By Sean Chaffin
It was a big moment that morning on the train for a young Steve Kintzel (pictured), but a big part of his poker life. He grew up in New Jersey and his father and several coworkers had been playing Texas Hold’em on the subway for years while on their way to work in Manhattan in the late-1970s and early-1980s.
They’d spend that time betting and bluffing, but the commute didn’t make for an easy game. The men dealt the cards and played out hands, but carrying chips wasn’t conducive for the trip. Instead, they kept track of their wins and losses on a piece of paper.
“Each guy would get two cards and they’d be standing around or sitting in the train car,” says the Kintzel, 55, who lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “They’d settle up and cash out when they got off the train. I actually rode the train in with him a couple times in high school.”
It’s a nice memory for Kintzel, and he still vividly still remembers that first day of getting in on his dad’s subway game. Years later, he’s still playing and is now among those in the field for Day 1 of the WPT L.A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino. After winning a qualifying tournament on ClubWPT featuring thousands of players, Kintzel’s now hoping that luck continues.
Navy Man and Poker Player
That love of poker continued while Kintzel served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. Much of that was spent serving as an officer aboard a submarine. Life underwater for weeks at a time could be dull at times, and poker was a frequent way to pass some time with fellow officers.
“The longest I’ve been underwater without seeing the sun was 67 days,” he says. “I’ve been to sea on every Trident ballistic missile submarine.”
That may sound like a lot, but working an 18-hour day with only five or six hours of sleep kept them so busy, Kintzel says, that most didn’t think about not seeing the outside world.
Kintzel, who now works as an engineer for the Navy, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After playing with his family and friends in high school, the games continued during his time at the academy, but took on a bit of a different look.
“You’re not supposed to play cards there for money,” he says. “So we would actually play for coffee stirrers. Half a coffee stirrer was a dime, and a full one was a quarter.”
If someone came into the room and caught them playing, the Midshipmen could argue they were merely playing for coffee stirrers – but would settle up for real cash later.
That love of cards started with his father and continued throughout life. Regular games with family and his cousins brought fond memories from his youth. Before action at the LAPC got underway, Kintzel noted: “Poker has always been a big part of my life.”
After playing Zynga Poker for years, Kintzel had amassed more than 700 million in play-chip winnings after starting with 10,000. Zynga is a WPT partner and one of the most popular poker sites in the world. However, social poker is a bit different than having some real winnings on the line, so last March, Kintzel decided to give ClubWPT a shot.
ClubWPT is the tour’s sweepstakes poker site offers players a chance to win real money and prizes for a monthly subscription fee of $24.95. The site even offers players a chance to qualify for major tour events. Kintzel is a fan of WPT and after seeing it advertised during a tournament, he knew it was time to give it a shot.
Things started out well and he won a small tournament that first week. He’s continued to play in the intervening months, winning some money here and there.
“I get home from work every night and I play catch with my dog,” says Kintzel, who is married with a 23-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son. “While I’m throwing a ball for the dog to go chase, I’ll sit there and log in and play a tournament and watch the news. On the weekends I’ll play some of the bigger tournaments. I have done pretty well and gotten close, but never won one.”
In late-December that changed while Kintzel was recuperating from hernia surgery. Not able to do much, he entered a Sunday afternoon tournament on ClubWPT while laying in bed. After four and a half hours, he was heads-up for a trip to the LAPC. The battle went back and forth for an hour, and at one point Kintzel had less than 1 million in chips to his opponent’s 9 million.
“I fought my way back,” he says. “On the final hand, I caught two pair on the flop and he shoved all in with a pair nines with a high kicker. And that was it.”
Kintzel conquered a field of 2,450 players. His son is learning to play poker and was thrilled to see his dad heading to the West Coast for a shot at big money.
“My wife I don’t really think understood the significance of finishing on top and beating that many players,” he says. “But my son thought it was really cool.”
What’s his strategy here at Commerce?
“One day at a time, one level at a time,” he says, “and hopefully get some good cards, make some good decisions, and make it to the final table.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
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