Steven Gee enters the WSOP main event final table fifth in chips.
His parents' displeasure for his choices didn't satiate his hunger for the game. He remained dedicated to the craft and worked extremely hard to improve, playing mostly low-limit draw lowball.
"In those days, I was really hungry, motivated and driven," he said. "I would play 60 hours a week. The only reason I put in only 60 is because [the casinos] closed on Sundays. I was playing 10 hours a day."
Gradually moving up in stakes, Gee eventually was playing in some of the biggest games in California in his early 20s. Although it is the norm today to see young players dominating the felt, he was an anomaly back in his day. Ironically, Gee was an original poker "young gun" well before the term was ever in vogue in the poker world.
"I never thought about the age thing, then or now," Gee said. "I guess I was the young gun playing with all the guys that were 40 or 50 years old. … I knew I was younger than everyone. I had a few guys in their 30s that I hung around with, but … basically, I was on my own."
Although Gee found success early, poker wasn't always an easy road. His decadent lifestyle eventually led to the evaporation of his bankroll. Gee found himself penniless.
"Early, I won a lot of money playing poker," he reflected. "But [eventually] I went broke. I think the reason for that is I did what a lot of young guys want to do. We partied. We drank. We smoked and we chased women. I wasn't really focused on money management and I didn't play my A-game all the time. I just didn't think I could ever lose or go broke, but I did."
After some soul searching at age 27, Gee decided to return to college and earned a degree in accounting at California State University in Sacramento. Far removed from the haphazard world of poker, he became a completely different person, going to work 9 to 5 every day. Starting out as an accountant, he eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder in a software development company and then a public pension company. In 2008, he was managing more than 30 people and consultants and making almost a six-figure paycheck.
Gee still longed for the days back on the felt, even after 20 years of being in the business world. After witnessing the poker boom, Gee did the unthinkable in 2008. He quit his stable job in the heart of the recession to return to the unpredictable and volatile world of poker.
"I was making close to $100,000, and I quit that job," he said. "It's hard to believe. My friends, my co-workers, my managers, the staff. It was hard for all of them to believe. And I had to tell my parents … and they said, "'Here we go again. Didn't you learn your lesson?'"
Gee did learn his lesson, but felt comfortable back in the world of poker as the game had become mainstream since the Moneymaker effect.
"I saw the rising popularity of poker. … We weren't considered hustlers anymore," he said. "Poker went mainstream, and I saw the tournaments on TV and I said, 'I can do that.' I did it in my 20s and I realize it's a new game, but I can do this."
Initially, Gee returned to his roots and the cash games in California, but he longed for the fame and fortune of a tournament victory.