The celebrations are over for Steven van Zadelhoff and now the 2017 PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker Main Event champion is getting back to the thing he loves best; grinding. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t take some days off after winning $1.6 million though. The champ knew he had to celebrate it.
“There was a lot of champagne and drinks, it was fun. A lot of my swaps were there actually, so everybody was really excited. So the champagne was waiting for me and the day after we had a bit of a calmer dinner with friends,” said van Zadelhoff. “You don’t want to not enjoy that. It’s too good. I’m not saying it’s a once in a lifetime thing because I’m planning on doing more of these beautiful things. It is definitely smart to enjoy it.”
While he earned all of the headlines at the end of WCOOP, including a jump to #2 in the PocketFives Rankings, the previous three weeks included a couple of near misses but no real success; a 19th place finish in Event #3 High, an 11th place finish in Event #16 High, a 46th place finish in Event #66 Low.
“I was super close to already having a good WCOOP and the month before I won $70K or something like that, so I had a really good month, but then in WCOOP you can lose $40K,” said van Zadelhoff. “Luckily, two days before (WCOOP began) I won a $109 on PokerStars, so I had some ammo and we were feeling good and we could fire off.”
Yet when the Main Event started on September 24, van Zadelhoff had collected just $23,129.28 in winnings and when Day 1 of the Main Event wrapped up, it didn’t seem like things were going to turn around for him at all.
“We started with 50K and I think I ended Day 1 on 140K, which must have been way below average,” said van Zedelhoff. So when Day 2 started on the Monday, the Dutch grinder fired up his normal number of tables, just in case the Main Event ended abruptly for him.
“I started a normal session because I figured I really only had 25 big blinds or whatever and I still had to sneak into the money, so I didn’t do that much, that’s quite important with a short stack,” said van Zadelhoff. “I started a lot other tournaments, just a handful of decent ones and then all of a sudden I started running good in the big one and I had to stop registering because that one just starts to be worth so much money that it needs all the focus.”
The focus paid off as van Zadelhoff not only got into the money on Day 2, but built up a healthy stack and finished the day with a seemingly overwhelming chip lead with just nine players left. He’d calculated his equity heading into the final table was already at staggering $1.1 million. Putting his head on a pillow that night, van Zadelhoff was excited by the opportunity that was in front of him. Instead of his normal six or seven hours of sleep, he got four or five.
He was actually laying in bed, and started scrolling through his Facebook and WhatsApp messages when he suddenly remembered a 7% piece he’d sold before the Main Event began and he feared he hadn’t accounted for it on Saturday when he finalized all of his swaps.
“I jumped out of bed, walked to my computer and I saw in like two or three seconds that it was true, that I had not put it in the books correctly. So I missed out on 7% there,” said van Zadelhoff. The bad news didn’t stop there though. While he was looking up that message he noticed a Skype message from another friend wishing him good luck at the final table. “I scrolled up (in the chat) and yeah, another 5% and instantly my head flipped to the left to my books and I’m looking through the list and I also missed this one.”
With just hours to go before playing the most important final table of his career, van Zadelhoff was dealing with the fact that he’d forgotten to account for another 12% in pieces sold or swaps made. He had made both deals on Saturday night, after a long day of playing and was tired. He simply forgot to write them both down and it was all he could think about.
“In this specific moment I lose $130,000 in equity. It was one of the most horrible moments you can have on such a wonderful day,” said van Zadelhoff.
The more he thought about the mistake, the more concerned he was that it would have an impact on his play that day. He called some friends, explained the situation and then visited with another friend, hoping that venting about his mistake would help him feel better. As fate would have it, he’d already booked a session with his mindset coach, Jared Tendler, for that afternoon.
“It was already planned actually more or less just as a happy motivational talk. All of a sudden we had to have quite a deep session on stuff like this and where the whole thing comes from. It was really productive and after that session I felt good,” said van Zadelhoff.
In an effort to hit the reset button on his day, he meditated and took a quick nap before the final table started.
“I woke up 20 minutes before the tournament and I was ready to start. I knew I was going to crush it,” said van Zadelhoff. “That was amazing, this change from being completely destroyed by your own stupidity to being ready for the biggest game of your life, and feeling super confident. I’m super proud of that.”
Crush it indeed. The final table went about as smoothly as one could go. It took just over two hours to go from nine players to four and van Zadelhoff remained in control. Then, with just Bernardo ‘Machadada RS’ Rocha and Joshua ‘joshuah333’ Herman remaining, Rocha was the first to bring up the idea of chopping up the remaining money. The only change to the payout structure that van Zadelhoff was interested in was one that made it winner take all.
“The most important thing is the EV. I just think I win a lot more money if I just crush them, because they’re playing for second mainly. I’ll just play for the $1.6 million,” said van Zadelhoff. “I felt really great and I felt I could take down the title which makes it a bit more shiny. Plus, the fact that I only had a small piece for myself, the last thing I could do to try and win the most money for myself is just take it down without a deal.”
He did just that, eliminating Rocha in third and then Herman, who had briefly wrestled the chip lead from him, in second place. As the final board ran out, van Zadelhoff realized he was accomplishing something that he’d always knew was possible – but maybe not probable.
“In one way it was like a dream, because this is literally one of the things that I dreamed of doing for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years – dominating a final table like this. It’s amazing,” said van Zadelhoff. “And on the other hand, it feels completely normal and natural because I put in the work to do this. This is what I’ve been training for the last 10 years to be ready for this moment.”
That moment wasn’t actually worth $1.6 million for van Zadelhoff. Once he paid out his swaps and action sold, he was left with somewhere around $256,000. While it’s not seven figures, it was enough for van Zadelhoff to make the decision to start playing on his own dime and now he’s looking forward to the freedom and the pressure that situation will provide.
“I was on a backing deal before and now I’m not, so I can do whatever I want,” said van Zadelhoff. “I have more action for myself, I can still sell action for bigger tournaments. I’ll have to get used to it. I can (also) play different games now. I have to make a plan for all of that.”