Mark Seif - From The Shadows To The Spotlight
The 2005 World Series of Poker gave us a plethora of memories that will carry on in the history of the game. Of the many that came to us during the months of June and July, one that cannot be ignored was the explosion of professional player Mark Seif.
While Mark was a very good professional poker player (witness his eleven cash finishes over the past eighteen months in tournaments across the United States), he always seemed to lurk on the fringes of great success. He has captured many a minor championship at several California casinos but, when it came to larger events in the World Poker Tour or the World Series, the wins always seemed to elude him. That was, until this year's World Series!
Mark cashed in an early event at this year's event at the Rio, then pulled off a feat that only approximately twenty four other players have ever done in the thirty five years of World Series of Poker competition. On June 17th, he was able to vanquish 450 players in the $1,500 Limit Hold 'Em Shootout event and, one week later, overcame a field of 2,013 (at that point the third largest tournament of all time and still is the fourth biggest tournament ever) in the $1,500 No Limit Hold 'Em to take his second bracelet of the Series. The two wins, and in a one week period, also put him in special company as one of few players who took their two wins in such a short time frame (the last player to accomplish this was Scott Fischman in the 2004 Series).
Mark can no longer be considered on the fringes of the game! I was able to speak with Mark soon after the Series concluded and, in a candid conversation, we discussed many of the reasons for his success and where he is going from here!
PN: First off, congratulations on your success at the World Series. You played some excellent poker there!
MS: Well, that's very kind of you to say. It was a great thrill for me to be able to take those championships.
PN: I know I wrote about this in another article that I did, but I wanted to ask you directly. How does it feel to not be able to "sneak up" on other players anymore?
MS: (Laughs) That's a very good question! It's something I have had to deal with from my previous appearances on the World Poker Tour. I have always been a very aggressive player and I'll play some things that aren't on the list of starting cards! It was different during this year's Main Event. There was a lot of talk at my table, which I like, but I found that many times I was getting called down by players just on the factor of the style they had seen.
Earl, there were many times early on in the Main Event that I was sitting on top two pair or something along those lines and, after having made a sizeable bet, would have my opponents push all their chips to the center of the table. I think there were two factors involved in that. ESPN was following me with cameras, because I had won twice this year and my opponents wanted to get on television as the one to bust me out! The second reason had to be my perceived style. To be honest, I wasn't ready to put my tournament life on the line with questionable situations in the Main Event, even though I had big hands, so I laid them down.
PN: What were some of your preparations that added to your success at the World Series this year?
MS: One thing was I decided to rent a house in Las Vegas this year, instead of staying in a hotel. It is always much nicer to come to a place you can call "home" and sleep in your own bed rather than going back to a hotel room. I think that added to my relaxation and preparation very much.
The second thing I did was I didn't get caught up in the tension of the tournaments. I really attempted to avoid the stress that can come during the events. I pre-registered for the tournaments I played and, when the tournaments came themselves, I arrived at a time that I basically had to go straight from my car to the tables and usually got there right on time or a little late. This helped me to not get caught up in the turmoil around the game.
Finally, I basically ignored time and kept my focus on the table. I looked at it much like a sit and go and just kept myself in a mental state to work on the table I was at and not worry about how many players were left, where we were in a level, what the average chip count was, things along that line. That definitely helped me in the Shootout event, as that is the goal of what you are playing for, the elimination of your table before you can move on.
PN: Did the heads up matches you played at AbsolutePoker.com assist you in any way?
MS: (Laughs again) I don't know if it did or not! I think I lost about 70% of those matches that I played there. It was funny because it became a running joke there, that I have a great heads up record in face to face competition, but online I was getting clobbered! But I am very happy to play there at AbsolutePoker and I am proud to be associated with them as their Director of Operations.
PN: What were your impressions of the fields overall at the World Series?
MS: The fields, I found, were much stronger than expected. I saw that the Internet players were very good and they got very good very quickly from the play and experience they obtained online. It is difficult to estimate the skills of your opposition if you haven't seen them before and they can sometimes surprise you. There were some very sophisticated plays being made by the Internet players and I was impressed by them.
PN: Your aggression at the tables has sometimes cost you victories in other tournaments. Is that something that you have toned down to make it deeper into tournaments?
MS: To be honest with you, Earl, I have become more aggressive! What I have done, however, is that I have added a couple of new gears to my game to throw off my opponents. Where I would be in full out aggression mode before, now I can gear it down to 80%, take it down to 40%, go into full lockdown mode where I just play a normal game, take it up to full out attack, things along this line. The changing of my style of play has definitely been something that has taken my game to a new level.
PN: Mark, you've really shown your skills across all forms of poker. Is there one game that you feel you are better at playing than others?
MS: Thank you for the compliment, but I am a No Limit/Pot Limit player, for sure. While I have had some success in other forms of poker, those games, either Texas or Omaha, are the ones that I feel I have the best skill at.
That doesn't mean that I don't continually work at the other games. I know, over the last year, that I was playing the Limit game somewhere around ten to twelve hours a day, either online or live. It's something that you have to consistently do to get better at the game is work at it.
PN: You have been playing poker since you were a child and, as an adult, have been an attorney. What have those things added to your poker game?
