No matter how many poker tournaments Erik Seidel wins - and he's won plenty - he likely won't ever shake that 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event loss to Johnny Chan.
Even though Seidel says he's all but blocked the game from his memory, the moment will live forever in footage used for the poker film Rounders. Nearly two decades and eight gold bracelets later, people are still bringing it up.
But if anyone deserves to be cut some slack, it's Erik Seidel. It was his first year playing in the WSOP and, coming up from going bust nine times in the series prior to the Main Event, the relatively novice poker player must have fared pretty well to get to heads-up play against one of the world's best pros.
Now, after earning his poker stripes from years of tournament and cash-game play, Seidel can personally lay claim to 8 WSOP titles of his own.
Seidel Finds The Mayfair
Life, however, started out simply enough for Seidel, who was born November 6, 1959, in New York City. As a young child he loved games and was a gifted competitor. Seidel even made an appearance on the now-canceled television game show "To Tell the Truth" when he was 12 years old.
His inherent gaming skills didn't start to pay off, though, until he took up backgammon while attending Brooklyn College. It was the 1970s and Seidel saw opportunity in the game, so he dropped out of school and started hitting the board professionally.
He hung out at the Mayfair Club, a legendary New York card room where backgammon and bridge players could always find a game. He did this for nearly eight years in between traveling to tournaments around the U.S. Over time, however, more and more people began turning up at the Mayfair for poker games.
Seidel had played some Hold'em in his sojourns in Las Vegas and started getting in on the games casually. Eventually though, his days as a professional gambler began to wear on him and Seidel sought out a nine-to-five job with a steady paycheck.
In 1985 he began working as a stockbroker, supplementing his salary with winnings from evening poker games at the Mayfair.
Erik Seidel vs. Johnny Chan, 1998 WSOP
But Erik Seidel wasn't meant for a day job; the stock market crashed in 1987 and he was out of work. He turned back to the Mayfair.
By that time some of poker's biggest names, including Dan Harrington and Howard Lederer, were wearing grooves into the seats around the club's tables; eventually Seidel joined in the action.
His poker game improved rapidly and by 1988 Seidel was feeling confident enough to ask friends to invest in him in his first World Series of Poker. He signed up for 10 tournaments but went bust in nine of them prior to the Main Event.
Then, at the final table, the relative novice found himself going heads-up against Chan, the defending champion.
In what would be the final hand, Erik Seidel found himself in the big blind with the short stack. He picked up a Q-7 to pair with a Q-10-8 flop. But what he didn't know was that, with a J-9, his opponent held the nut straight.
Chan slow-played with a series of calls and when the turn and the river both showed blanks, Seidel pushed all-in and it was all over. Looking back, Seidel now says the game was a surreal experience for which he was completely unequipped.
A Legacy at the WSOP
Needless to say, he bounced back. He returned to New York to work on Wall Street and continued to play high-stakes poker and pop up at tournament tables.
At the 1991 WSOP, he once again placed second in the $5,000 Limit Hold'em event, but saw WSOP gold in subsequent years when he finished first in the 1992 $2,500 Limit Hold'em event and first in the 1993 $2,500 Omaha Eight-or-Better.
In 1994, he confirmed Hold'em was his game when he competed in the $5,000 Limit event - this time winning the gold bracelet for his efforts. It was enough to convince him it was time to turn pro and, in 1995, Seidel and his wife moved to Las Vegas.
He didn't see another WSOP win until 1998 when he nailed down the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw. The following year found him in familiar WSOP territory: the Main Event final table. This time Seidel wouldn't make it to heads-up play, busting out in fourth place and cashing for nearly $280,000.
There was bigger money to be had, however, and in the 2001 WSOP $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em event, Erik Seidel bagged a bracelet and $411,000. The Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, Miss., also proved lucrative for Seidel; though he placed second, his bankroll spiked by $258,020.
At the 2003 WSOP, Seidel competed in the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha and $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em events and placed first and third, respectively. The same year in the United States Poker Championship $9,800 No-Limit Hold'em event, Seidel placed an all-too familiar second.
Festa Al Lago II and III were both kind to Seidel in 2004, when the poker pro landed a win in the $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em and $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Final Day events. He also took fourth in the Doyle Brunson No-Limit Hold'em Poker Championship that year. In 2005, Seidel celebrated his seventh gold bracelet win in the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em event, which earned him $611,795.
His eighth victory came at the end of an almost-disappointing 2007 WSOP, where Seidel won the last tournament before the Main Event: the No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball with re-buys, for which Seidel raked $538,835.
Erik Seidel's High-Stakes Run
With over $34 in career live tournament earnings Erik Seidel's poker story extends far beyond the WSOP. At one-time #1 on the world's overall money list Seidel has since dropped back into the Top 3 but still has a dazzling array of wins and cashes any poker player would envy.
Among the highlights outside of the WSOP include a runner-up at the 2008 Aussie Millions $10,000 Main Event for $1m AUD and the 2008 WPT Foxwoods Poker Classictitle for $992,890.
In 2011 Seidel went on one of the most dazzling high-stakes poker tournament runs of all-time. Try these out for size:
- 2011 Aussie Millions $100k High Roller 3rd AUD $625,000
- 2011 Aussie Millions $250k Super High Roller 1st AUD $2,500,000
- 2011 L.A. Poker Classic, $25k High Roller 1st $144,570
- 2011 $25k NBC National Heads-Up Championship 1st $750,000
- 2011 $10k Hollywood Poker Open No Limit Hold'em 2nd $155,103
- 2011 Five Star World Poker Classic $100,000 Super High Roller - 1st $1,092,780
- 2011 $20k Epic Poker League No Limit Hold'em Six Handed - 2nd $604,330
He continued to rack up big scores over the ensuing years, highlighted by a win at the EPT Grand Final 100k High Roller in 2015 for over $2m.
While many of the top pros from Erik Seidel's era have fallen off the highest levels of tournament poker Seidel is one of the rare few that adapted his game and held his own.
He's continued to rack up big scores against the game's youngest and toughest players in events like the Aria Super High Roller Bowl, Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown and the partypoker Millions Grand Final.
There might not be anyone who's game has stood the test of time as well as Erik Seidel.
With such success has come great rewards, including of course his long-time sponsorship with Full Tilt Poker which ended with the events of Black Friday in 2011.
While much of Full Tilt's management and sponsored pros were made persona non grata in the poker world, Seidel was rightly exonerated and has continued to hold very high esteem amongst his peers. He has also expressed his surprise and dismay at the actions of Full Tilt's founders. His friend John Juanda also stated that Seidel had $5.4m stolen from him by Full Tilt management.
Erik Seidel is married with children and in his spare time plays tennis, watches independent films and is a music fanatic. His personal Web site includes a music tab with hundreds of personally recommended albums that are downloaded onto his iPod.
There's no doubt, however, that Seidel's true passion is poker. Coupled with his now-undeniable skill, you have to wonder how differently that 1988 championship game might play out today.
Barry Greenstein on Erik Seidel:
"Erik was once a successful side game player, but he has dedicated himself to becoming a top tournament player. He is a great thinker who doesn’t like to share his insights. He is excellent at mixing speeds and at playing with a diverse set of opponents.
"He is also a very down-to-earth person, a trait that seems to work against him since buffoonery makes for better television. He is easily one of the top five No-Limit Hold’em tournament players in the world, but is often overlooked.
"I remember back in 1994 when he won the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event at the World Series of Poker. I congratulated him on his win and with typical humility he said, 'Actually, with the cards I held, it would have been embarrassing not to win."