A changed Shaun Deeb focused in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS -- Somewhere tonight in Albany, New York, 1-year-old Evan Deeb is fast asleep, surrounded by a slew of stuffed animals. Some 2,500 miles away his father, Shaun, is back at work, sitting near the chip lead in the $5,000 eight-max no-limit hold 'em event at the World Series of Poker, surrounded by some of the best tournament poker players in the world. Both are comfortable in their current surroundings, for now. While Shaun is focused on the tournament at hand, a growing part of the elder Deeb would rather be at home with his young son and wife, Ashley.

Just six days ago, Deeb found himself on top of the poker world, at least for one night. Deeb beat out a final table that included Jason Koon, Ismael Bojang, Greg Merson, Sam Stein, Jason Les and Paul Volpe to win the first WSOP bracelet of his career. While Deeb erased his name from the "best without a bracelet" list with that win, he doesn’t think it would have bothered him if he had gone his entire career without one – at least not much.

“I think I've had enough online success and big titles there, but it's definitely something where when I'm 60 years old and tell people I was a professional poker player in my 20s, they're going to say, ‘Oh, did you win a bracelet?’ And now I can say yes,” said Deeb. “To the public that legitimizes my efforts, my profession, my results, so that just kind of makes an easier conversation down the road.”

One of those conversations will undoubtedly be with Evan. He’s not anywhere near old enough now to understand what his father does for a living, how respected he is amongst his peers and just what the WSOP bracelet represents, but he’ll have it explained to him one day. Truth be told, Evan played a special role in his father finally grabbing a bracelet.

His son's birth caused Deeb to re-evaluate a few things. No longer willing to just fire away at every tournament on the schedule, or jump in a juicy looking cash game no matter what else was going on, Deeb admits he’s matured a lot since Evan was born.

“I'll be 30 next year. I've been doing this job for many years now. It's a different game than when I first came around. I didn't really think about how much money I was spewing off in different situations,” said Deeb. “I just played tournaments and if I busted, I went and played another tournament. Nowadays I'm a little more focused on each one I play trying my hardest to win money at it, so I obviously think I'll get better results with that style.”

With the milestone birthday on the horizon, Deeb is getting a crash course in the importance of milestones. With Evan it’s all about firsts – first steps and first words are documented and remembered. With that mentality it’s hard not to take a step back and recognize that winning a bracelet is a special moment and should be treated differently than any other tournament successes.

“The first one (feels special)," he said. "I don't think any of the ones after it should, but getting the first one out of the way is just really good because who knows how many more summers I'm going to want to spend out here now that I have a family. I want to spend the summers with them, barbecuing, doing fun stuff. We'll see. I just wanted to get it out of the way because, I want to take a lot of breaks down the road.”

For anybody who has followed Deeb’s career since he first burst onto the scene as an online tournament superstar, hearing Deeb talk about taking time away from poker, to do something that isn’t in some way poker related, is a real paradigm shift. He’s even talking about leaving Las Vegas in the middle of the WSOP to go home and just be a dad and a husband – but proving she’s a perfect fit for Deeb, his wife Ashley has had her say as well.

“I think I'm going to go home for a week. My wife gave me permission if I keep making final tables to stay out here. So I would say the better I'm doing in Player of the Year, which I don't really care about, but if I'm closer I might as well go for it because I think it's one of those thing where you only have once in your career to have a shot at it,” said Deeb, currently in the top 10 in that race and sitting on a top 10 stack heading into the final day of the eight-max event.

With three cashes – and a growing stack in another event – Deeb could bring his family west so he gets that much-needed face time, but thinking more like a father than a poker player, Deeb recognizes there are some challenges with bringing his wife and young child to Las Vegas.

“My wife's really pushing for it but I keep telling her, hotels are not the best place for a one year old and I really don't know what she's going to do day in, day out. It's too hot in this city for a kid as young as him, so I just don't want to put him at risk,” said Deeb. "Also he's done a couple flights and he doesn't really love it, so trying to fly as little as possible with him. I just think it's easier for me to go there than them come to here.“

Shaun Deeb the bracelet winner and Shaun Deeb the family man were two diametrically opposed concepts just two years ago. But as Evan sleeps the night away back in Albany, his father knows that he’s become both of those things in a little over a year and neither can be taken away from him.