There are certain ages that have become rites of passage in the United States. When you're 16, you can get a driver's license. After you turn 18, you can buy lottery tickets and vote. When you turn 21, you're allowed to drink alcohol and gamble.
For Jeff Madsen, turning 21 was less about the drinking and more about being able to enter his first World Series of Poker (WSOP). It turns out his wait was well worth it as he became the youngest person to win a WSOP bracelet in history at the age of 21 years, one month and nine days. Less than a week later, he won a second event, stealing another record for the youngest two-time bracelet winner.
Despite his young age, Madsen's journey to the top actually began three years before he made poker history, when he was 18. He was introduced to the game by a friend the summer after he graduated from Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
His mother, Harriet Madsen, describes her son as always being good at math and says he took to the game very quickly. Madsen built a small library of poker books to study strategies and the variations of the game, and worked on cultivating his skills.
Unlike most younger players, though, Madsen didn't rely on the Internet to develop his poker expertise. After he headed off to become a film student at the University of California-Santa Barbara, he was able to play live cash games near campus at the Chumash Casino, where the minimum gambling age is 18.
Madsen even got in a little tournament practice at the casino when he won two of their tournaments, collecting $2,000 for each win. He credits that experience with helping prepare him for the "big time." Those wins also helped sway his parents to pay some of his entry fees for events at the WSOP.
A few months before the June 24 start of the 2006 WSOP, Madsen went to his parents with his plan. He was going to buy into six events, but he needed a little extra funding from them. They kicked in $3,500 of the $10,000 he needed, and the rest came from a college fund his grandfather had set up for him.
Jeff Madsen: "A competitor who loves the strategy of the game and is deeply committed"
According to Madsen's mother, she isn't worried about her son becoming a gambler. She describes him as being a competitor who loves the strategy of the game and is deeply committed to being a student of poker. Obviously a diligent student, Madsen now has two WSOP bracelets to his name as well as two other final table finishes. He turned his initial $10,000 bankroll into more than $1.4 million in tournament winnings during the first half of the 2006 WSOP. Not a bad investment for the college student.
Part of Madsen's strategy for tournament play is he plays "extremely aggressive, always aggressive," and is just trying to make the right decisions. He also thinks because he's young, other players tend to underestimate him and give him less respect, which often pays off for him on good hands.
Not everyone falls into that trap though. During one tournament, Madsen was seated next to Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and instead of being intimidated or resorting to talking about poker, Madsen asked him about high school. He knew Ferguson grew up in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and it turns out the two went to the same school. At one point, another player at the table told Madsen he'd better watch out for Ferguson, and Ferguson responded with a laugh, telling the guy he'd better watch out for Madsen. Madsen was rapidly creating a huge chip stack, and Ferguson showed Madsen the respect a fellow serious contender deserves.
The other qualities that make Madsen a major threat at the poker table are he's good with numbers and reading people. He attributes some of his people reading skills to his film studies. He's had to watch a lot of films and see a lot of emotions portrayed in movies, so he's better at spotting them during play.
With a poker career now in full swing and plenty of star power emanating from it, one might think Madsen would consider abandoning his academic efforts and devotion to a future in film in search of glory on the poker tournament circuit. But, Madsen seems to be a well-grounded young adult, and plans to head back to UC-Santa Barbara this fall to finish up his senior year.
His plan now is to pursue a dual career, one behind the camera as a film writer and director and the other at the poker table where, more than likely, he'll be in front of cameras as his fame continues to grow.