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His first million may be in the cards

Jeff Madsen, a UCSB student, becomes the youngest winner of an event in World Series of Poker history.

July 22, 2006|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Jeff Madsen approached his 21st birthday earlier this summer with a predictable sense of anticipation over the doors that would suddenly open for him.

No, not barroom doors -- Las Vegas casino doors.

It seems Madsen, of Brentwood, has been making the most of his legal transition to adulthood. Over the last three weeks, he's won nearly $760,000 in the World Series of Poker tournament at the Rio hotel. His big pot: $661,000 won in a three-day no-limit Hold 'Em game that ended Sunday, making Madsen, at 21 years and five weeks, the youngest winner in the tournament's 37-year history.

Not a bad haul for a college student on summer break.

But he's not done yet; he will likely play in five or six more games before the seven-week tournament ends Aug. 10. Madsen lost in the first day's play of a three-day, $1,500 buy-in no limit Hold 'Em game earlier this week, but began Friday in fourth place with $160,300 in a three-day, $5,000 buy-in round of No Limit Hold 'Em that began Thursday.

It's enough to make a mother proud.

"This is his craft," said Harriet Madsen. "He's very competitive and he believes in himself. It's instilled in him that he could do whatever he wants to do."

Madsen's goal going in was to win one of the nearly four dozen "events" that make up the World Series of Poker tournament. Each event winner receives a gold bracelet, a poker player's version of the rings handed out to players on Major League Baseball's winning World Series team. Madsen wanted one.

"When he called, he didn't say a word about the money," his mother said. "He said, 'Mom, I got my gold bracelet.' "

It's not that he's indifferent to the cash.

"I'm just going to do a lot of random shopping," Madsen said by telephone less than an hour before he was to start yet another game. "I really haven't figured it out yet."

Poker, Madsen admitted, wasn't the career path his parents were expecting when they sent him off three years ago to study film at UC Santa Barbara.

"At first my parents were a little skeptical ... but as I got better, I convinced them I could do well," Madsen said. "They're more accepting of it now."

In fact, they kicked in $3,500 of the $10,000 he needed to buy into six events at the tournament, his initial plan. The rest of the money came from his college fund, he said.

Madsen was introduced to the game by a friend the summer after he graduated from Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades. Madsen took to it and quickly built a small library of poker books to study strategies and better understand the different variations of the game. As a student at UC Santa Barbara, he began stealing away to the Chumash Casino in the Santa Ynez Valley, where the minimum age to gamble is 18.

"I started playing well, not making a lot, but I won a couple of tournaments for $2,000 for first place," Madsen said. "That was my biggest win before this. It prepared me for the big time."

Over the telephone, Madsen doesn't sound particularly excited about his sudden wealth. A friend had joined him for part of the stay in Vegas, and others might yet make it out to the desert. But distractions might not be good. Some poker sessions can run 12 hours, and it takes effort to focus.

"I've been mostly playing poker," Madsen said. "I haven't done as much partying as I'd like to."

Madsen called his parents just before the final round of his big win in a game that began with 1,600 players. His mother asked whether he was nervous or excited.

"He said no, I'm not, nobody intimidates me," Harriet Madsen said. "There's a cool, calm, collected part of him.... Poker suits his personality. He's quiet and intuitive and because he's good in math this whole thing came together."

Madsen has taken the success in stride. He might buy a car, he said, but probably won't, given how hard it is to find parking near UC Santa Barbara. And he'll definitely return to college for his final year, hoping to pursue dual careers in film and poker.

"I can do an independent movie myself," Madsen said.

As he plays his way through the tournament, his parents have been unable to join him. His father, an architect, has been waylaid by project deadlines, and his mother, a health insurance agent, has been spending most of her time in a Los Angeles hospital where her 86-year-old mother is gravely ill.

"It puts things into perspective," Harriet Madsen said. "What Jeffrey has accomplished is really great, but it's not everything."

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