A few months ago Jake Balsiger was completely unknown in the poker world.
In one week the 21-year-old Arizona State University student has a shot at winning $8.5 million and becoming the youngest Main Event champion in history.
It’s been an interesting journey for Balsiger, who admits he was apprehensive abut booking a spot on poker’s biggest stage.
“I didn’t answer my phone for the first two weeks after making the October Nine,” he laughed. “I had tons of voicemails when I finally checked my phone.”
PokerListings spoke to the Tempe, Arizona, native while he was playing the WSOPE in Cannes. It’s obvious Balsiger feels more comfortable being interviewed these days compared to back in July.
“It made me nervous at first, but now I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “I’m happy to talk to people.”
It’s a good thing because if Balsiger wins, that Main Event spotlight has been known to shine pretty brightly. Just ask Jonathan Duhamel or Pius Heinz.
Balsiger a Fresh Face in the Poker World
The final table alone is an amazing accomplishment for someone who maintains he wasn’t even good at poker until this year.
“I don’t know that much about the poker scene, to be honest, I’m not a POKER poker player or anything,” he said. “A lot of people will bring up names and I’ll be like ‘Who is that?’”
Interestingly Balsiger did not drop out of yniversity after making the final table. Although he’s now interested in becoming a full-time poker pro, he still wants to finish off his senior year at Arizona State.
“It’s a lot of fun because there is no pressure anymore,” he said. “It’s more like you are doing it for yourself and not anyone else.”
Balsiger did admit it's a little harder to get too concerned with a good GPA when you are in the hunt for an $8.5 million first-place prize.
Ready to Adapt at Final Table
November Niners have always prepared for the final table in different ways.
Some players have avoided poker altogether while others, such as Russell Thomas of this year's group, have done extensive training including mock final tables.
Balsiger stands somewhere in the middle in terms of Main Event preperation. He has a coach – Mike “Timex” McDonald – and he’s played a fair amount of poker but he refuses to study video footage too closely.
In fact, those who have studied the footage may face an entirely different Balsiger than they were expecting at the final table.
“I don’t know how much your past history really factors into the final table,” he said. “I’m just going to see how the final table goes and go from there instead of how everyone played in the past.”
Although Balsiger only has a couple minor live tournament cashes, it would be a mistake to underestimate him. Fellow Octo-Niner Russell Thomas called Balsiger the most underrated player at the final table.
Russell Thomas says Jake Balsiger is underrated.
Balsiger Snags 888poker Sponsorship
Balsiger will certainly have his work cut out for him as he will enter the final table eighth in chips with 13.1 million.
Fortunately he’s been tuning up his game by playing numerous tournaments in Europe, in part thanks to a sponsorship deal with 888poker.
It's just a matter of time before the young poker player starts adding to his limited amount of cashes on the live tournament circuit.
“I’m really happy about it,” he said. “It’s been awesome getting a chance to travel and play tournaments.”
Regardless of what happens at the WSOP Main Event final table on Oct. 29-30, there’s a good chance the poker world will hear the name Balsiger a lot more over the next year.
"I’d like to be a poker pro," he said. "I want to play as many events as I can. I think tournaments are a lot of fun."
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