On Friday, Brandon Schaefer stood on the stage of the Pavilion room at the secondary feature table of the 2012 World Series of Poker as a bracelet winner. He bested 1,137 players to take down Event #14: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout for $311,174. Another player wins a bracelet, one of 61 that will be awarded this summer. Here’s a player who has won nearly $800,000 before this score, so he must be just another regular professional poker player with not much more to him, right? Wrong.
There is a lot more to this guy than meets the eye. He is now an ex-professional player and on June 15, will be back at Fort Rucker in Alabama, to enroll in flight school.
In 2004 he was in a regular job when he, like many others during this time, discovered poker and became passionate about the game. He studied hard and read everything he could on game before he gave up work in December 2004 to become a rakeback grinder.
He earned enough VPPs on PokerStars to head to Europe to play in the newly-formed European Poker Tour, specifically the stop in Deauville, France. He won the Main Event of the French Open at the EPT, pocketing €144,000, just a month and a half into his professional career.
That victory gave him free entry into the season-ending EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, where he made it to heads-up play, eventually losing to Rob Hollink. It was still a great achievement, and he actually cashed for more than for his Deauville victory, taking home €350,000. These results enabled him to fulfill his passion for traveling as well as poker. From there, he traveled the circuit for many years with great success.
Schaefer’s brother is a pilot in the U.S. Army and his travels enabled him to pay him visits from time to time. When visiting his brother and his brother’s friends, Schaefer heard constant stories of how great it was to be a pilot and recognized their passion for aviation was much like Schaefer’s for poker.
After seven years as a professional player, Schaefer became disillusioned with the game and decided he needed more from life than just clicking buttons for a living — something more fulfilling. After taking more advice from his brother, Schaefer began the long drawn-out process of applying to the U.S. Army, with the end goal of becoming a helicopter pilot. Throughout the eight-month application process, he was more and more sure this was the right thing for him.
He was accepted and enrolled in basic training last September, and from there went through Officer school, Advanced Officer school and survival training. He loved the process, and army life, and soon began to dedicate himself to the correct army ways, just like he did when he was learning poker.
So what’s he doing back in Las Vegas at the WSOP? He actually forgot the series was happening and came into town on a two-week leave from the army for the Electric Daisy Carnival, which is going on this weekend. He soon realized the series had kicked off and the shootout event fit in with his schedule and the type of event he wanted to play — not too expensive, no long days, and he would know within a few hours of playing if he had a good chance of cashing.
When he first stepped back inside the Rio the first thing that hit him was all the players on the rail recalling bad beat stories and he thought to himself, “Was I really part of this for seven years?”
He sat down and blocked it all out by plugging in his headphones and getting to work, or what he used to do for work. He felt a calmness come over him and the way he played — a lot that he attributes to his army training. Less than three days later he was heads-up with Jon Cohen fighting for the title.
A WSOP bracelet was Schaefer’s dream for more seven years; it’s the Holy Grail for most poker players. The closest he got was finishing 11th in a $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em event in 2008. He gave up the game and then came back and won one at his first, and only attempt, this summer. Schaefer admits to fully getting the irony of the whole situation and described his feeling as "dream-like."
The money won’t change his mind on career path, however, even if the army allowed him to. He is the Army’s property for the next six years and he can’t wait to get up in the sky and start flying helicopters. That being said, he admits having $300,000 in the bank offers him the freedom to play the random, odd tournament and take a shot if he so desires.
If we never see Schaefer again at a poker table, then on Friday, poker gave him the perfect parting gift — a fully deserving gift for someone who is, and will continue to, sacrifice so much so that the rest of us will have the freedom to continue playing.
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