Commentary

Madsen still in the spotlight

Updated: September 21, 2007, 5:53 PM ET
By BLUFF | Matt Parvis

It was a year ago when Jeff Madsen completed his improbable run at the World Series of Poker. At the time, he was the youngest to win a WSOP bracelet, and as if that wasn't impressive enough, he then became the youngest to win two. In fact, Madsen made four WSOP final tables last year in a variety of games: no-limit hold 'em, six-handed no-limit hold 'em, Omaha high-low, and seven-card stud high-low. All that and he claimed the title of WSOP Player of the Year.

In October 2006, I flew to Santa Barbara, Calif., to see firsthand how Madsen would fare in his final year of college. We got to see where he was living, who he was chilling with, and most importantly, what it was like to be a poker celeb in a college town. I had always planned to follow up with Jeff in the spring to see how things had gone down, but between his busy schedule and our big WSOP plans, somehow it didn't happen. Here at Bluff, however, we are persistent, which is why I spent the WSOP following Madsen around.

The World Series was in full swing and Madsen had already busted out of the main event when I got the call to come on over to his new place in Las Vegas. Pulling up to his house in the Spanish Trails area of Vegas, it was apparent things had changed in his life. It has only been nine months, but this place was a lot different from the collegiate atmosphere of the "Marley House" where Madsen lived in Santa Barbara. First off, there were no beer pong tables outside; no huge Bob Marley mural on the front of the house; no beer bottles lying around the front lawn, and no super seniors lounging around the porch. The only thing that seemed familiar was the Lexus we drove around in last October.

Madsen was waiting at the door to show me my first glimpse of the new pad. The place was still clearly a work in progress. There was a mattress on the living room floor facing a giant television, which had a DVD player resting on its own box. He proceeded to give me the grand tour. The bedroom was probably the most put-together room in the place. He no longer shared a room, and he now had a grown-up bed. Oh, and the huge television in the living room? Well, there was an even larger one installed on the wall across from the bed. Not a bad place to kick back and watch a movie before hitting the sack after a long night of check-raising. The rest of the house, as Madsen concurred, was pretty barren. He pointed out an empty space that may soon house a poker table and confessed he has only been upstairs when giving tours of the place.

After a couple of minutes, we were joined by Madsen's friend and fellow 2006 WSOP bracelet winner, Brandon Cantu. The two of them, along with some buddies, had just gotten back from a tough Sunday afternoon at Rehab (a pool party at the Hard Rock). Cantu is actually Jeff's next-door neighbor. Back in January, Madsen began chilling at Cantu's pad, and one day decided to build a house right next door. The two of them have become close friends and it's pretty clear they spend a lot of time in each other's houses. Cantu even mentions that the mattress on the living room floor is his (whether it's actually his, or he just crashes on it, is unclear). Another crew member spotted wandering around the house was the ironically named Fluffy, Cantu's hairless cat.

It's not an easy task following up four WSOP final tables and two bracelets, but Madsen has done an admirable job so far. In December 2006, he finished third in one of the $2,500 Bellagio preliminary events for a cool $90,000. But it was Bay 101 that still sickens him the most. He tells me it was his most disappointing moment in poker. Madsen was the chip leader by a pretty sizable margin going into the nine-handed final table -- the dreaded TV bubble. He should have pulled back, he says, and let himself cruise into the final six, guaranteeing himself a spot at his first WPT final table. Instead, he turned up the aggression, becoming almost reckless. He found himself doubling up multiple opponents, while his own stack dwindled. Before he knew it, he was out, busting in eighth place for $100,000. Now, $100,000 isn't a small win, but in this case, it was about $1 million short of first place.

"That was a very expensive lesson," Madsen says with a shudder.

Expensive indeed, but remember how far he's come at such a young age. If he can learn these lessons at 21, there is no telling what he could accomplish down the road.

Coming into the World Series, there was a lot of pressure on Madsen as the reigning WSOP Player of the Year (for which, incidentally, he is still awaiting some sort of prize). Could he repeat this feat?

Most people who know poker knew it was hugely improbable. Moreover, he was playing under a completely different set of circumstances this year. In 2006, he was just Jeff Madsen, a college kid on summer vacation. This year he was Jeff Madsen! At every table he played, he was recognized and a target. He had side bets with friends. He was dating an MTV reality star. He was living it up in Vegas. And he had the pressure of trying to duplicate a performance that seemed impossible even the first time around.

