When the last card flipped and legendary Chicago-based music producer Steve Albini emerged as victor in a 773-competitor World Series of Poker tournament, he ran over to friends watching nearby.
“It made me feel like a million bucks,” Albini said.
Metaphor aside, he certainly felt like $196,089 — the first-place purse that he won.
Albini — who produced mega-influential rock albums like Nirvana’s “In Utero” (1993) and Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa” (1988) and who sings and plays guitar for indie-rock band Shellac — won his second World Series of Poker tournament on Friday.
His winning Stud Hi-Lo hand was a five-card flush with a pair of sevens, he said.
“When we played the final hand and I realized I had won it, I didn’t have a rush of emotion,” Albini said. “It was sort of like, ‘Oh, that hands over, on to the next one. Oh, wait, there’s no next one.”’”
The producer won his second bracelet at Paris and Bally’s Las Vegas Casino. He competed in the $1,500 buy-in HORSE event, a multigame form of poker that alternates between Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Stud and Stud Hi-Lo.
Albini plays informal cash games in Chicago with friends like professional Brandon Shack-Harris and statistician Nate Silver. He’s excited about the prospect of another Bally’s casino coming to Chicago.
“Having a card room that I can get to by the Blue Line sounds (expletive) amazing,” he said.
Raised on family games of cribbage and pinochle, Albini said he’s long joined casual games at casinos while on tour and is “perfectly happy playing kitchen table poker for quarters and dollars.” The one tournament he competes in is the World Series of Poker every year.
He won a $1,500 buy-in Seven Card Stud event in 2018.
“I was never short on chips in that tournament. I was never really faced with a tough decision in that tournament. That one felt like it was sort of dealt to me,” he said.
Not so this time. The local rock-legend was all-in “eight or 10 times” this tournament. The odds of all those near-fatal bets falling through were low, he reckoned.
“This one also felt like a fluke,” he said.
If luck propelled Albini to victory, it may have come from the special buckeyes his wife gave him. He kept them in his pocket as he played.
“Not so much as a lucky talisman, but to remind me of how much I love my wife,” Albini said.
While it takes a lot more than luck to win two World Series of Poker events, Albini has “no illusions” about his ability to play professional poker. While he’s proud he punched above his weight, he doesn’t think he can compete with more dedicated players and isn’t willing to dedicate the time to take his game to the next level.
“I have a wife and a business and an occupation and a band and two cats and a bicycle and a garden. I have things that I have to do in my life,” Albini said, adding that if poker became his livelihood, it might also become less fun.
As he weathered all-in hand after all-in hand, Albini said he didn’t feel emotional. Instead, he was doing the same arithmetic poker always requires of him, gleaning information from exposed cards and subtle expressions.
That coldblooded calculus doesn’t relate to music production or anything else in his life, Albini said.
“In order to succeed in poker, you need to be pointedly deceptive. You need to be pouncing on the weaknesses of other people and you need to exploit other people’s mistakes,” he said. “Those are sociopathic tendencies.”
After playing nearly 40 hours over three days, Albini was awarded his second “bracelet,” the signature top prize of World Series of Poker events. He snagged it off the felt and rushed to show it to his friends after his victory. But the bracelet fell to the floor and a link broke off.
“They’re not jewelry, they’re more like fairground trinkets,” Albini said. The producer, famous for his raw, analog style, said he might leave the prize broken to remember.
The everlasting, hypnotic pandemonium of the casino floor left Albini with little sense of time as he took his friends out for celebratory tacos.
“I couldn’t tell you if it was 12:01 or four in the morning,” he said.
He decided to enter a $10,000 buy-in HORSE event next. It started Monday evening, and he was set to face off against a professional-filled field.
“I don’t have to have any expectation of winning to have an expectation of winning some money,” he said before the tournament started.
Albini ran out of chips by the end of the tournament’s opening day.