- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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Watch Steve Begleiter's main event journey every Tuesday night at 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. ET
Right before the start of Day 7 in Las Vegas, my phone rang. My brother, who isn't really a poker fan whatsoever, had caught onto something during this year's coverage. He told me that a former Bear Stearns employee was still in the field and had a solid chip stack. Now, if there's one thing I know about my brother is that he doesn't just bring things to my attention for any reason. This guy would be a big deal. Without hesitation, I found this Steven Begleiter guy and introduced myself, prepared to follow his action throughout the final two days. Sure enough, around 40 hours later, Begleiter would be standing in front of a pile of cash next to eight other men, each with hopes of becoming poker's world champion.
It's tough to defeat 6,485 players during a poker tournament and be modest about it, but it seems that Begleiter has accomplished both challenges with ease. Begleiter, a 47-year-old father of three from Chappaqua, N.Y., enters the WSOP main event final table third in chips and, as if he needed some additional pressure, isn't playing only for himself, but for 21 others who share a total of 20 percent of his winnings as a result of Begleiter's winning his seat from a local poker league.
The former Bear Stearns executive is now a senior principal at Flexpoint Ford, a private equity firm focused on financial services and health care. Begleiter has remained busy at work during the four-month hiatus and believes that keeping on task has been a great distraction from the final table ahead.
"Some of the guys at the final table are only poker players," said Begleiter. "They get up every day and play poker, unless it's maybe a day they get up and choose not to. I'm not. I don't play poker all the time so I need something else to occupy my mind. Otherwise, I'd go crazy thinking of the final table and all the dynamics of it. I have a very good job. It's a very fulfilling job and it requires my full mental commitment, and while I've sacrificed some of it to prepare for the main event, it's still my weekly bread and butter and it's been a blessing to keep my mind off of November 7th."
Splitting the focus between poker and work has been a success so far for Begleiter, who admitted that he won't be playing any poker after the middle of October until he arrives in Las Vegas. Concentrating on the final table, he doesn't have a game plan yet, but as he said on the Inside Deal, he didn't have much of a game plan in July except for the plan of reaching this point. Comparing himself to the likes of Phil Ivey, he believes he isn't the best player at the table, and he is constantly working toward honing his skills through talking through situations with people he respects.
The Breakdown: Steven Begleiter
Being in the financial world, Steven Begleiter is used to seeing money change hands on a daily basis. However, on Nov. 7, it will be up to Begleiter to see if he can add another $8.5 million to his portfolio.
Current position: Third
Chip count: $29.89 million
Tournament winnings: $1,292,842
WSOP final tables: 1
WSOP cashes: 1
Given his recent actions at the poker table, he's the one that many have come to respect. Begleiter finished ninth at the Legends of Poker World Poker Tour stop weeks after the final table concluded. Without a question, people began to notice. As he headed to London for the World Series of Poker Europe main event, he caught up with a number of well-known players who he now recognizes as opponents during his main event run. The difference is now they want to talk to him. He's taking everything in stride, enjoying the fleeting poker spotlight and understanding that what lies ahead will solely depend on his finish in November.
"My results will define a little bit what my opportunities are," he said. "I hope to play the main event every year, that's a lot of fun. How much I do beyond that will depend how well I do I really haven't spent much time thinking about it. I really got to do well on November 7th."
There were times during a recent conversation when Begleiter referred to himself as the "everyman." He said that anyone can win and all it takes is a little determination and focus.
"You need to be thinking the whole time," he said regarding what it would take for an amateur to make it deep. "You get two cards and you get to observe people and you have total control over your decision-making process. I learned a lot during the course of the main event. Anyone can get in there, get some cards, get some chips and figure things out that weren't apparent to them at the start -- and if things break their way, they can do very well."
Being surrounded by those who care for you also helps you keep on task, and when the cards hit the air in the Penn & Teller Theater, Begleiter's support staff will be present. He admits that it's hard to keep track of who is coming, but Begleiter's league mates as well as family will do what they can to help him out. Even though his children can't be table-side, they'll still be with him throughout the night.
"It's going to be a very nice feel for me having everyone around," said Begleiter, who noted that he was trying to get his children to be in the theater, but due to age restrictions, will have to find an alternate method to watch the event.
No matter where he finishes, the experience is going to be one that he'll remember. His contacts in the financial world seem to be endless, and he is reaching a similar level in the poker industry through just these few months of exposure.
"I've met a lot of people in the poker world and I've really enjoyed it," he said. "I now have another niche in my life where I can really be comfortable. Any given Sunday I can compete with the top poker players. I'm not saying I'm better than them, but I have a chance."
During the last few days in Vegas, he proved it. Watching his chip count go up and down, Begleiter maintained his composure and pulled through. Making it to the final table in third was just the first step, but playing the final table is a completely different beast.
"Day 8, when the pressure was really on, I thought I played well and made the right decisions," he said. "I think it's going to take a lot of patience and discipline [to win the final table]. The normal war of attrition will require a number of levels to be played, and I'm going into this game well-rested, well-prepared to hopefully go way past midnight.
"I think it's important not to think of [the final table] as too important," he continued. "I think you need to go in there and just be ready to play your game. I just want to go in on November 7th the same way I went in on Day 8 in Vegas."
Day 8 was the first time that Begleiter began to realize the championship could be his. As players began to drop around him and only 14 players remained, Begleiter was sitting in a very special place.
"I was sitting in a seat where I was sort of staring at the case where the bracelet was kept," he said. "I remember looking up and thinking 'Wow, that's the bracelet. I actually have a chance. Don't blow it.'"
Will Begleiter be able to turn what was simply an enjoyable home game experience into a dream result? If he does, we might be looking at 22 smiling faces with one family-oriented man holding the biggest prize that poker has to offer. For now, the modesty shines through, as Begleiter smiled with only one thing left to say: "I think I really won just being at the final table."
1dEthan Sherwood Strauss