Step Back in Time: Jesse Sylvia Looks Back on WPT Borgata Poker Open Win

By Paul Seaton Back in 2012, Jesse Sylvia finished as runner-up in the WSOP Main Event, winning $5.2 million in the process. Four years later, the hugely successful player still hadn’t won a tournament, not even a small buy-in event local to him. When, in 2016, Sylvia won the WPT Main Event in Borgata for…

Matt Clark
Sep 12, 2019

Champion Jesse Sylvia

By Paul Seaton

Back in 2012, Jesse Sylvia finished as runner-up in the WSOP Main Event, winning $5.2 million in the process. Four years later, the hugely successful player still hadn’t won a tournament, not even a small buy-in event local to him.

When, in 2016, Sylvia won the WPT Main Event in Borgata for $821,811, he finally laid that ghost to rest and got his name engraved on the famous WPT Champions Cup. We caught up with the poker legend to discuss his watershed moment and a particularly exciting hand that took place along the way. Here’s that pivotal poker hand.

Sylvia’s memories of the hand, and the tournament he won, are still strong to this day. All the action was pre-flop. Chris Limo bet 120,000 with Club 10Club 8 and Farid Jattin made it 880,000 with Spade 5Club 4. Sylvia stuck in a four-bet with Club ASpade K and then called an all-in shove from Jattin for his tournament life.

“I saw it coming,” confesses Jesse Sylvia these three years later. “He told me he had something really trashy two nights before over a drink. It was a hand a few years earlier. He was playing Kenny Tran. He’d four-bet Tran, who then bet almost half his stack and Farid jammed with something not so strong. Kenny folded getting 3 to 1 and Farid showed a three.”

Memories of that hand fresh in his mind, Sylvia managed to find the right line against the entertaining Jattin. But then, that style of play was very much a sign of the times.

“In 2012, we were all a lot more aggro pre-flop; we had a lot more four-bet, five-bet type wars. It was a really fun time. I remember realizing that if I could put in the last bet so they had to go all-in or fold, I could make a lot of money and I was doing that.”

If poker was different in 2012, so too was the perception of Sylvia from other players. Prior to his participation in the final table of the WSOP Main Event, he was just a player. But he learned to use the cache of his poker celebrity to influence his game.

“Some players wanted to knock me out, I’ve heard people say that and call it off against me. Most of the hands that made it to TV in the Main Event showed me being about as aggressive pre-flop as I’ve ever played. People adjusted because we played so crazy in 2012, which made cash games and tournament fun!”

Sylvia’s affection for the era is commonplace among poker pros who have lived through the same generation of progression that he has. Nowadays, Sylvia admits, he can’t just click it back because ‘they don’t have random cards anymore.’

By 2016, that style had faded a little, but Jattin’s play is something Sylvia did and still does, admire.

“I think Farid assumed I recognized he had a really good spot to three-bet, and therefore he had a range that contained too many bluffs, which means I can then bluff him more and exploit. I’m not sure how often I would be bluffing there in all honesty, but what I do know is that I thought he would be three-betting light a lot.”

Sylvia’s respect for Jattin is clear. He states that he has always admired Jattin’s ability to disguise his hand by playing any two cards if he instinctively feels the time is right, making him so hard to put on a specific hand.

“Farid has a very unique ability to find spots to three-bet in the moment and he doesn’t care so much about what his hand is. That’s a skill-set that more people could work on.”

As play got closer and closer to the last stages, Sylvia was on a roll.

“I’d been pretty handcuffed on Day 4 and Farid was going crazy with the chips. We were on the final table bubble and I didn’t know if he’d do something like that against me. Going into the final six, I was the shortest stack.”

Pushing for the win, Sylvia loved the special buzz that playing a World Poker Tour final table provides. It’s unlike any other poker experience, and that comes from a man who has played the WSOP Main Event along with hundreds of other events.

“The experience of a WPT final table is unique. You don’t need to worry about balancing or anything when you’re never going to see the players or the scenario again. You can get away with some stuff. You can find situations where three-betting any two is profitable.”

With payouts fairly top-heavy, Sylvia was freed from ICM-style worry. He was better off pushing to come in the top three and could play looser. To the left of Jattin, he used that table position to chip up and would eventually triumph over Zach Gruneberg to win the event.

“I’d never won a tournament in my life which was a bit frustrating although, obviously, people hadn’t enjoyed the success I’d had. It was a relief to actually win one.” Says Sylvia, transported back to that winning moment in his memory.

“I was exhausted, but I remember the feeling when I won. I thought it would be elation, but instead, it was relief. At the time I was hyper-focused on trying to win the heads-up match. The next day I was overcome with joy.”

Champion Jesse Sylvia

He loved being able to share that moment with his friends and family on the WPT rail. He puts plenty of his fondness for the feelings he has down to how the WPT organize their Main Events.

“The WPT is really good at creating a togetherness. A lot of things they do like Champions Dinners and player parties. They’ve created a social aspect to poker that is lacking in a lot of other places, it’s a real experience. I’m lucky to view it from a Champion’s perspective. They go cool places and pick a fun city for the Tournament of Champions stop – I love that event!”

Expect to see Jesse Sylvia in that $15,000 buy-in event at the end of the year. Until then, Sylvia will enjoy playing with flexibility and flow his success has afforded him. Every now and then, he’ll cast his mind back to Borgata, and that title-winning ‘Step Back in Time’.