Jacob Balsiger

Jacob Balsiger, 21, a senior at Arizona State University, will be competing in the Arizona State Poker championships this weekend at Casino Arizona at Talking Stick Resort. Balsiger, who grew up in Ahwatukee, also will be playing in the Final Table of Nine Oct. 28 at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, where he has a shot at winning $8.5 million. [Jacob Balsiger]

For the last three years, Jacob Balsiger has known when to hold ’em and fold ’em. And when the time comes, he’ll hopefully know when to walk away.

But when Balsiger walks away from a poker table, possibly five days from now depending on how he fares, he hopes it will be with a lot of money in his pocket.

That’s in addition to the $750,000-plus he’s already guaranteed at the 43rd Annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Oct. 28. That is where Balsiger, 21, will be the youngest player at the Final Table of Nine players and ultimately can win $8.5 million, a ring and a trophy if he becomes World Poker Champion. In a tournament of 6,600 poker players, Balsiger’s hand trumped his opponents to place him at the final table.

This weekend, the Arizona State University senior will be among more than 1,000 poker players of various skill levels competing for a share of the $1 million prize pool during the 8th Annual Arizona State Poker Championship that begins at 9 a.m. today at Casino Arizona at Talking Stick Resort on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian reservation.

The tournament is a no limit, Texas Hold’ em championship and will conclude next Tuesday.

The winning shares will range from $208,300 for the first-place winner, $127,500 to the second place winner and $85,000 for third. The top 100 players will walk away with a minimum of $2,250.

Balsiger, who grew up in Ahwatukee Foothills and graduated from Desert Vista High School in 2009, has never worked a part-time job like many of his classmates. He estimates he has profited about $800,000 from his poker winnings in the time he’s been serious about the game since he first started playing online poker. Jake, as his friends call him, has been playing in other poker tournaments this week, possibly preparing him for the World Series of Poker where he currently is in eighth place with winnings of $754,798 and more than 13 million poker chips.

And that money comes in handy, especially when tuition is due on Monday at ASU.

“Being in a tough economy, I focused my monetary efforts on playing poker,” Balsiger said. “It’s stressful, but in a fun kind of way. It’s exhilarating when you go deep into the game and keep winning. I think I have pretty good control of my emotions in not tipping off other players at the table by getting upset at my hand.”

“I hope to be in the final payroll this weekend,” Balsiger added.

And if you have $1,000 laying around to buy into the tournament, there’s still room for more players as the Arizona State Poker Championships is accepting buy-ins for people who want to pay that amount plus a $70 entry fee to get in on the action.

Since late May, Balsiger has racked up more than $780,000 in winnings overall. In May, he won $3,531 when he placed 100th in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em, and in June, he won $353 when he placed 75th in the $235 No Limit Hold’em, both in Las Vegas, according to the website, www.hendonmob.com, which tracks the winnings of more than 220,000 prolific poker players and the tournaments they play in.

But it’s at the World Series where Balsiger could become financially set for life.

“I’d really like to place in the top five,” Jake said. “So far, I’ve been very lucky. Out of 6,600 poker players, you have to get lucky a lot of times.”

If Jake finishes fifth at the World Series of Poker, he’ll bring home $1.2 million, but if he wins, the winning amount would be $8.5 million.

What’s he going to spend all that money on?

“I’ve never been much of a spender,” Jake admits, “but so far, I’ve bought a bed frame and a button-down shirt.”

Even if he wins big at the World Series of Poker or the Arizona State Poker Championships, Jake said he’ll invest his winnings, complete his college degree and continue playing poker seriously for about two more years.

But for now, he’s focusing on this weekend.

“It’s a pretty big event,” said Mackenzie Griffin, a spokeswoman for the Riester Corporation, the public relations firm overseeing events for Casino Arizona.

And walking away with $754,798, isn’t bad, either, even if Jake won’t have it to spend — or save until two months from now.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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