Sunday Million memories: Heads up for...the PokerStars job?
It was Easter, and Steve Day was alone. His family was halfway across the United States. His wife had gone to visit her family. Although he didn't usually play the PokerStars Sunday majors, he literally had nothing better to do. Even his adult rec hockey league was off for the night. What's more, because it was a holiday, there was a big overlay in the Sunday Million.
"I'd been a professional online player for two and half years at that point," Day (better known then as "ackbleh") recalls today. "I played primarily cash games at the time. That Sunday Million was the first $200+ buy-in tournament I'd played all year."
Meanwhile, Serge Ravitch (adanthar to his poker friends) was a Sunday regular and deep in the same tournament.
"I was a pro with a couple of Sunday MTT wins by then, but hadn't had any success on Stars prior to that day. My largest score was something like $25,000," he said.
There were a lot of remarkable things about that day: the overlay, the stacked final table, and the two pros who got heads up for the title. Not only were Day and Ravitch well-known players then, they both went on to work for the very same company: PokerStars.
As you're probably aware by now, PokerStars is guaranteeing $7 million in this weekend's special anniversary Sunday Million. It's made a lot of us who have been around since before the Million a little a misty with nostalgia. When we started looking back at some favorite Sunday Millions, we looked and said, "Hey. That guys works for PokerStars now. And so does that guy! They got heads up!"
That spring day in 2006, Day and Ravitch worked their way through a tough final table that eventually ended in a chop.
Ravitch recalls, "The final table was extremely stacked for the time period. Despite playing for huge amounts of money, it felt almost like a home game instead of a Sunday final table, with a lot of joking back and forth. We eventually made a deal four-handed, which removed most of the pressure. I still very badly wanted to win just to say I'd won the Sunday Million, but after the deal, the win itself--coming on a sick cooler for Steve--was almost anticlimactic."
At the time, neither of the men expected where his life would end up. For his part, Day focused on hard core relaxation.
"At the time I was pretty big on maximum enjoyment and minimum future planning," Day said. "For an online pro, I played very little poker for the rest of the year, using my winnings to support myself. I played video games, hung out with friends, and played a lot of hockey."
Meanwhile, Ravitch focused his efforts back in his game.
"I put away most of the money and kept playing professionally for several more years, so the win didn't really change much about my day to day life, although having a very large backup roll definitely helped," Ravitch said.
A couple of years later, Day had made Supernova Elite and needed a break. He and his wife started looking for job listings. They found a posting for PokerStars VIP Program Manager.
"I applied a few days later. Things happened quickly; within a few days I had completed a phone interview and was booked on a trip to the Isle of Man for an interview," Day said.
A few years passed, and soon the one-time heads-up opponents met again.
"I'd always been a little more focused on the business side of the industry than most players, though, so I kept an eye on opportunities within it," Ravitch said. "Eventually, through some fortunate circumstances involving winning another tournament, I met Lee Jones and wound up working with him. When he came back to PokerStars in 2011, he brought me over as well."
Now both men are married with children and working coveted jobs. To do so, they've given up a chance to play on PokerStars. As long as they keep their jobs, they won't even be able to enter a Sunday Million, let alone get heads-up for a title. That's fine with Day.
"Go back to that time? I wouldn't want to repeat it now as I'm at a different place," Day said. "I don't regret the past though. It's what got me here, and it was quite a bit of fun!"
Ravitch still remembers the feeling of winning poker's biggest weekly online event. But would he go back?
"There's always going to be a part of me that remembers reaching the top of the mountain. There have been a number of times when I've needed to make a big decision that I've told myself to flash back to the day I won the biggest online poker tournament in the world, and it's instantly calmed me down and helped me reach the right conclusion. The mindset never completely goes away," he said.
For more information on this weekend's $7 million weekend, visit the Sunday Million anniversary home page.
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