP Circuit rings. But even after all of that, the bracelet feels special.
“I guess I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s a little bit of the validation,” he said. “I wish I could just say, ‘No, it’s just another day,’ but it’s a World Series event. I’m 30, so when Moneymaker won and it started being on TV, I was like 14, 15 years old. Me and all my friends were always talking about trying to win a bracelet, so not just for myself, but for some of the people around me that have been telling me that I’m going to be able to win and they wanted me to win.”
“It’s more just the sense that I can tell my friends or even my mom. She’s probably more excited than I was because she knows how badly I wanted to win one, especially when I was 15 years old.”
But that moment might not have been possible if it weren’t for the lessons Steinman learned along the way. He’d had been close before to a major title before. This includes his deep run in the 2018 World Poker Tour Rolling Thunder Main Event where he made an amazing, in-the-moment, correct fold of a set of kings to WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehan.
“I mean, you’ve probably seen the video of that fold. I sit there for like, I don’t know, probably an extra minute, saying ‘I’m the worst, I’m the worst’ before I folded. It was definitely a little bit of, I knew I was going to fold, but I also knew I was on a live stream and the hole cards were up. I knew that I would be wrong sometimes making that fold. But I didn’t care. That was the main thing I really didn’t care at all what I looked like. I’m just trying to do what I think is best.”
“So that kind of gave me that confidence. Because even if I wrong, I don’t think it would bother me. That’d be pretty funny, because I’d be the guy who folded a set to somebody’s eight high or whatever,” he said. “I don’t care if Doug Polk makes a video saying how bad you are or whatever. Just make the decision you think is right.”
He finished as the runner-up that day, but he walked away with a career-high live score of over $200,000.
Just one month later, Steinman was in position yet again. This time in a $1,500 WSOP No Limit Hold’em tournament. With a healthy chip lead in heads-up play against Eric Baldwin, all the chips were in the middle and Steinman was ahead in the hand. He lost that hand and ended finishing as the runner-up, earning his second six-figure score in a month’s time and ultimately missing out on the bracelet.
“I lost that heads up, and at first I treated it like it wasn’t a big deal, but it kind of did affect me a little bit. Like I was definitely a little bit on an emotional low. Not in a huge way, but, yeah, it’s funny, something about the bracelet events that kind of get me on those highs and those lows in particular.”
Steinman is on a high and his persistence has paid off with his recent victory. He adds a new landmark experience to draw from when he will undoubtedly be in a big spot again. That includes taking it all in.
“Just be in the moment, do what you can, and then accept the outcome either way. If that’s a win, just enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with enjoying it. Some people, yeah, they want to be robots. They want to act like they’ve been there before. But I hadn’t been there before, so I don’t mind looking like I hadn’t been there before.”
Only now, after a decade of evolving as a pro, Steinman can act like he’s been there before because he has.