A Yale graduate with several WSOP final tables under his belt, 20-something Alex Jacob has the poker world singing his praises. Polite and calm, ferocious and unpredictable, the former mathematics and economics student has taken poker by storm, winning tournaments, cashing big and creating a name as one of the more talented and consistent young guns - an accolade not to be taken lightly on today's tournament circuit.
With all the one-tournament wonders taking center stage for their 15 minutes of fame, the poker scene has been virtually overrun by young rounders. Most of these players take their place at the rail after collecting their winnings, never to emerge from the sidelines again. Not so with Alex Jacob. His $1 million-plus earnings in 2006 and a solid run in 2007 have distinguished him from his peers and left many curious about how and when he learned to sling chips.
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1984, Alex got his start in poker in high school but it wasn't until he was enrolled as a student at Yale University that he began to take the game seriously. There, he became a regular player in the Trumbull College $1/$1 No-Limit Hold'em game, where he polished his chops and gained notoriety as a rounder with skills.
The games at Trumbull were frequented by a group of students who took poker seriously, and they spent many nights discussing strategy and the finer points of the game - sometimes to the detriment of their studies.
"We once played from Thursday evening nonstop through to Friday evening," Alex admitted to the Yale Herald in 2003. "Sometimes swings [in money] could get pretty bad and people would be down quite a lot, but they are almost always very good about it. We've never had [a monetary issue] turn into bad blood."
But poker wasn't the only thing Alex competed at while at Yale. As a member of Yale Student Academic Competitions, Yale's quiz bowl team, Alex spent several hours a week practicing a Jeopardy-like game that quizzes students on academic and pop-culture related questions requiring in-depth answers.
Alex Jacob: Poker got serious at Yale
The atmosphere of learning at Yale, combined with the determination and competitiveness that often drive Ivy League students, spurred Alex to take his poker game to the next level. He began to build his bankroll online at medium- to high-stakes No-Limit Hold'em cash games and tournaments, playing about five hours a day during his peak. It was also around this time that he started to compete in live tournaments.
Too young to set foot in U.S. casinos, Alex trekked across the world to belly up, amassing chips in Monte Carlo, Vienna, Paris and the Bahamas, among other places. His biggest poker achievement at that time, though, was winning the Yale University Peter A. Fabrizio Memorial Poker Classic in 2003.
He celebrated his 21st birthday by going to Vegas with a group of friends and playing the tables, but his eyes were set on a bigger prize. By that time, he had competed in over a dozen $10k buy-in events and was ready to take on the live tournament action stateside.
His big break came in November 2005, when he notched his first major tournament win at the WPT World Poker Finals for a 27th-place finish and more than $27k in prize money. In April of the next year, the poker world stood up and took notice as Alex took down player after player and landed a second-place finish to Victor Ramdin in the WPT Foxwoods Poker Classic $10k championship event. He earned $655,507 for his win and notoriety as a rising star.
In fact, 2006 proved to be a record-breaking year for Alex. With nearly $1.7 million in live tournament earnings and a phenomenal streak at his first WSOP, the young rounder had a stellar run. He cashed in a total of nine tournaments, including two WPT and four WSOP events - two of which were final-table cashes.
He also took home the title of U.S. Poker Champion after winning the 261-player United States Poker Championship main event in Atlantic City. By earning his prize of nearly $900k, Alex had cemented his reputation as a young gun to be reckoned with.
2007 was slightly less monumental but just as solid for Alex. He cashed in three WSOP events, notching a third-place finish and a $282,367 payday in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event. He also took down the Ultimate Poker Challenge Championship in Las Vegas, earning $105,380 in the process.
A stable and loving environment
Modest and humble, Alex is quick to deflect praise for his accomplishments to others. He credits a large support system of family, friends and teachers for his acceptance into Yale, and his fiancée, Jennifer Liebig, for his poker wins.
"She's been so important to my success," Alex told Gutshot.com. "In an up-and-down profession, it's crucial to have that stabilizing force for that loving environment when you need it."
Alex also acknowledges the role his education has played in his poker success, though he doesn't support the theory that his knowledge of mathematics is of crucial assistance at the green felt.
"It's mostly analyzing situations - not while you're at the table because you don't really have time to do complicated math - but there is a lot of complicated math that you can get into away from the table," he told PokerListings.com at the 2006 WSOP.
"You know, figuring out what the right play is if 20 per cent of the time he has this hand, 10 per cent of the time he has a different hand, and half the time he has this hand. But anything of substance you can't really do it at the table."
Part of Alex's success can also be attributed to his positive outlook and willingness to learn from his mistakes. Although wins at major tournaments like the U.S. Poker Championships and placing in WSOP and the WPT events can't hurt either.
Known for his sportsmanship and good nature, Alex is also grounded and self-confident. These qualities, combined with his trademark Afro hairstyle, his graciousness and his camera-shy demeanour, have singled Alex out and won the admiration of his peers. He has experienced a lot of success at a very young age and has managed to prove his longevity in a poker scene defined by impermanence. So, despite the fact that becoming a pro poker player wasn't Alex's goal when he arrived at Yale, poker is his game now - and he plans to stick with it. And, really, can you blame him?