Wednesday, July 15, 2015 | 4:30 a.m.
The shrewdest gambling move Max Steinberg made involving the World Series of Poker Main Event took place three months before the tournament began and had nothing to do with cards or chips.
The 27-year-old local entered a handful of daily fantasy leagues on DraftKings.com that awarded a first-place prize into the $10,000 buy-in world championship of poker. He joined an NBA satellite event in early April, stacking his lineup with Golden State Warriors bench players knowing the starters would rest late in the season and Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins had a monster game and the eventual NBA champion Warriors put up characteristically big numbers, allowing Steinberg’s team to beat out more than 500 others.
“It wasn’t even a sweat,” he said. “I won by a lot.”
Steinberg, a dual poker and fantasy professional, turned his penchant for sports into a spot on poker's brightest stage early Wednesday morning at the Rio. He advanced to the Main Event’s “November Nine” final table, where he’ll have a chance to win $7.6 million when action resumes on Nov. 8 at the Penn & Teller Theater.
All nine players received the ninth-place payout of $1,001,020 at the conclusion of the summer session, but it’s safe to call Steinberg the biggest winner. The DraftKings league that he won his seat through had entry fee of $27.
“I guess it was a lucky satellite to get in to make it this far,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg sits fifth in chips with 20.2 million, a more than manageable position considering it’s less than 10 million behind second-place Zvi Stern from Herzilya, Israel.
Everyone is looking up to 24-year-old professional Joe McKeehen from North Wales, Pa., who built a towering stack of 63.1 million chips.
“I think I played pretty well throughout,” McKeehen said. “I’m going to come in and be very confident. I know that.”
McKeehen may have the chips and 72-year-old Belgian retired businessman Pierre Neuville, fourth-place, might have the highest career earnings at more than $2.1 million but Steinberg is the only player at the table with a previous WSOP bracelet.
Steinberg won a $1,000 buy-in event three years ago for $440,238. He moved to Las Vegas from Oakland, Calif., shortly after with the intention of playing more poker but the opposite happened.
He started cutting back at the tables when daily fantasy sports emerged because of a pact he made almost a decade ago. Steinberg and his identical twin brother, Danny Steinberg, began their poker careers by playing online in the late 2000s — just missing the initial boom created by Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 Main Event victory.
“We just said, ‘If anything like this comes along again similar to online poker, we’re going to try to get in really early,’” Max Steinberg recalled. “We recognized immediately how big the potential was for daily fantasy so we just dove right in and really worked hard at developing our games like a year and a half ago. And now I’m making really good money doing it.”
Fantasy sports have proven so lucrative that Steinberg played only four tournaments before the Main Event this summer. He had averaged about 20 events per WSOP in previous years.
Steinberg, who always planned to enter the Main Event regardless of if he won a satellite, found it more pleasing to devote his energy to sports and his own advice web site, dailyfantasywinners.com.
“That’s the secret,” Steinberg joked. “Just don’t play poker, then play the Main Event and you save all your luck.”
One of the most active, and certainly the most visible, professionals nearly shared the final table with Steinberg. The stands were packed and booming all day to follow Daniel Negreanu’s bid to become the biggest name to reach the November Nine since Phil Ivey six years ago.
Negreanu, the winningest tournament player of all-time with more than $30 million in earnings, fell victim to McKeehen’s rush in the end. “Kid Poker” collapsed onto the floor when McKeehen came from behind and spiked a river card to eliminate him in 11th, which tied a 2001 run as his highest Main Event finish.
“The bigger disappointment with this specific event is all the extracurricular things I could have done by being a part of the November Nine to really promote the event, up the ratings and get people really involved,” Negreanu said immediately after cashing out for $526,778.
Some of those duties may now fall to Steinberg as arguably the most recognizable name left in the running. He looked the part, wearing a high-end suit from Stitched inside The Cosmopolitan throughout play Tuesday.
Steinberg, however, doesn’t see himself that way. While the other survivors around him gushed about traveling the world to compete in tournaments before the final table, Steinberg spoke of other plans.
“I don’t think I’m going to play tournaments,” he said. “I think I’m going to focus on daily fantasy.”