Despite early fears expressed in the media, the 2007 World Series of Poker once again provided some of the biggest fields on record. Loaded with all-star talent and home-game heroes, the odds of one player winning two bracelets this year were ridiculously high. Enter Tom "Donkey Bomber" Schneider, a high-stakes cash game player who frequents the Bellagio and the one man who defied the odds on his way to winning two events at this year's WSOP.
Schneider was a shoe-in for the WSOP Player of the Year award after taking down two bracelets in two different poker disciplines at this year's World Series. He cruised to an easy Player of the Year victory after capturing the $2,500 Omaha/7-card stud high-low tournament and the $1,000 7-card stud high-low event. He earned $214,347 and $147,713 respectively after beating this year's tough professional-filled fields on his way to the top of the POY standings.
Having been introduced to the game at age 10 by his mother, Schneider soon found himself playing a couple of times a week with friends and came to cherish his newfound money-making hobby. Taking the money he was earning from babysitting his younger sister, Schneider began routinely taxing his friend's minimal bankrolls during sessions when he was supposed to be watching his sister. "In the end, I probably wasn't the best babysitter, but my sister is still alive, so I must have done something right," Schneider said.
Having found that he had skill at poker, Schneider began playing frequently during high school. He soon began keeping stats and records of his wins and losses. He and his friends would sneak into the school's band room and play during lunch period. After graduating high school in Phoenix, Schneider left for nearby Arizona State University to pursue a degree in finance.
Although his fraternity brothers didn't really play poker, Schneider did his best to stay on top of his game and he began applying many of the math principles involved in poker. "I think my degree played a reasonable role in my overall game because of the math involved," he said. "It was so helpful when it came to understanding the logistics of gambling. It's funny: You don't see a lot of advertising executives playing poker because it is not as creative as people like to think it is. It is much more of a structured and mathematical discipline than other forms of gambling, and that's why you see a lot of accountants and mathematicians playing."
At 21, Schneider finally decided to make his pilgrimage to Las Vegas, and he quickly found out that not all that glitters is truly gold.
"My first trip to Vegas was with my good friend Matt," he said. "We were both underage, but I had a beard and looked much older than 19. We drove out to the Sahara Casino from Arizona. It was amazing. I played $15/$30 stud and at the time I really knew nothing about the game. I had no clue. I really thought I was a good player, so that shows you how little I really knew. I called my girlfriend after going up $700 or $800 and started bragging. At the time, this was a lot of money for me. Needless to say, I had to go home with my tail between my legs after I lost all my money."
Despite having somewhat less-than-positive results on his first trip, Schneider decided that he needed to delve further into the game.
"My first trip also introduced me to the professional attitude of serious players," he said. "There was this guy that I could just tell played the game differently from me. He was very thoughtful about every decision and he told me how he made money on every trip. It was at this point that I realized there was more to the game than just seeing every hand and folding once in a while. He made a big impression on me."
After graduating college, Schneider's focus shifted from gaming to the corporate world, but he struggled early on. The only job Schneider could find was as a shoe salesman. Eventually moving on to become a loan officer, Schneider decided to take a shot at a career in the golf industry.
"I had always wanted to work for a golf company and decided to take a shot at it after I was laid off from a home-building job in California," he said. "On my way back to Arizona, I told my wife I was going to get a job at Ping. She didn't believe me and said I was crazy. Within one month, I became Ping's controller and managed the accounting department."
After landing a dream job with one of the industry's top companies, Schneider had to maintain a double life when it came to poker.
"Unfortunately, my job at Ping forced me to keep my poker playing a secret," he said. "They are a pretty Christian belief-based company and essentially frowned on the game. Plus, I was their controller, and the implications of having the guy in charge of your finances playing poker weren't exactly positive. I kept it quiet for five years. One day, one of the top guys came to visit me to talk about my playing. I was shocked that he knew I played. He was really nice about it. I tried to explain to him why I did what I did and that I was not a degenerate gambler."
After moving up the corporate ladder, Schneider found himself at the head of golf company Royal Precision, but found that he wasn't satisfied with the corporate life.
"I got tired of the corporate bump-and-grind after a while," he said. "I was sick of having to read 40 e-mails a day and return a ton of phone calls. I hated the memos. This was when I finally decided I was going to take a shot at a career in poker. I was working for a company at the time that wasn't able to keep up with its debts and that's really the opposite of the way I live. I don't owe people money. If I owe someone, I hunt him down -- it was really contrary to my principles. This isn't to say they were bad people, but it really wasn't me. I came to the conclusion that I could go and get a bad job anytime, so why not take a shot at playing for a living?"
In 2002, Schneider begin his career as a professional poker player and quickly found himself gravitating toward high-stakes cash game action. It didn't take long for the studious Schneider to decide that he had some theories on the game that could help other players. Drawing inspiration from one of the game's elite in Phil Hellmuth Jr., Schneider penned his thoughts and published "Oops! I Won Too Much Money: Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table."
"I was sitting at the table with Hellmuth in a $400/$800 mixed game at the Commerce," he said. "I like Phil, but at the tables he can be ridiculous and one day he started off on one of his typical rants. I thought to myself that if this guy can write a book and have people read it, maybe I could write one and give people a different perspective on life both at the tables and away from them. So in essence, Phil inspired me to write the book. I just wanted to offer something different. Phil offered strategy, so I offered life tools."
Having authored a book and also finding success in navigating the $400/$800 mixed games at Bellagio for a number of years, Schneider decided to set his sights on joining the game's elite at the 2007 WSOP. According to Schneider, he knew this year's WSOP was going to be special.
"It is a strange thing. Before the WSOP, I told my wife that I was going to focus on playing tournaments this year instead of playing in the side games," he said. "I told her my goal was to make three final tables and win Player of the Year. It feels kind of strange, because I did it. I wasn't on a television table, so it will be interesting to see if it has an effect on the way people see me. For me, it's an honor. Winning Player of the Year is like winning an Academy Award for an actor. You are recognized by your peers, so it feels really good."
Recognized at the tables for his jovial persona and dealer-friendly attitude, his multiple-bracelet wins once again proved good guys do finish first. Schneider offers this advice for those looking to make a run at next year's WSOP Player of the Year: "Read as much as you can, keep records and be honest with yourself about your play, and have the discipline to treat your bankroll like it is pure gold."
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