West Tisbury poker player vies for $8 million tournament prize

Jesse Sylvia of West Tisbury (fourth from right) leads the World Series of Poker tournament going into the final table. — Photo courtesy of Poker News

Jesse Sylvia, a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate from West Tisbury, will compete for a first prize of more than $8 million at the final table of the World Series of Poker in October, viewed by many experts as the most prestigious poker tournament in the world.

On Monday, Mr. Sylvia emerged from 6,598 of the world’s best players as one of nine finalists after six days of play. The tournament featured players from 82 different countries, with the youngest player 21, and the oldest 92.

Reached by phone in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Mr. Sylvia was still somewhat overwhelmed at his newfound fame and fortune in the poker world, and desperate for some sleep. He will have three months to prepare for the final table.

“I’ll return to the Island soon,” Mr. Sylvia said. “I’ll be playing, studying, taking it easy and relaxing.”

Mr. Sylvia’s many Island friends may get to be in his cheering section in when the final table is televised on ESPN.

“I want to make the Final Table, go home and bring everyone I know back here in a bunch of buses to get into it,” Mr. Sylvia told Poker Listings, an online poker site, earlier in the tournament.

With aggressive play on Monday, he won the biggest hand of the tournament. He will hold a big advantage going into the final round of play in the fall, holding a huge lead in chips over the other eight players.

Mr. Sylvia, 26, spent summers working in Island restaurants, but he was already playing poker professionally online while in high school.

Todd Rebello, an Oak Bluffs businessman who also plays professional poker, has stayed in close touch during the tournament. He advised Mr. Sylvia to be ready for a big life change when ESPN begins televising the tournament.

“This is like playing shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, where this kid is sitting right now on the poker world,” said Mr. Rebello, a former Oak Bluffs selectman. “A lot of people on the Island are following it. It’s quite exciting to see someone from Martha’s Vineyard get this far in this tournament.”

Mr. Rebello was one of those following hand for hand Internet reports of the tournament. With the three-hour time difference in Las Vegas, that meant some late nights.

“I haven’t slept for four nights,” Mr. Rebello said. “This is no fluke, this kid can play. I’m so excited for him.”

The tournament began July 7 in Las Vegas. The entry fee is $10,000. Some players qualified for the main event by winning satellite tournaments earlier in the year. Most of the world’s top professional poker players gear their careers around the World Series of Poker.

Over six long, grueling days, players build their chip stacks by playing against eight other players at individual tables. As players lose all their chips and are forced out of the tournament, the tables are consolidated until only one table remains.

When play resumes in October, Mr. Sylvia will have 48.9 million chips, or 25 percent of all the chips on the table. The second ranked player will start with 29.4 million chips. The enormous chip lead will give Mr. Sylvia a tremendous advantage in the No Limit Hold’em format. He will have the opportunity to force any of the other players out of the tournament at any time, by pushing all his chips in.

Final table play begins October 28, and the winner will be decided on October 30 during a live ESPN broadcast from Las Vegas. ESPN begins airing the tournament’s early rounds on August 14, with two-hour programs every Tuesday night at 8 pm.

The prize money for the World Series of Poker is mind-boggling. The total prize pool is $62,021,200. The top 666 players earned prize money.

All nine players walked away from Monday’s play with a check for $754,798. In the final round in October, the winner can expect to take home a check for a whopping $8,527,982.