As a professional poker player, Steve Badger was a master of Omaha High-Low, earned 18 tournament victories and won a bracelet in the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. He was also a pioneer in online competition and education, playing a key role in the founding of PokerStars and establishing his own site, playwinningpoker.com, which was eventually sold to PokerStars. Badger opens up to Filthy Lucre about his career and how he got hooked on poker.
Who first taught you to play poker?
I first saw it played by my grandfather and his friends when I was five or so. Then my friends and I began playing around eight years old.
When did you realize you had what it took to compete with pro players?
The first time I ever played against pro players. The skill difference between a pro player and a good social player mostly demonstrates itself one, in the long run with many small things and two, in the short run with moments of great inspiration. These two things are not immediately evident, so playing with the very best poker player is not as obvious as playing with Tiger Woods or LeBron James is.
If all variants of poker were equally well-remunerated, which would be your favorite?
My most successful game is Limit Omaha High-Low, but it isn’t anything like my favorite. The path to making money playing poker is a constant struggle against the impulse to have fun playing poker. The most fun I’ve had playing poker is No Limit Five-Card Stud, a game that is not regularly played anywhere. My favorite card game is Sheepshead, the greatest card game ever invented.
What was your biggest or most memorable win?
The “biggest” is winning a World Series of Poker event, but there are several more memorable smaller ones. In one Omaha tournament, I was down to two players with Robert “Chipburner” Turner, the person who literally invented the game. He was trash-talking about how it “wasn’t going to be pretty” what he did to me. I ended up exhausted from having to stack all his chips in front of me.
What was your biggest or most memorable loss?
I used to play regularly with a Canadian player who usually got the best of me because he was a total luckbox. After beating me in yet another hand he said, “Badger, you are my best American friend. You are always giving me gifts!”
Can you describe a reality of being a professional poker player that you think other people are not aware of?
Many people who think of themselves as professionals are not in fact professionals. They are temporary winners. Being a professional poker player is something demonstrable via skill over a significant period of time. You aren’t a professional just because you have gotten lucky for awhile.
Do players really need to keep a “poker face” or do the good players simply ignore everything they see on the other players’ faces?
Poker is primarily a game of people, not of cards. An opponent’s face, body, voice, self-control and personal habits reveal most of the data you need to know to defeat them. A good poker player is a codebreaker. You have to collate the mass of data available from opponents, figure out what data is deceptive and what is useful, then apply it appropriately. And sometimes you only have a few seconds to do that.
Which “tell” do you see most frequently with opponents at the poker table?
Players who act weak actually have strong hands, while players who act strongly actually have weak hands.
To what do you attribute the recent phenomenal increase in the popularity of poker?
The internet has made the game more accessible, as has the general expansion of casino gambling around the world.
Do you enjoy playing poker any more or less than when you first started out?
Except for when I was a kid, poker has always been a job for me. It’s a much more pleasant job than coal mining, but it is a job nonetheless. I don’t look at it as “enjoy” though. It’s an interesting and challenging job.
Do you ever get bored? How do you stay motivated to keep playing?
I’ve been so bored in games that being in a coma would have been more exciting. Motivation comes from the desire to do the job well, which coincides with it being the most sensibly profitable. Handling boredom is a part of the job. Again, making money playing poker is a constant struggle against the impulse to have fun playing poker.
What advice would you give to an aspiring poker player?
Besides lovemaking and singing in the shower, there aren’t many human activities where there is a greater difference between a person’s self-delusional ability and their actual ability than in poker. Be realistic about your skills and weaknesses. Once you start thinking you have nothing left to learn, you have everything to learn. The very most important skill a player needs to manage is self-control.
Visit stevebadger.com to learn more about Steve Badger and his outlook on poker.