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Stern has $3,500 in unsold WSOP lammers to thank for November Nine appearance

8 October 2015

Ofer Zvi Stern File

Ofer Zvi Stern File

Age: 37

Hometown: Ramat, Israel

Position: 2nd

Chip Count: 29.8 million

Career WSOP Cashes: 6

Favorite Poker Book: Harrington on Hold'em by Dan Harrington: "That's the first book I ever got, and that got me into tournaments."

Favorite Poker Movie: Rounders

Favorite Poker Players: Daniel Negreanu, Fedor Holz. "I like (Negreanu's) style, demeanor and table talk. And younger, up-and-coming players like Fedor Holz, it's interesting for me to read about his hands and talk through his thought process. It's really inspiring to me."

Favorite Poker Room: The Amazon Room at the Rio. "When I think of poker, I think of that room. It's just electric in so many ways."
Ofer Zvi Stern never planned to enter the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. Now, he's locked in more than $1 million and will start final table play in second chip position when the November Nine return to Las Vegas to play down to a winner. Yes, you read that right. A guy who almost didn't play in the $10,000 Main Event may finish the tournament nearly $7.7 million richer.

After missing last year's World Series entirely, Stern was lured back by this year's triple stack of large field events — the Colossus, the Millionaire Maker and the Monster Stack — which drew a combined field of 36,841 entries on three consecutive weekends. He started the summer with a cash in the Colossus, finishing 1,085th for $3,009, and after busting from the Millionaire Maker he decided to jump into the $3,000 limit Hold'em six-handed event, finishing 18th for $9,501.

In between tournaments, Stern cashed in a few satellites. And while he was able to sell some of the tournament lammers he won to players looking to enter other WSOP events, he returned home to Israel with seven chips, each worth $500 toward WSOP tournament entry fees.

So there he was, sitting in Israel, roughly 7,500 miles away from the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, with $3,500 worth of WSOP lammers that would become worthless once registration for the Main Event ended.

He planned to sell the lammers to friends who would be making the trip to Las Vegas to play in the Main Event, but by the time he got around to it, everyone he knew who was going to play had already made the trip. He considered shipping them to Las Vegas, but in the end, decided to return to play in the world's most prestigious poker tournament for the fifth time in his life.

There were other factors that led to Stern's return for the Main Event, including the success of several of his countrymen. He heard the Israeli national anthem played for Idan Raviv's bracelet ceremony and after Raviv won a $1,500 no-limit Hold'em event. After returning home, he stayed up all night to watch Timur Margolin finish second in a $2,500 event on the live stream. And he got excited about the Main Event when players at one of his tournament tables started discussing how they would play if they were dealt aces on the first hand of the Main Event and there was an all-in bet in front of them.

But would he have made the return trip to Las Vegas for the Main Event if he had been able to sell all his tournament lammers?

"It's a good question," Stern says. "I don't think we'll ever know. I'm glad I didn't.

"Ultimately everything in me screamed 'Go back, go back and play.'"

Stern became interested in poker in 2006. In his first year playing the game, he made the final table in a $1,500 no-limit Hold'em event in 2006, finishing third for $39,530.

"I don't know if I'm sure that I knew what I was doing," Stern says about his first final-table experience.

Stern has studied the game over the past decade, but it's never been a full-time gig. He runs his own business developing software, doing research and development for startups, and consulting with investors on potential projects. While he had a "real job" when he was young, he started his business when he was "20 or 21" and enjoys the flexibility of being self-employed.

"In the middle of the day I can just go play the piano or go out to a movie or just go and play a poker tournament if I like," he says. "I guess, in a sense, poker players are their own bosses, their own CEOs, and they can travel to tournaments, take vacations whenever they like and wake up whenever they like. However, unfortunately — or maybe very fortunately — I do have a real job. But I like the maneuverability of this sort of career."

As someone who takes the game seriously but is not a professional, Stern is very deliberate about the decisions he makes at the table. He considers a lot of information when making decisions, and as a result, he was criticized by many in the poker media during the run-up to the final table.

"Sometimes you make a play that you later realize, if you just took another moment, you could have seen the better play," says Stern. "Every mind is different and I might not be the quickest thinker, but when the stakes are high, I learned the hard way it's crucial to take a moment to solve the puzzle so that I won't feel that bad in case the play turned out to be incorrect. That's not to say I don't I let intuition drive solo sometimes, but if we all abandon our analytical thought process the Main Event would conclude in half the time."

Stern, who had $149,334 in career earnings prior to the Main Event, has catapulted all the way up to sixth on Israel's all-time money list after locking up at least ninth place, according to The Hendon Mob. If he outlasts just one player at the final table, he'll move into fifth; a fifth-place finish will propel him into second; and a win would make him Israel's all-time money winner, eclipsing Amir Lehavot, who made the bulk of his $5.6 million with a third-place finish in the Main Event in 2013.

"We have everything in Israel," says Stern. "Great food, great women, great people, great companies, great products, average politicians and really good poker players."

With a population of just 8.2 million — roughly the same as Virginia — Israeli poker players have done quite well, especially considering there are no poker rooms or casinos in the country.

"We have a really large community of poker players that talks about the game and shares their experiences and thought processes," says Stern. "Some of them are really smart, loose aggressive players with good results both online and live. I'm proud to be part of it, representing my country in some way. I really hope that I can do well and do the community proud."

This article is part of Casino City's series of WSOP November Nine profiles. Other articles include:
  • Neil Blumenfield: Find out why the 61-year-old from San Francisco almost didn't play in the Main Event after a personal setback.
  • Federico Butteroni: Thanks to a 12-month hiatus in Australia where he worked as a dishwasher and on a watermelon farm, the Italian poker pro is rejuvenated and primed to make a deep run at the WSOP Main Event final table.
  • Max Steinberg: After spending most of his time over the last 18 months focusing on daily fantasy sports, Steinberg finds himself among the final nine players at the World Series of Poker's Main Event.
  • Pierre Neuville: Following a near-death experience, the Belgium native left a flourishing career as a toy company executive to chase his dream of playing poker for a living.
  • Tom Cannuli: This 23-year-old wants to do "something huge" in poker. Winning the Main Event would certainly qualify.
  • Aaron Todd

    Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

    Aaron Todd

    Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.