Derby Lane poker grinder becomes online star

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By Garrett Roth

Every poker player’s dream is to win a major tournament and score a six-figure cash. Now, just imagine doing that four times … in six months. That’s exactly what University of Florida student Steven Burkholder did from October 2008 to February.

Burkholder, 22, was born and raised in Largo, where he’d always play penny poker with his family, but never thought he’d one day rise to the top of the online poker spectrum.
Burkholder, whose online screen names are “PiKappRaider” (PokerStars) and UFman2 (Full Tilt), started his poker career on the felt at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

“I would go to Derby three to four times a week just to play $1-$2 limit hold’em,” he said. “It really gave me a foundation for the game and I learned quickly that poker could be very profitable with the right mind-set and determination.”

Burkholder, who has been featured in CardPlayer, graduated from $1-$2 limit to multitable tournaments. “The tournaments were a lot more exciting to me than cash; they had larger payouts and it’s a lot more exhilarating when you can bet and raise thousands of units rather than one or two dollars.”

He began playing online tournaments in 2006, starting with $1 single-table tournaments and working his way up. The first tournament Burkholder won was a $1 rebuy, which earned him $200 and a starting bankroll that allowed him to play $5 tournaments. Once he started going deep in most of those tournaments and solidifying some nice results, he found a financial backer to stake him in larger buy-ins. It turned out to be a great decision as he learned very quickly how to beat large buy-in fields. There were some modest cashes in the beginning, but little did he know about what kind of accomplishments were to follow.

Burkholder started his “major” success by winning the Full Tilt $750K guarantee for $135,904. This $200 buy-in tournament was the largest cash of his poker career at the time. When asked what it was like to ship his first six-figure score, he said, “It was by far the most intense feeling in the world. Being able to have such a large score under my belt gave me the confidence I needed to take my game to the next level.”

Just one week later he had another outright victory: The PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker Event No. 29, which was a $500 rebuy tournament that earned him $211,134 and a gold bracelet. He since has had wins in the $100 rebuy on PokerStars ($31K) and the $150 rebuy on Full Tilt ($61K). After these wins much of the online poker community labeled him a lucky player on a sick run. When he got wind of these comments he let his results be his response.

“I told my friend I was going to win the Million Guarantee on Full Tilt,” Burkholder said. “I don’t know what it was, but I had the sickest feeling about it. When I was getting really deep, I stopped saying it so I wouldn’t jinx myself, but I kept looking at him and gave him that ‘I’m winning this’ look.”

Turns out he’s a bit of a clairvoyant as well. His premonition was spot on as he won the tournament for his third six-figure cash ($201,848). This score cemented Burkholder in the online poker rankings and gave him some much-deserved attention in the online poker community.

But just when it seemed like his amazing run had come to an end, Burkholder took down one of the most prestigious events on the Internet, the Full Tilt Online Poker Series $300 rebuy Event 17. It was his fourth major online tournament victory and it pocketed him a cool $245,696.

This Derby Lane local, who had never cahsed for more than $10K, had prizes totaling more than $1 million in a span of six months. At press time he was ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 8 in the world in online tournament play on pocketfives.com.

“You know, it’s all about dedication and commitment,” he said. “Everyone is going to take the nastiest beats and have the worst luck at times, but it’s the players who stick through them that will receive the good luck that comes their way. I see people all the time that can’t get over even the last beat they just took and that will affect everything about their game and their all-around attitude for poker. Discuss hands with friends, be patient, Oh… and run good. Next stop … WSOP ’09.”