MS: (Chuckles) There's a funny story in that. I did start playing as a kid at either six or seven, six if you talk to me and seven if you talk to my mom! Anyway, my parents would get together with their friends for poker two or three times a month, with the game rotating around the different homes. When the game was at our house, there was the times when it was short and my dad would get me to join in the games.
I lost most of the time (laughs), but there was one night that was memorable. We were playing five card draw and it was the last hand of the night. I had a straight draw or a flush draw on the hand, I don't remember exactly, but it came down between me and my dad. I took one as we drew off our last cards and I missed my draw. When my dad bet out on the hand, I raised him and got him to lay it down. He then asked me if I had hit it and reached over and took my cards to look at them. When he realized I had bluffed him off the hand, he got mad, made me give back the money to the other players and sent me to my room! I guess I was about ten or eleven at this time and didn't play again until I got into college, when I was around nineteen, I think. Even then, I was aggressive and bluffed a lot. Bluffing, strangely enough, is not considered to be a good thing, even in low limit games in a casino!
My legal background played a huge part in the forming of my poker skills. It seems attorneys are very good because of the things that they learn from their legal background. All you have to do is look at people like Greg Raymer, Dan Harrington and Andy Bloch, who were all attorneys and have had great success at the tables.
The reason for lawyers being good at poker is because the skills that you use as an attorney are similar to those that you would use in poker. You have to be very intelligent and you have to prepare yourself for a tournament, much like you would prepare for a trial. You also have to work off of incomplete information in the legal profession, which works directly into what you do at a poker table.
Lawyers do well in poker because they have to constantly work at their job and they are always watching their opponents. You are always reading people when they are testifying, determining if they are being truthful, and this, once again, is directly relevant to the game of poker.
PN: Mark, you're still young. Do you see yourself as a lifelong competitor in the poker arena?
MS: I definitely see myself playing for a long time. I am a former athlete and I love the competition! Having said that, I am constantly entertaining other things involved with poker, be it online or in the live game.
I have looked at the various poker organizations that are out there and have been asked to be a part of them, but I just haven't found one that I was comfortable with. If there is...(pauses)...let me put it this way, it's not a question of if it will happen, it is simply a question of when it will come around. When it does happen, I would definitely like to be a part of something along those lines.
We have to be honest about some things, though. We, as players, are better off now than we were three years ago. There are some things that are problematic, such as sponsorships and things like that, but it is much better for players today than then. A poker organization would be a good voice for the players to have in negotiations.
PN: What does the rest of your year look like? Or are you going to take a long vacation!
MS: (Laughs) Far from that, Earl! I haven't got much time open in my schedule at all. Something that has recently come up for me is that I am going to be working as a commentator on the Professional Poker Tour events, those are getting ready to come to television...
PN: Really, Mark? That is something I know has been in the works for some time...
MS: Yes, we are actually getting ready for a go on those. We started with the first one back at Foxwoods in October last year and have them all covered, so I am excited about that.
I am keeping myself in the online game as the Director of Operations with AbsolutePoker.com and I am enjoying that tremendously. I have also been approached about doing a fantasy camp as well. It would be a two or three day event where we can sit back and really get into the game. You wouldn't believe the people who write me, lawyers and bankers and such, that want to learn the game and want to get into it. That is something that I am interested in doing definitely.
As far as playing, I'm not able to play as much as I once did. In 2004, I played pretty much all of the one thousand, two thousand events. Here in 2005, with the constraints on my schedule, I have been able pretty much to only take on the main events of the tournaments that I get into.
There are some other things, too. I have a DVD tutorial in the works and I have also been approached about doing a book. I am going to be very busy, to say the least!
PN: What advice can you pass on right now to someone who wants to emulate your success?
MS: Keep your day job! Poker is a much harder game than it looks, not only from a playing background but from a financial one as well. There are people that come into the game with a $50,000 bankroll and think that will be enough to keep them going. Trust me, that isn't enough in the tournament world today.
I would also say to keep a balance to your life. Be honest with yourself and continue to learn about the game. Keep accurate, detailed records about your play. That is a very important thing as well.
PN: It's interesting you mentioned keeping a balance to life. What do you want to do outside of poker to make your life complete?
MS: Well, I have a wonderful girlfriend, Jennifer. We have been together for a few months now and I cannot imagine how I got along without her for this long. We are going to be starting a business together, which I am looking forward to.
PN: I have to admit, Mark, when we met I thought you two had been together for much longer!
MS: (Laughs) Yes, we sometimes hear that from others and say that to each other as well. We seem to be almost like an old married couple sometimes, but it is fantastic. She makes my life complete and that, in turn, makes my poker better. Having that stability at home adds to my confidence, I have seen.
Look at Phil Ivey. Once he got married, he went from playing at lower levels to being one of the fiercest players in the highest stakes games around the world, not to mention being one of the toughest tournament players around. Daniel Negreanu, when he was with his girlfriend, found that stability and we all know what he did last year! That stability from family has to be one of the big things that has made my game better. At the least, there are no more parties and staying out late anymore!
PN: Well, Mark, I've taken enough of your time. Thank you for talking to me and, once again, congratulations!
MS: Thank you, Earl, and thank you for your time as well!
I would like to thank Mark for the time we spent on the phone and wish the best to him and Jennifer. Mark seems to have found the secret to success in the game and we couldn't have a better representative of the great game of poker than him. It will be a delight to watch him play in the future and see what, with his wealth of intelligence and personality, his effect on poker will be.
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