Ex-CLU math student cleans up at World Series of Poker

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Former CLU math major Jesse Sylvia held his own in a week-long poker tournament that earned him more than $5 million.

The World Series of Poker is a no-limit Texas Hold’em game with a buy in of $10,000 on Oct. 31 in Las Vegas.

Sylvia managed to last until the final table and took home the second place prize.

Over 6,500 poker players participated in the tournament this year.

In the seven days leading up to the final table, the majority of the players had been eliminated, leaving only a handful left. Sylvia came with the biggest take and lasted until a final all-in battle with Greg Merson, who is now the unofficial world champion.

It was a previous World Series of Poker that piqued Sylvia’s interest in the game.

“We saw Chris ‘Moneymaker’ win the World Series of Poker,” said Sylvia. “And me and my friends were like, wow, that’s the coolest thing ever, that you can win millions of dollars playing a card game.”

Sylvia and his friends immediately asked their parents to teach them how to play Texas Hold’em.

They played a game, Sylvia won, and he’s been hooked ever since.

When Sylvia came to California Lutheran University, he began refining his skills as a poker player.

He recalls driving for hours with friends to play at casinos.

He began playing online and gathering any information he could about poker.

Juan Ortiz, adjunct professor at CLU, was in the same class as Sylvia.

It didn’t surprise Ortiz that Sylvia made it to the top.

“He’s just so random of a person that if that did happen to him it wouldn’t surprise me,” said Ortiz.

His eccentric nature and friendly personality made a mark at CLU.

“He could talk to anybody and he was willing to talk to anybody,” said Ortiz.  “He was really down to earth and he had a lot of friends. So a lot of people knew Jesse when he left campus here.”

It was during his time at CLU that Sylvia’s career took off. He won an online poker tournament his sophomore year and was paying for his education with his poker winnings before his senior year.

Sylvia recalls the computer he was playing on dying during that game.

Sylvia rushed to the math department to borrow a laptop to finish his game.

“The friendships that I made with some teachers and students were just unbelievable and those were just really important to me,” said Sylvia.

He considered his adviser and teacher Karrolyne Fogel the biggest influence on him at CLU. She taught him how to learn, according to Sylvia.

Sylvia and Fogel kept in touch and she remembers Sylvia making a distinct impression on her as well.

“When I took the exam and graded it, on the exam was a haiku on how he wished he had studied a particular topic more,” said Fogel. “On the second exam it was a sonnet.”

Soon enough, other people in the math class started coming up with Haikus as well.

“When he told me how much he won, my brain moved the decimal over a few places,” said Fogel about Sylvia’s first online win. Sylvia was soon traveling around the world after that, playing poker in places such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yet, he would still come back to school, usually in the fall, to continue his education.

Ultimately, though, Sylvia did not graduate with a degree.

Sylvia said he considers his math and psychology studies as valuable assets for his career in poker.

“Math requires you to be good at categorizing information and recognizing patterns and poker requires those things of you too,” said Sylvia.

His psychology minor gave him a better idea of what other people are thinking.

“People don’t think so much about the impact students have on teachers,” said Fogel. “The impact Jesse had on me? I write Haiku’s now.”

 

Joe Wood
Staff Writer
Published Nov. 14, 2012