The 24 year old is the chip leader heading into the 2012 Main Event final table and has spent the last couple months doing interviews, partying, traveling and playing poker.
“One thing I’ve tried to do is just enjoy everything else around making the final table,” he said. “I think people spend so much time preparing for the November Nine they forget to actually enjoy it."
The affable Sylvia has adapted well to his increased notoriety in the poker world and admits he hasn’t minded the media exposure at all.
“It’s fun because I love to talk,” he said. “Anyone who knows me will tell you that. All the media has been really nice requesting interviews but I’m always like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great. I’d love to talk more.’”
From Martha’s Vineyard to Las Vegas
Originally from Martha’s Vineyard, it’s been an interesting journey for Sylvia getting to his current enviable position.
Sylvia began playing online poker when he was attending college at Cal Lutheran University and immediately found success in the game.
In the very early stages of his poker career, Sylvia was fortunate to make a massive score for $100k in one of the big Sunday tournaments. At the time Sylvia didn’t even own a laptop and was playing in the school’s computer lab.
Eventually Sylvia made his way to Las Vegas where, as luck would have it, he would first stay with final-table opponent Russell Thomas.
From there Sylvia made his living playing live and online cash games in Las Vegas.
Ultimate Validation for Sylvia
Sylvia’s parents were always supportive about his desire to be a professional poker player but Sylvia’s mom, in particular, would have preferred a more established occupation, such as being a lawyer or doctor.
Their opinions have changed considerably since Sylvia made the final table and he shared a particularly poignant moment when he read a story where the local newspaper The Martha Vineyard Times interviewed his parents.
“The paper had this great quote with my mom where she said ‘You always tell your kids all their dreams will come true but in Jesse’s case it’s actually happening,’” he said. “It almost made me cry when I read that she said that.”
Sylvia’s father, who works as an engineer on a research vessel, stayed up late following the coverage of his son’s run to the final table of the Main Event.
In addition Sylvia has been shocked by how many complete strangers have approached him and wished him luck at the final table.
Can Sylvia Become the $8.5 Million Dollar Man?
Getting to the final table is one thing, winning it is another.
Sylvia, who is stacked with 43.8 million chips, has a better shot than most at taking down the staggering $8.5 million first-place prize.
The 888poker-sponsored player has been playing a fair amount of poker as he prepares for what will likely be the biggest final table of his life. Interestingly he’s been playing a lot of cash games to tune up his poker game.
“We’re actually pretty deep stack so I’ve been playing 50bb cash games and they’re nearly perfect,” he said. “I try to play a little higher sometimes just to get practice. Greg [Merson] has almost 100 bb, which is pretty scary.”
Sylvia is also working with coach Vanessa Selbst, who’s had a terrific year with nearly $1 million in tournament earnings and a bracelet victory.
“She was my first pick out of anyone,” he said. “We definitely have a similar table image I’d say. Every time I hear her talk about a hand she’s so spot-on about it, it’s unreal."
Sylvia to Face Close Friends Thomas, Merson
Sylvia is in an odd predicament at the final table as two of his closer poker friends in Greg Merson and Russell Thomas are there as well.
“It sucks because I have lot of friends who are very good at poker and I can usually talk to them about poker but a couple of those friends are at the final table so I can’t talk to them,” he said.
Sylvia went on to say he actually would have considered hiring Merson as a coach, if he wasn’t also at the final table. He believes Merson and Thomas will be doing extensive training before the final table.
“I don’t know what Russell’s got going on,” he said. “We’re pretty good friends and he’s got his little laboratory of people coaching him. He won’t tell me about some of it.”
Part of Thomas' training has been running mock final tables. It’s an idea Sylvia is still considering but there are some challenges with fake final tables.
“You have to get people to play to another player’s playing style but it’s like, ‘Who are you going to get to play Greg?’” he said.
“The kid beats $25/$50 online. The guys who would play as him would charge like $700 an hour and they might not even do it. Only guy you could get to play Greg is Greg.”
Final Showdown Set for Next Week
Whether Sylvia takes down the 2012 WSOP Main Event or not, it’s obvious he’ll have fond memories of making the October Nine for the rest of his life.
If Sylvia does manage to win the tournament, it’s hard to imagine a champion that would be more thrilled.
“I had this kid who I hadn’t seen for awhile come up to me at in the Aria poker room and ask where I was this summer,” he said. “I told him I spent a lot of time at the Rio.”
“He asked how it went and I said ‘I can’t complain.’”