When Joe Sebok came onto the professional poker scene in 2005, his presence came with an addendum - Barry Greenstein's son. But these days, Sebok's name stands on its own. After more than a year's worth of tournament wins and two final table appearances at the World Series of Poker, Sebok has carved out his own identity as a professional poker player.
He was born March 25, 1977 and, though raised from the age of six by Greenstein - Sebok's stepfather and a man he affectionately refers to as Bear - Sebok didn't have much to do with cards growing up. Greenstein was frequently away playing in poker tournaments, and when he was home he avoided talking about the game to his six children.
Instead, Sebok's competitive nature drove him to sign up for nearly every sport at his high school in Palo Alto, Calif. When he graduated in 1995, Sebok headed to San Francisco, where he attended the University of California - Berkeley. Four years later, he graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in Native American studies.
From there, Sebok found a natural fit in the dot-com world where he thrived in the entrepreneurial and fast-paced environment. Unfortunately for Sebok, the businesses didn't prosper. By 2003, he had been laid off from four floundering companies.
Instead of looking for work, Sebok decided to take a break from business and headed out on a road trip across the U.S. When he returned to California, the game that had kept him fed and clothed his entire life was booming. Though he had never played poker before, Sebok thought there was no time like the present to start learning.
Could Joe Sebok make it as professional poker player?
It was 2003 and Sebok turned to his father for advice - could he make it as a professional poker player? Greenstein said that with practice and study, he could. Sebok read poker books, printed off a poker hand-ranking chart and started playing free Texas Hold'em games online. Later, he graduated to playing cheap games in local casinos; soon he was winning tournaments.
But it was at the 2005 World Series of Poker where Sebok really made his mark. There, the rookie with only a year of play under his belt made two final tables in the $5,000 Limit Hold'em and the $5,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em. Over the next year, Sebok continued to have consistent tournament finishes.
By 2006, Sebok's practice really began to show. In April and May, he took first place in three tournament events - the $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em super satellite at the Five Star World Classic, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em at the Mirage Poker Showdown and the $2,425 No-Limit Hold'em at the Heavenly Hold'em - which boosted his tournament winnings by $385,000.
Though he failed to land any final table seats at the 2006 WSOP, Sebok continued to make substantial wins. He capped off his second year of tournament play in October with his biggest career win, a $267,295 pot in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the Festa Al Lago V Poker Tournament in Las Vegas.
True to his competitive nature, Sebok has a career goal of a World Series of Poker win. But in his spare time, he likes to hang out with poker pals Tuan Le, Nam Le, Liz Lieu, Gavin Smith and Mimi Tran. He also enjoys sports, playing the drums, reading and writing.
After the dot.com company at which he worked folded in 2003, Joey (my stepson, whom I raised since the age of six) asked me if I thought he could make money playing poker. I assured him that I could have taught him how to win at poker, but I had wanted him to be successful at other things. We rarely played cards at home when he was young, and he had never played poker before, but I told him if he followed my advice I would help him.
I told him to get some poker tutorial software, read some beginning poker books, and practice playing on the Internet. He dove into the project, reading and playing full time. I answered questions, but most of his knowledge came from hard work.
He moved up from play-money games to quickly become a winning $10/$20 Hold'em player after getting beaten back down a few times. He played some small tournaments and did fairly well.
We discussed tournament strategy and I told him he should enter most of the Hold'em events at the 2004 WSOP. He thought he would be throwing away money, but I was convinced that he was already better than 80% of the tournament field. He ended up making two televised final tables.
I made the mistake of advising him to be more aggressive at the final table, and he didn't exactly understand what I meant. He changed from what had been a successful style for him and finished a disappointing eighth in the Pot-Limit Hold'em and fifth in the Limit Hold'em.
At the final table Joey called a raise with A-J off-suit before the flop, and then called a bet on the flop even though he didn't connect. He got knocked out when an ace came on the turn and he got all his money in against A-K.
When we talked about the hand a few minutes after he left the table, I told him that his play was pretty "brain-damaged," an expression borrowed from Bill Cosby's routine on children. We often use this expression without meaning it seriously. Unfortunately, Joey was still miked up, and ESPN aired the comment.
Since then, many people have come up to Joey and asked him if I am always that mean to him. Of course, he deadpans that I used to beat him senseless when he was a child.