Winning the second event in the World Series of Poker seemed unlikely for Jesse Klein. At the $25,000 HORSE final table, the Philadelphia businessman faced quite a battle.
Benny Glaser and Ben Yu both have three bracelets each and David Benyamine hoped to capture his second. Chad Eveslage hadn’t yet won a bracelet, but has a World Poker Tour title on his resumé.
Another obstacle? Phil Hellmuth looking to add to his legacy with a 16th bracelet.
Despite all this, the relatively unknown Klein came out on top after coming out of nowhere. With only $20,000 in live tournament winnings, the 44-year-old father of two shocked the poker world – scoring a bracelet and $552,182.
Klein spoke with USPoker this week about his journey from poker obscurity to scoring at such a massive level.
Coming out of nowhere
Winning a high roller featuring a field of mixed games specialists isn’t easy even for a professional player. Anyone who follows the high roller scene knows a small group of pros play at these levels and less-experienced players face extremely long odds.
Jumping in this kind of action on a whim probably means a quick five-figure loss for most players. Klein may have seemed an unlikely winner, but mixed games are his favorite form of poker. He just doesn’t play tournaments too often.
Until COVID, he’d been a regular in some higher stakes cash games at Borgata and Parx casinos. The pandemic and his growing business have limited his time at the tables lately however.
“I used to play a lot – a couple times a week,” he says. “Now it’s kind of hard with all the things I have going on. But I love to play and I love mixed games.”
He’d played in WSOP events before without much luck. This year, the $25,000 HORSE event was circled on his calendar. Klein enjoys sports and has a competitive nature. The tournament allowed some of that to come out.
“If I was going to play something, I’d enjoy playing against the best of the best,” he says. “The competition is great and it was just one of those things where it all came together.”
Surreal final table, setting off Phil Hellmuth
Entering the final table second in chips, Klein still had his work cut out for him. Glaser held the chip lead and after playing so well throughout the tournament, Klein struggled early.
“At the final table, I didn’t play well the first hour or so,” he says. “I was playing some hands that I don’t usually play and I was low.”
With his chip stack sinking, a big hand developed in Seven Card Stud where he hit two pair and won a nice pot against Yu. That greatly helped his position in the tournament and Klein’s own play improved from there, he says.
“After that it was off to the races,” he says.
At three-handed, a big Hold’em hand went his way as well. Before that, a hand against Hellmuth sent the Poker Brat fuming. Klein always believed many of his antics were simply for television, but now believes Hellmuth is just that competitive.
A key Razz hand saw Klein hit a 9-high and Hellmuth miss his draw and end up with a 10-high. The entire scene made for an even more memorable experience.
“He just went ape shit,” Klein says. “He was talking to himself and walking around. I thought this was just a thing he did for TV, but it was real. People deal with stuff in their own way and I know he’s passionate. But it was funny watching it.”
Entrepreneur to WSOP champion
When play reached three-handed, Klein held a massive chip lead and was able to whittle down Benyamine’s and Glaser’s chip stacks. Glaser eventually finished runner-up and Benyamine took third. Even a few days after the win and returning home, the results still didn’t quite seem real.
“I’m still in shock,” Klein says. “It’s a wild story.”
Back in Philadelphia, Klein owns and operates a major recruiting company. As he played, his wife and family followed his action. The virtual rail only grew as the final table loomed.
“Everyone is ecstatic,” he says. “My wife is excited, all my friends, everybody’s just so fired up. It’s just a fun, awesome thing for us all.”
A family vacation and gift for his wife may be in order, but otherwise Klein has no real plans for his winnings yet. When not working or playing poker, the University of South Florida graduate enjoys spending time with family and keeping up with Philadelphia sports teams. He’s also recently taken up golf and also enjoys playing tennis and practicing yoga.
A return trip to Las Vegas might also be in his plans. The $10,000 HORSE Championship is set for Oct. 20 and Klein is considering jumping in that field as well.
Whether that happens or not, securing that first bracelet has kept Klein on an emotional high that may last a while. He’s secured his own piece of poker history in what many might have considered one of the most unlikeliest of outcomes.
“I’m fired up about all this,” he says of his win. “I’m excited and appreciative just to be able to play – and it worked out.”