I won't get into particulars, because Jeff wanted to update you in his own column, but things didn't start out too well at the WSOP. In one of his side bets, he cross-booked for up to $150,000 with Gavin Smith. For those of you unfamiliar with cross-booking, this is a practice in which both players play in the same events. If Smith cashes for $75,000 and Madsen cashes for $50,000, Madsen would owe Smith the difference, $25,000. When I asked Madsen why he would wager such a large amount, he shrugged.

"I am a gambler now and this is what I do," he said. "I felt very confident going into the WSOP that I would have a very good Series, which is why I made the bet."

Smith quickly seized the lead, however, by taking second place in event No. 4 for $155,645. As if there weren't enough pressure already, now Madsen was in the hole for $150,000! As we all know, losing any amount of money stings, but Madsen didn't seem fazed. I expected him to tell me he made a mistake gambling for such a large number, but nope, he didn't regret it. It just rolled off him as if he'd lost a $20 bill.

The cross-booking wasn't the only thing on the line at this year's WSOP. He also joined Smith and Joe Sebok in a friendlier wager. You may remember last year, when Sebok was forced to dress like a superhero during all the Day 1s at last year's WSOP main event, after losing a bet to Smith. This year, it was a three-man bet. The two losers would carry in on a throne whoever had the best World Series leading up to the main event, and the losers would be wearing court jester outfits. Unfortunately for Madsen, he came on the losing end of this one as well. Sebok took the crown (literally), and it was up to the other two to don the costumes for their respective starting days.

It was a proud moment for all when Madsen walked in surrounded by cameras in a red-and-black jester costume -- especially for me, since I had picked out and purchased the costume myself. All eyes were on him as he took to the felt that day, his jester bells hanging down, covering his face like a visor. The costume didn't hinder him, though -- maybe it was good luck. He finished the day with about $80,000 in chips. The real bad beat came two days later, when it was Smith's turn to wear the jester suit. But Smith bought himself out of the bet and Madsen seemed a little bitter when we spoke about it. He was disappointed that they had all agreed on something and, after he had been willing to embarrass himself, Smith was able to duck out. I guess it's just another lesson learned for the young Mr. Madsen.

As you all know, Jeff has a running column in Bluff each month in which he is very open about his life and loves to share his whirlwind ride in the poker world with all of our readers. One area that had always been a bit iffy, however, was the subject of school. When we left him in our last article, Jeff was in his final year of Film Studies, getting ready to graduate in May. Unfortunately, the poker lifestyle just didn't allow that to happen. As Jeff says, when you are playing the circuit, there is so much traveling that it gets so hard to keep up. Given the opportunities that Jeff has been offered, I guess it's hard to say no. Most of us would drop everything on a dime. He recounts telling his mom on the phone during a drive back to L.A. from Vegas.

"First she told me I was finishing school and getting my degree, but by the time we got off the phone she understood, and was very supportive of my decision," he said.

Madsen still has that same passion for film, but he felt that with everything going on it was best to focus his energy in one direction, instead of doing a shabby job on multiple projects. He even says he's thinking about getting a small setup of equipment and working on some independent films in Vegas.

It seemed like a good time to bring up some of the rumors floating around the poker forums. There are people out there claiming that Madsen is mixed up in a very volatile lifestyle -- too much drinking, drugs, and so on. For the record, I can let you know that Jeff is fine. There is no drug problem, and the partying he does do is pretty normal for a 22-year-old bachelor living in Vegas. I asked Jeff if he reads the forums, and what he thinks. He does occasionally check out the forums, he replies, but as for bothering him, that's a negative. People love to create rumors based on a few pictures or some overheard piece of gossip. Ninety-nine percent of the time these rumors are false.

"You just have to laugh at them," says Madsen.

I was genuinely amazed by talking to Madsen and hanging out with him during the 2007 WSOP. So much has changed in the past year, and you can really see how much "The Kid" is growing up. Last year he was truly the fresh-faced youngster that everyone pinned him to be. Now, well, it's clear that Jeff is here to stay. He may not have had a great Series this year, but he's maturing as a player and learning how he needs to adjust to stay on top. And mark my words, we will be hearing a lot from Mr. Madsen at the poker table in the coming year.

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