Alex Jacob burst on to the poker scene in 2006, racking up more than $1.6 million in cashes in his first calendar year.
First, he came second to Victor Ramdin in the Foxwoods Poker Classic, a $10,000 World Poker Tour event, for $655,507. He made a couple of deep runs in the 2006 World Series of Poker for another $130,000. Finally, he won the United Stated Poker Championship, a $10,000 buy-in event at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, for $878,500.
The latter came after a memorable three-handed match with fellow 21-year-old Michael DeMichele and 22-year-old Jordan Morgan. At that point, Andrew Feldman of ESPN wrote that they would be “the new faces of poker for years to come.”
It seemed like an easy conclusion to draw at the time, but the world's an unpredictable place and poker's an unpredictable game. What actually happened was that Jacob's results tailed off in the ensuing years, as after a $400,000 year in 2007 that included a third-place finish at the WSOP, Jacob barely managed to match that number the next two years combined as his volume dwindled.
“I kind of lost my enjoyment for the game,” Jacob said. “I was burned out. I felt like I wasn't playing well and wasn't enjoying it really.”
It was a slow process – “it doesn't just happen overnight” – but by 2011 and 2012, his results were nothing but a couple of sporadic small cashes at the WSOP. Jacob played the WSOP Main Event in 2013 and then left tournament poker behind. He got a job as a currency trader at a proprietary trading firm, and the man instantly recognizable for his trademark afro-style hair became a forgotten figure on the tournament scene.
About two years into the job, Jacob made his mark on another game in 2015. He appeared on TV trivia game show Jeopardy! and laid waste to the competition in a six-day winning streak worth nearly $150,000. He then competed in the Tournament of Champions and crushed once again, taking the grand prize of $250,000 home.
“It's always been a hobby, something I'm interested in and good at,” Jacob said of his mastery of trivia. “I'm really good at recalling facts and I love to learn new things.”
Clearly, Jacob has the type of mind that can grasp on to a game, work through its nuances, and figure out optimal strategies.
Still, natural ability can only take you so far, and the competition at the top level of anything is going to be tough. At that point, it takes serious work to succeed, Jacob pointed out.
“I guess putting in work really,” he responded when asked to what he'd attribute his success in two wildly different games. “I put in work toward poker and I put in work to prepare for Jeopardy!. It's not just something where I fell out of bed and knew every fact. I really had to work.”
Another factor in both games is pressure, particular with competition in both of them filmed for a national TV audience. However, the stakes in Jeopardy! are ramped up even compared to those in a poker tournament.
While it might be frustrating – and maybe even embarrassing, depending on the scenario – to bust out of a big poker tournament, there's always another one around the corner. A player who goes bust can refocus, study, and come back stronger and more determined than ever before.
That's not the case on Jeopardy!, where losing players have seen their one shot come and go. Good thing for Jacob he made his count, but he found himself getting the itch to return to his old game of choice in 2016.
“I missed it a little bit,” he admitted. “I kind of hated not playing the Main those two years, but I was kind of new at this job and didn't want to take a lot of time off.”
So, he made a return to the felt at the 2016 WSOP, making a deep run in the Millionaire Maker to 52nd-place in a field of 7,190 for a score of $21,635. He also fired in the Main Event, bagging Day 1a and then nursing a short stack for awhile on Day 2, though that run appears to be over as he's now absent from the tournament area with Level 10 soon drawing to a close.
Jacob is enjoying the game again, saying it feels like less of a grind. He expects to be a participant in the WSOP Main Event in the near future but wouldn't commit to a return beyond that.
“You never know,” he said. “I might be back, I may not.”
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