Army Aviation Warrant Officer Schaefer Wins Long-Shot Bracelet

Brandon Schaefer
Brandon Schaefer

Nearly one year after enlisting in the U.S. army to become a helicopter pilot, former poker pro Brandon Schaefer is a World Series of Poker champion.

Schaefer decided to play one event at the 2012 WSOP on a whim because he was already going to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.

In an improbable turn of events, Schaefer outlasted 1,138 players in Event 14: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em to win $311,174 and his first gold bracelet.

“It’s just crazy,” said Schaefer. “I wasn’t even planning on playing.”

Schaefer, who hails from Seattle, played for seven years as a professional poker player and become one of the most well-liked and successful figures in the community.

He won EPT Deauville for $186k in 2005 and finished second in the EPT Grand Final for $465,853 the same year. Before today he had never made a WSOP final table.

Despite his considerable success in poker, Schaefer became unsatisfied with his direction and wanted to do something else with his life.

 “After about three years it become sorta unfulfilling,” he said. “I was just sitting there, clicking away with a mouse.”

Schaefer Gives Up Poker for Dream of Flying Helicopters

Last September Schaefer made the decision to follow in his brother’s footsteps and enlist in the U.S. Army with the goal of becoming a helicopter pilot. He was particularly inspired by his brother’s pilot friends.

Brandon Schaefer

“They were all obsessed with what they do,” he said.

“They love flying. All they do is talk about it. The happiest guy at the bar was always the guy who wasn’t drinking because he was flying the next day.”

At basic training, Schaefer, now 31, found himself in the minority as he was surrounded by recruits who were only 18 years old.

“It was challenging but I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It just felt like I was going down a road with a purpose and I hadn’t felt that way in a long time."

Schaefer took to the basic training structure and he ended up winning a leadership award while he was there.

“I basically yelled at 18 year olds for like 10 weeks and they gave me a leadership award,” he joked. “It was pretty cool.”

After finishing basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Schaefer attended officer’s school at Fort Rucker in Alabama. He completed advanced officer’s school and most recently a survival program.

On June 15, Schaefer will see at least part of his dream realized as he finally begins flight school.

Does Schaefer’s incredible run in the shootout event have him questioning his decision to join the army?

“No, not at all,” he said. “It’s a moot point anyways, because I have a six-year contract with the army so I can’t be like ‘Oh hey I won a bracelet, I’m outta here.’”

Apparently even millions of dollars wouldn’t deter Schaefer from taking flight.

“Even if I won the Main Event, it wouldn’t change that,” he said. “I want to fly. I can’t wait to do that.”

The 2012 WSOP continues through July 16, 2012. For in-depth coverage live from Las Vegas check PokerListings' Live Updates brought to you by 888poker.

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