In the summer of 2010, a Wichita, Kansas car dealer stood on the edge of poker immortality. He was one flip from earning a spot in the November Nine, giving him a shot at poker's World Championship and its $8,944,310 first-place prize.
But when his failed to improve against Matt Jarvis' , Brandon Steven suddenly looked like he would be nothing more than a footnote. The 2010 WSOP Main Event final table bubble boy. A forgotten man who almost got there, doomed to be the answer to some obscure trivia question.
Steven did not accept that fate, however. This son of a carwash empire, ski shop and discount store owner who had worked his way up from flipping used cars he'd fix himself to more than half a dozen car dealerships across the Wichita area kept on chasing his poker dreams.
Later that year he took ninth in the World Poker Tour $10,000 Festa Al Lago Championship Event. By January he had place 10th in the $25,000 High Roller Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earning $110,985. By 2012 Steven had made his first WSOP final table, finishing eighth in the $1,500 No Limit Hold'em Shootout and although he somehow found his way into another unfortunate spot — bubbling the inaugural $1 Million buy-in Big One for One Drop event at the 2012 WSOP — Stevens proved he was a forced to be reckoned with at any stakes.
In 2013 he made the final table of the WPT $25,000 World Championship, finishing fifth for $223,203, and the final table of the 2013 WSOP $111,111 One Drop High Roller, finishing seventh for $621,180. Then came another deep run in the 2013 WSOP Main Event, with Stevens running into the final 100 before busting 91st. He can now be found taking on the best in the world at the highest stakes on a regular basis, and was among the 43 entrants in the $500,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl at ARIA this week.
Sunday in Las Vegas, as Day 1A of the 2015 Main Event went for dinner break, Steven found himself in a rather familiar position - up among the chip leaders and feeling hopeful his days of bubbling the big time are over.
"It doesn't sting as much as it used to," he told PokerNews. "Just because I've had so many horrible bubbles. I bubble every big tournament, at least it seems that way. So yeah, the sting is gone."
The desire is still there though - at least when it comes to a tournament like the Main Event.
"There's even more of a motivation to come play this," he said. "If I had to choose between a $500,000 tournament and the $10,000 Main Event, I'd choose the Main Event. It's my favorite tournament of the year.
"It's such a good structure, you get so many chips. After two deep runs you have to ask yourself how many deep runs can you really have. But the structure is so good, you don't have to outplay too many people, you can just sit back and wait and that's what I love about it."
A serial achiever, who also owns half of a chain of health clubs with his brother, Rodney Steven II, Steven loves a challenge, thrives in competition, and poker seems to be the thing helping quench that thirst right now.
"I just like challenges," he explained. "I'm 40 years old and it's hard to be competitive now. You can't be competitive in sports anymore, so this is a way to be competitive. We're playing against the very best in the world over in these high rollers. So that's my high over there, I want to beat the very best. In this field it is more like a minefield and you've got to avoid all the bombs."
But dodging landmines in the WSOP Main Event is certainly a challenge Steven relishes just as much.
"There's not too many tournaments where you start with 100 big blinds," he said. "Then you have two hour levels and the blinds don't get high too fast. That's why this tournament is more appealing than that $500K tournament.
"Day 3 is when it gets really challenging and you really have to start playing some poker. My favorite time is when they start taking tables away. They literally start folding tables up and taking them away. Then you know you're in a good spot."
And that is a spot Steven would like nothing more than to get back to again this year.
"Yes, I'd like to get back there," he said. "It would be pretty cool to run deep and make the final table because I got so close before. But I'm not playing scared because I want to get there so bad. I'm playing to win it. In 2010 I didn't try to win it. I just wanted to get to the final table because I was so close. That's the difference I think."