The poker year has come to a close as the game experiences a bit of a renaissance thanks to the success of continued tournament growth and expected continued expansion of online poker growth at the state level. And as many in the poker world trumpet super high roller action with massive buy-ins, USPoker takes a look at some players who have flown a bit under the radar. Here’s a look at five players who may be poised for big years ahead.
While Steinman (pictured above) may have been on the tournament scene for a while, it was a huge year in 2018 for this cardplayer from Mountain View, Calif. After winning a WSOP Circuit ring in October 2017 in Lake Tahoe, 2018 became a rocket ride of big scores that included two near misses of WPT and WSOP titles.
To start the year, Steinman finished runner-up at the $3,500 WPT Thunder Valley for $201,428. It was the first six-figure score of his career, but wouldn’t be his last. In June at the WSOP, Steinman finished runner-up again in a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event for $197,461.
He notched 12 total cashes at the WSOP and ended his year with six WSOPC final table appearances. That also included adding a second circuit ring after winning a $250 No Limit Hold’em Turbo in September for $18,654. His winnings topped $500,000 for 2018 and his lifetime earnings now stand at more than $700,000.
“I’m very fortunate just to be able to play in some of these bigger tournaments, so to do well and make final tables is an incredible feeling,” he says. “Losing heads-up for two big titles in a short time is somewhat frustrating, but not worth dwelling on especially when some things are out of my control. Also, second place is a nice consolation prize.”
With a couple big scores now under his belt and two circuit rings, 2019 could bring an even bigger year for Steinman. He plans on working harder than ever on his game and says he has a great group of friends and coaches to help him out.
“I don’t have many tournaments on my schedule yet, but I am really looking forward to the Bay 101 Shooting Star,” he says. “It’s an amazing tournament with great staff and the Bay 101 is where I first started playing tournaments.
The second Ian on this list hails from Faribault, Minn., and had a huge run on some smaller series in 2018. That included some nice runs on the Mid-States Poker Tour. Matakis kicked off his year in March with a fourth-place finish in a $280 Running Aces Pot O’ Gold event for $16,601 and then had two final table appearances in the Minnesota State Poker Championships. In May he scored a win in another $280 event at the Running Aces Mayhem for $30,500.
More final tables followed and in September he scored another big fourth-place finish at the MSPT Canterbury Park $1,100 Main Event for $31,739. Another big finish came in November when he took second in another $1,100 MSPT Main Event in Iowa for $55,598. He added another 14th-place finish in the MSPT Main Event in December for $11,354.
One of many part-time players finding success on the game’s lower rungs, Matakis has been playing the game since he was 8 years old. He is currently studying accounting part-time at the University of Minnesota while playing poker for income.
“I took a lot of time both playing and studying poker in 2017 and that in a sense prepared me to play good poker in 2018,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to have some runs and successes.”
A breakthrough win seems inevitable for the 29-year-old originally from Grand Blanc, Mich., and now living in Irvine, Calif. In 2018, Liu scored three WPT final table appearances. That began in March, where he finished fourth at the $3,500 WPT Rolling Thunder Main Event for $97,510. He then scored a fifth-place finish in October in the $5,000 WPT bestbest Bounty Scramble for $73,734. The biggest cash of his career came in December when he took fourth at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio for $599,147.
“I attribute my success this year to the coaching I received from Chip Leader Coaching as well as the other consistent studying I’ve done away from the tables through videos, live streams, discussing hands with friends, and using poker software,” says Liu, who has degrees in neuroscience and economics the University of Michigan.
“I’ve also been working on my mindset through meditation and trying to keep a healthy diet and regular exercise routine, which has helped increase focus while playing. A big part of my success this year is owed to my loving wife Cathy, who has been supporting me every day through all the ups and downs this game brings.”
A regular cash game player at Hawaii Gardens Casino, Liu sits in second in the WPT Player of the Year standings and now has more than $1.4 million in live tournament earnings. His goal for the first half of 2019 is to give it a shot at the title and plans to play as many WPT events as possible. Another goal is to finally take down a major tournament.
He adds: “I just plan to I keep working hard and hopefully the results will come.”
One of the hottest players in 2018 on the WSOP Circuit, Watson finished 2018 with a big run of final tables that included two championship rings and some big final tables. Watson, from Lexington, Ky., became a dominating force on the tour. His first major score came in 2015 when he finished third in the $1,675 WSOPC Main Event at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana for $55,730 and had several other final table finishes that year.
His next big win came in 2016 when he won a $235 Daily DeepStack event at the WSOP for $50,770. Things really heated up in the second half of 2018. Watson made seven final tables on the circuit from August to November. That included: two titles for more than $37,000; three runner-up finishes for $54,407; and a third-place score of $11,673.
Watson now has more than $258,000, in tournament cashes and will be a rising player to keep an eye on. With an arrow pointing up, he’s hoping to keep building on his success.
While he may have been on the tournament poker scene for several years, 2018 was especially good for Josh Reichard and even more big finishes seem to be in his future. Reichard kicked off his year by winning a WSOPC ring in February in Milwaukee for $19,547. After several more cashes, he struck again in July in a $2,000 Heartland Poker Tour event in Black Hawk, Colo., for $29,700.
The winning continued and in October when Reichard won another WSOPC ring in a $400 Monster Stack for $38,392 at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. The biggest win was yet to come at the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. Reichard took down the $2,500 HPT Championship event for $221,293. The event attracted 434 entries, and the win moved his career earnings to more than $1 million.
Reichard says his biggest goals are to continue making money at the tables and have a good time while doing it. Winning a WSOP bracelet is now on the top of his wish list.
“This year started out a little bleak, but I was lucky enough to finish very strong,” Reichard says. “It’s always nice when you get that good run and have it come together. Finishing it out with my biggest score ever was sweet. Only thing to add is a shoutout to my pops, as I would never be where I am without him.”