Lehavot taking it one year at a time

Look at the résumés of some of the most talented engineers in the world and you'll find that instead of long, distinguished careers with one or two firms, they're loaded with a number of high-profile tasks in high-profile positions at leading companies, one after the other. Engineers, by trade, love the challenge of solving problems and utilizing new approaches to maximize success. They also like the idea of chasing what's new and staying fresh, evolving as technology does.

Amir Lehavot was working as an engineer for Cadence in 2007 when he felt he was getting a little burned out. This wasn't the first time he'd felt this way, so understanding his situation, Lehavot, armed with savings, decided to take a year off, a common practice for many in Silicon Valley. After the year was over, he planned to re-evaluate his life and pursue the job market when he was ready. Above everything else, Lehavot was looking for something new. He found it in poker.

Unlike others who dived into the game headfirst, the dual citizen (United States and Israel) simply just enjoyed the mental challenge.

"I had played poker before, but it was never really anything but a very small hobby," said Lehavot. "I wanted to do it for fun and nothing else."

Lehavot failed to make the money in his first WSOP appearance (2007), and that could've been the end of his journey had he not discovered twoplustwo.com, a popular site dedicated to the poker community.

"I found 2+2 very interesting. I read a lot of posts and the site was basically a big message board," said Lehavot. "The platform that they were using for discussions was based on an old technology, not optimized for poker. They didn't take advantage of social networks, etc., so I had the idea of starting a website … optimized for talking about poker hands."

The engineer in him was now focused on solving a new problem. He still wasn't invested in actually playing the game, but now he had his next project. Ahead of his time, he wanted to create a truly social experience for poker players, and he founded Pokerwit.com.

As he began to work on the site, he believed that brushing up on poker would be beneficial. In early 2008, he deposited his first $50 on PokerStars and entered four $12 180-man sit-and-gos. He failed to cash in the first three. As fate would have it, he won the fourth for $396.49.

"I didn't really know all that much about poker or bankroll management at that time," said Lehavot. "I got lucky and won the fourth and things just picked up from there. I really enjoyed playing online. I loved the flexibility, and a year later, I was thinking that I'd take another year and evaluate after that."

The second year came and went and Lehavot began to make some major strides in his game. His site launched, and not only did his infatuation with online poker grow, but his efforts in live poker resulted in five-figure scores on the World Poker Tour and WSOP felt. Everything was falling into place.

"It's a very strategic game that requires a lot of skill," he said. "It's analytical, psychological, strategic. I always enjoy challenging my mind."

Less than 15 months after depositing for the first time, Lehavot chopped the Sunday Million, the largest weekly online tournament in the world, for $142,970. "AmirSF" was no longer just any other online alias, he was a player to be feared at the table.

Another year passed, and he wasn't ready to head back into the office just yet.

In 2010, Lehavot cashed in the main event for the second consecutive year. Armed with a bigger live bankroll and some backers, Lehavot made his first major final table on the World Poker Tour, finishing fourth.

After all the successes, Lehavot's life was turned upside down on April 15, 2011. Black Friday shut down his ability to play online in the United States and he'd have to focus on what events he really wanted to play moving forward. He chose a few tournaments at the WSOP, including the $10,000 pot-limit hold 'em world championship, and, just like his other life decisions, things turned out pretty well. Lehavot won the bracelet and $573,346.

"In my career, I don't think my overall EV has been extremely lucky, but my timing has been extremely lucky," he said. A bracelet winner and owner of seven figures in winnings in both live and online play, Lehavot was also about to experience something new altogether: becoming a father.

He traveled a little more in anticipation of his son's birth and headed abroad sporadically to keep playing online. After the 2012 WSOP, his priorities shifted far away from poker, as taking care of his wife, Idil, and son, Leo, was simply everything. Similar to JC Tran's approach, if he was going to be away from his family, he needed to pick and choose what events mattered most.

He headed to the 2013 WSOP with a permanent smile on his face, and as the main event approached, earning only three small cashes didn't faze him.

"Before I played the main event, I felt that I was at the high point at my life in terms of happiness and satisfaction and how things are going for me," Lehavot reflected. "My wife and I are so happy to have our son. He adds so much to our life."

Playing for his family, Lehavot, 38, had the dream main event and benefited greatly from James Alexander's blow-up to coast into the November Nine. When action resumes on Monday, Nov. 4, Lehavot will be second in chips and flanked by his friends and family as he goes for the $8.3 million top prize.

"I'm extremely fortunate to have such a supportive group of friends," he said. "It makes you feel good when everyone is so supportive and understanding. It could be a stressful position to be in an uncertain state for such a long period of time, but my friends and family have been so supportive."

That support includes financial support as well. Lehavot has come a long way over the past five years, especially in terms of bankroll management. Heading into the final table, few people will have some additional interest in him including his parents, a close friend and some others, including Faraz Jaka, who bought pieces after he had made the final table.

"He's one of the few guys at the final table who has a large sample size of online tournaments played with a good ROI as well," said Jaka. "Anyone who's spent the time grinding out a large sample size of online tournaments and consistently won is going to have a much better understanding of the fundamentals."

Lehavot's decision to sell pieces at this stage in the game was surprising and critiqued by many, but the elder statesman at the final table is simply trying to set an example.

"It seemed like a very logical thing for me to do," he said. "At this point in my career, when I do understand variance very well, it seems logical to me that anyone who has an opportunity to do it, should. It's risk management. I thought there would be a good chance that I could offer a deal that was appealing to investors and so I decided to go ahead with it. … It's a good practice that many people aren't doing; selling shares, trying to manage their bankroll."

It's that careful, meticulous approach that Lehavot embodies and can make him such a threat at the final table. Just moments away from turning a hobby into a championship, Lehavot is back in Vegas and ready for the next step. Oh, and one more year away from his day job.