One year later, the 23 year old returns to the Bahamas the reigning champion. He is now a member of Team PokerStars, and has his face plastered on posters all around the tournament area. Clearly, it's a different sensation than sneaking into the tournament as a little-known internet qualifier. I sat down with Steve on Day 1b of the 2007 PCA to get his impressions of both tournaments, as well as his strategies for balancing a university education with a fledgling poker career.
So how does it feel to be in the Bahamas this year as defending champion?
Pretty good. I obviously don't expect to be able to defend it - the field is huge this year. But it's nice to be able to sit down at a table and have people recognize you.
Do you find that people have been gunning for you, since you are the defending champ?
Well, early on a few people just made enormous bluffs against me in pretty crazy spots, so that was good. (Laughs.) I don't know, after that, not really. It's easy to get paranoid and be like, "no-one ever folds because they know who I am," but I don't think so. I think most people are playing as if I'm just some guy.
Can you talk about what you remember of your win last year?
Well, I mean, mainly what I remember is getting insanely lucky on Day 2 to get chips. My biggest memory is that right at the end of Day 2 I called a big bluff, on the last hand of the day, to become chip leader going into Day 3. And then I don't even really remember much of Day 3 except that it went well. (Laughs.) Somehow I had $1.8 million in chips at the end of it.
And then the final table was just crazy. I went from being positive that I was about to win the tournament in that hand against (David) Singer, to two hands later being resigned to getting third, and then getting lucky a couple times and getting to heads-up. And heads-up was brief. (Laughs.)
It was all a lot of fun. I mean, the money, once you make the final table, it's all so big. I don't think I really even realized how much I was playing for. But it was a lot of fun, especially with my family and friends in the crowd. It was a good time.
How has the past year been for you, poker-wise?
Well, I've been in school for the most part, so I haven't played too much. I had the summer off, so I went to the World Series and played a few events there. I haven't run as well as I did at the Caribbean Adventure - I had two or three cashes, and they were all pretty frustrating.
Do you play very much online during the school year?
Yeah - I'm mostly playing tournaments, so the bulk of my play is on Sundays, but I'll play a couple of nights a week as well.
You mentioned to me earlier you were thinking about going for a Master's Degree in economics after you graduate this year. Do you intend to make a career out of economics or do you think you can make poker into a full-time profession?
I really would like to do both. I mean, the idea of working nine to five everyday doesn't appeal to me, and the idea of traveling the circuit and playing a tournament every week or two doesn't really appeal to me either, but the idea of playing six or seven a year and doing some work part-time sounds pretty good. I just need to find a job where they'll let me leave for a couple weeks at a time.
What does your family think about your playing poker?
My mom is just happy that I'm doing well. A couple of other people in my family play, so she's kind of used to it. My dad's actually gotten pretty into it; he watches the circuit on TV and the Main Event.
My brother actually plays online - not so much recently, since he's just had a kid, but he's pretty good. He's actually the one who got me into playing. I mean, you see it on TV and you see that your family members are playing, so I went to my brother and my uncle and they gave me a bit of money and some books to read.
When did you start playing?
I started playing pretty much exactly three years ago.
You started as a Limit Hold'em player but switched to No-Limit. How did that come about?
Well, when I won my seat to the PCA, I was mostly a Limit player, although I'd played some No-Limit tournaments. And then when I won the seat I decided that I'd better start practicing No-Limit, so I kind of switched to tournaments for a couple of months, and did reasonably well, and then obviously did well at the PCA.
And since then, I've kind of run back to Limit, but I mean, it's just boring, compared to No-Limit, I find. And the beats can be incredibly frustrating. So I've kind of switched to tournaments, which also can be pretty frustrating things, and I've very recently sort of started getting into cash games. But I find tournaments much more enjoyable - something about the definite end to them.
Would you characterize your style as being more conservative or more aggressive?
When I started playing - I think everyone goes through this stage of being way too tight. I still have the hand histories saved from a tournament, I finished second but at the time it was more money than I'd won the rest of the time I'd played. So I had that saved, and on the plane ride to Vegas last year for the World Series, I was bored so decided I'd replay it and watch it, and I mean, I was terrible. Like really bad. (Laughs.) I was just way too tight, folding in ridiculous spots.
And then you go to the other extreme, playing every hand. So I don't know. I like to be aggressive and playing a lot of pots, but at certain tables it's better to be conservative and to sit back. But I like to be the aggressor.
Talking about this tournament, how did you play yesterday?
Yesterday was crazy. I had a terrible start to the tournament. Hands did not go well, and I was down to $13,000 after 20 minutes or half an hour, and then finally started winning some pots. And then some people threw some chips at me. There were some crazy bluffs.
In one hand, someone raised it to $600 early; two guys called. I mean, I'd been fairly aggressive; I'd raised two or three times at this point, but I re-raise to $3,500 with queens, and the first guy folds, the next guy thinks a bit and shoves for $12,000 total, and the third guy folds. I call and he has 5-4 suited. (Laughs.)
A few hands later, we were playing a pot where I had raised preflop and then check-called the flop with A-10, on an ace-high flop. The turn is an ace, and I check and he bets like $10,000 at a $6,000 pot. So I call, and he has J-10. So that was nice.
Do you find that there's been a difference in the caliber of the tournament here compared to tournaments like the WSOP?
I think the play is much better here, in that it's a lot more aggressive here, whereas at the World Series, nobody really wants to put a lot of money in. They're more there for the experience. People here seem to be very willing to gamble.
So what's your strategy going to be going into Day 2?
Well, hopefully I get a good table draw. I mean, ideally I'll get a pretty tight table, and I can build some chips. My last table yesterday was the exact opposite of what I wanted, just a bunch of young, aggressive guys. I mean, things went well because I made a couple big hands and maybe one big call, but that's not what I want to do. I'm much happier just being able to play lots of small pots.
Thanks, Steve, and good luck.
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Steve Paul-Ambrose enters Day 2 of competition with $62,000 in chips, good for a place in the top 20 of almost 500 players who remain in contention. He said himself that he doesn't expect to be able to successfully defend his title, and certainly the road to a repeat will be an uphill climb, but if Ambrose can have another "insanely lucky" Day 2, he might just have a chance of pulling off another victory. Even if he doesn't win, however, he can still sit back and enjoy the experience - while the 2006 PokerStars.com Caribbean Adventure was his coming-out party, the 2007 iteration is his opportunity to reap the spoils of his newfound celebrity.