WSOP bracelet winner Steve Zolotow has an interesting poker history so we caught up with him: “I wasn’t the best backgammon player or the best poker player, but I was way better than anybody, on average, at both games”

The two-time WSOP bracelet winner cut his teeth in New York’s infamous Mayfair Club in the 70s

Sporting his signature Fu Man Chu moustache, Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow resembles the grooviest (and possibly most perverse) prof on campus. He exemplifies the low-key poker pro who manages to cash in without hitting a marketing jackpot (Phil Hellmuth) or being the best (Chip Reese). Zee has done well by figuring out games and capitalising on other players’ mistakes. Along the way, he’s won two WSOP bracelets and cashed in Series events 27 times.

You honed your poker skills at Manhattan’s infamous Mayfair Club [where Erik Seidel, Dan Harrington and Howard Lederer also cut their teeth]. This would have started in the 1970s, after you’d played for miniscule stakes in Gardena, California, acted in a couple of porn films, melted your mind on drugs and got yourself kicked out of the army. Did it feel like a perfectly great office job?

Yeah. I played at the Mayfair every day. The stakes increased, some very good players began coming down and everybody improved. It was a terrific life, very educational and probably kept me off drugs. I quickly learned that sometimes it’s better to be the best gambler than to be the best player.

When did Texas Hold’em come to the Mayfair?

In the mid-1970s – I helped get it introduced. Back then Paul Magriel (poker player and author of a seminal backgammon title) had a backgammon proposition. I don’t remember the particulars, but he said he knew he was taking the worst of it and would do it once for $200. We played, I won, and he wanted to do it again. I said I wouldn’t, since he had promised to do it only once. But, of course, that made him want to do it even more and he started steaming. So he suggested we play a Hold’em freezeout using 15 backgammon checkers apiece as chips. We played our freezeout and began incorporating Hold’em into our backgammon matches. It caught on and the Mayfair started spreading some games. I wasn’t the best backgammon player or the best poker player, but I was way better than anybody, on average, at both games.

You’re known for being good at picking your spots. What sorts of cash games have you played in over the years?

I played as high as $1,500/$3,000, which used to be the big game in Vegas. But generally, I found that sitting down with Chip [Reese] and Doyle [Brunson] made no sense unless there was a bad player in there. My results against “I learned that it’s sometimes better to be the best gambler than to be the best player” Chip and Doyle were not particularly good. But if Greek George happened to be in town, I played and won. At $400/$800 the players were a notch worse and I was a steady winner.

Have you ever gotten into hustling wealthy amateurs?

No. I’m not into chasing live ones. If a situation is convenient though, and I enjoy it, well, that’s something else. The Larry Flynt Stud game, for example, was fun. I liked a lot of the people: Larry was charming, Barry Greenstein [who still plays in the Flynt game] is very funny and Eric Drache [who organised the game] is a real raconteur. But I wouldn’t want to spend time with a bunch of weasels. If I’m playing in a poker game and someone is losing a lot of money but he smells bad, I’ll leave and go to a movie.

Would you take another shot at the Big Game – with the right sort of line-up present?

Probably not. I’ve managed a relative degree of prosperity and I’m not trying to rock the boat. So even if there was a $4,000/$8,000 game full of live ones would I want to be in a situation where I could lose a million dollars? That would be a quasi-disaster.

You came along before anyone could have conceived of sponsorships and the riches they’ve generated. What do you think of the current poker boom?

I think it’s wonderful. Online is good; I like playing two tables at once while I watch TV. It’s fun to see people spotting Dan Harrington and asking him for an autograph. But sometimes I feel like a guy who played football in the early days, with no padding and only got paid $300 a game. However, it’s hard for me to feel very bad. Back when I was scraping by in Gardena, playing $3/$6, if someone told me I was going to have an apartment in New York and a house in Vegas and X-dollars as a bankroll, I would have shaken my head and said, ‘Come on. Nobody’s got that kind of money.’

PokerPlayer magazine is published monthly and you can read it in digital formats HERE

Pin It

Comments are closed.