Wicked Chops Poker Goes Heads-Up With Mark Seif
After leaving the law profession years ago to become a respected and successful poker player, Mark Seif truly exploded on the green felted landscape last summer by winning back-to-back WSOP bracelets. One of poker’s more engaging personalities, Mark has parlayed that success into entertainment projects on the small and big screen, and has a book and DVD in the works.
Mark is somehow managing all of this while still finding time to play some cards (both live and through his sponsor, Absolute Poker)—and taking on the responsibilities of being the proud father of a healthy newborn baby girl.
I can barely take care of my freaking puppy and play a SNG.
I’ll never complain about distractions again.
I spoke with Mark last week about all of his projects, his WSOP plans this year, and much more.
Chops: First of all, congrats on the new baby!
Chops: I bet you haven’t had much opportunity to play the past two weeks...
MS: I actually haven’t played at all live. We had already planned though on me taking a month off before and a month off after the birth. I have been able to play on Absolute Poker though. And I’ll be playing in Reno [the WPT World Poker Challenge] and I’m really excited about that.
Chops: One thing I’ve gotta address...this nickname I'm seeing of yours. Now my name is Chops. It’s a long story how I got that name, but it’s all I’ve gone by for about 15 years now. Recently I’ve seen you referenced as Mark “The Shark” Seif. Where’d that come from? An Absolute Poker creation?
MS: [Laughing] Mark “the Shark” has actually been around for seven or eight years and originally came from being a lawyer. It translates well to poker for obvious reasons, but I hadn’t even heard anyone call me that for years until recently…maybe starting last year after I won the two WSOP events. You see it in the papers, and then all of the sudden people started calling me it again.
Chops: A lot of the new breed of poker players are perceived to be big time gamblers, partiers, really, the new breed of rock star. You seem like you’re taking care of yourself pretty well though. Is it difficult not to get wrapped into the perceived poker lifestyle?
MS: Well, first let me say that if you’re some 22 year-old phenomenal poker player, then the lifestyle is great! You get to fly around the world, play poker, party, hang out with celebrities. It’s a great lifestyle for a certain stage of your life. But for me, I’m just at a different stage where those things don’t appeal to me as much as they did before. So I’ve gotten into the business side as well and I enjoy that. I’m also totally nuts about my wife Jennifer and our new baby Sarah.
Chops: With that said, is it easier for you to maintain a better work-life balance as a poker player than when you were a lawyer?
Seif: Well, with being a lawyer you have a set routine. Sure you work crazy hours but you generally know what your routine is. As a poker player, especially with the other things I have going on, it’s much more [hectic]. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but managing it all can be tough.
Chops: You’ve been winning and cashing in events since 2000, but it was your back-to-back WSOP wins last year that put you on the public’s map. In today’s crowded tournament fields, winning back-to-back WSOP events seems almost unthinkable. What did you do differently (if anything) during those two weeks than you normally do? Was it just a zone? A great run of cards? Or did something click those two weeks that maybe hadn’t before?
MS: I would have to say I did make some adjustments. First, my girlfriend (at the time – now wife) and I moved to Las Vegas. Waking up in my own bed was huge. It’s just easier to adjust and get into the right frame of mind. And having the event at the Rio was great for me. It’s really well lit, ventilated, and they just did a great job pulling the tournament off. So, I was very relaxed and comfortable
Everything just felt right. Absolute Poker was great in supporting me throughout the tournaments. They just told me to play and they’d take care of everything else. They were a big part of my success, and I am fortunate to have such a great relationship.
Chops: How long have you been with Absolute Poker?
MS: I’ve been with them for almost two years now.
Chops: You planning on playing a lot of events at this year’s WSOP?
MS: Yeah, I’m planning on playing all of the no limit hold’em events, seven-card stud, and pot limit hold’em events this year.
MS: Probably not – I am not very good at split pot games.
Chops: You taking anyone under your wings for this year’s WSOP, ala Shannon Sharpe last year?
MS: Yes, this year I will have a couple of protégé’s - look for an announcement on that.
Chops: You’re in a soon-to-be released movie called Freeze-Out. Looks promising and has some decent buzz. Tell us how you got hooked up with it.
MS: Freeze-out, well, the writer, producer, and director M.J. Loheed called me up about making a cameo towards the end of it and to pull some of my friends in it. I got Scotty Ngyuen, Kathy Liebert, and Peter Costa in a scene at the end. It was a lot of fun. It’s a great little movie.
MS: [Laughs] I haven’t seen the game yet but it is weird to see yourself on a bobble head! I’ve actually got two. Poker Heads did one to commemorate the two WSOP bracelets.
Chops: You’ll be a commentator for broadcasts of the newly formed Professional Poker Tour (PPT). Do you think that poker will eventually move to more of a full-time PGA format where the pros aren't fronting their own money?
MS: I think so and the PPT is definitely the first step towards it. The PPT is putting up $2.5 million in prize money to get this launched, not to mention millions more in production costs. This is a big time operation and I really believe this can be successful. Having a PGA-like tour for poker is certainly viable and the PPT is doing the right thing.
Chops: While the PPT launch and the continued success of online gaming sites speaks well of the oker boom, I’d like your take on what you think might cause the boom to slow...
MS: I think a major scandal around players colluding or getting deep into a tournament and doing a 50-50 swap would do some damage. But poker does not seem to be fading at all from the general public’s demand stand point.
Chops: You’re talking about live play?
MS: Yeah, live brick-and-mortar tournament play is probably the most vulnerable to a scandal. The money is so huge nowadays which may cause incentives for people to be less than ethical.
Chops: With the increased attention paid to players (and with the cameras always rolling), do you see this as much of a problem anymore?
MS: I’ve heard of this done in the past but with the extra spotlight and attention on the game now there’s just too much at stake for big name players to engage in this type of bad behavior. But like I said the money is huge. Players could lose millions in endorsement dollars by having their reputation hurt by that so I hope it doesn’t happen.
Chops: How about online? Do you think it’s a potential problem?
MS: In the online space, I would like to say that there has never been one case of cheating by a poker site that has ever been substantiated. The major sites like Absolute Poker have done an amazing job of policing themselves. Payments are fast, play is fair, it’s really amazing how clean online poker is for the most part. Of course, there probably are people out there that are playing in the same games while on the phone or IM'ing each other about their hands. That’s totally unfair and very serious and I think all of the major sites have sophisticated detection tools and human resources to combat and control that..
Chops: Another potential speed-bump in poker’s growth of course is legislation from people like Sen. John Kyl in Arizona to flat-out outlaw online gaming. Do you think these legislative measures have a legit shot at passing?
MS: I certainly hope note. Poker is a game of skill. Certainly chance is a factor but it’s predominantly skill. I hope our legislators see the wisdom in listening to their constituents who are overwhelming in favor of legalized online poker. It would be very sad to deprive Americans the opportunity to play poker online as most of the world is allowed to do.
Chops: All right, final question. What would be your dream six-person table? People can be living, dead, or fictitious.
MS: [Laughs] Dream six-person table….dream six-person table…hold on a minute…going into the tank…OK.
Number 1 is Stu Ungar.
Number 2 is Johnny Moss.
Man that’s tough. Really my list would be made up of all the dead all-time poker greats. Talking to Doyle, and hearing what he had to say about their games, I would love to play against these great players and see how their games would go against today’s more aggressive styles, how they’d handle it and play against it.
Chops: Thank you Mark for the time and great insight. Best of luck!