Music Icon, Two-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Steve Albini Passes at 61

Home » Music Icon, Two-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Steve Albini Passes at 61
Steve Albini

Steve Albini, a legendary music figure and a two-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, passed away of a heart attack on Tuesday at 61.

A self-described audio engineer, Albini helped pioneer noise rock in the 1980s with his bands Big Black and Shellac and later produced some of the most important albums in alternative rock history. Music outlets including Pitchfork and Rolling Stone first reported his death, which was confirmed by Albini’s Electrical Audio Recording in Chicago.

Albini is best known for producing Nirvana’s final 1993 album In Utero and also worked with alternative artists including the Pixies, PJ Harvey, Slint, Low and The Breeders. Later in his career, he worked with mainstream giants like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.

Albini was also a passionate poker enthusiast — particularly shining in mixed games — and regularly played at the WSOP in Las Vegas.

In 2018, he took down a $1,500 Stud event for $105,629 and his first bracelet, a feat he followed up on four years later with a $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. victory worth $196,089.

“Everything in my life comes in pieces, in parts,” Albini told PokerNews in 2022. “Poker is one part of my life. So when I’m playing poker, I try to commit to it. I try to take it seriously. I try to make sure I devote the attention to it that it deserves as an occupation. But it’s only part of my year. I only play tournaments at the World Series of Poker. I play cash games informally in Chicago. It’s a part of my livelihood, but it’s not my profession.”

Read About Steve Albini’s First WSOP Bracelet Victory

An Innovative Musician and Prolific Producer

In 1981, Albini founded the band Big Black while studying journalism at Northwestern University. The band’s music, drawing from industrial and post-punk acts like The Birthday Party and Cabaret Voltaire, was noisy, dissonant and unconventional, all traits that would follow Albini throughout his music career.

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Following several well-received releases from Big Black, Albini formed and fronted Shellac in 1992, a trio that released the seminal noise rock album At Action Park in 1994 and five more acclaimed releases over the next two decades. Shellac recently reunited and has a new album, To All Trains, slated for release on May 17.

Steve Albini
Steve Albini at the 2018 WSOP

Before forming Shellac, Albini began his career as a record producer — a title he firmly rejects in favor of audio engineer — and worked on albums including Sufer Rosa, a classic release that made the Pixies one of the biggest bands in indie rock.

As a producer/recording engineer, Albini worked on thousands of albums by bands under every crevice of alternative music: slowcore (Low and Songs: Ohia); math rock (Slint and The Jesus Lizard); sludge metal (Neurosis and High on Fire); and post-rock (Mono and Dirty Three).

Forever a tough music industry critic, Albini famously refused to accept royalties when he recorded Nirvana’s In Utero and continued to refuse percentage points on record sales over the years. He also maintained his anti-establishment ethos and lobbied for analog recordings over digital.

Steve Albini
Steve Albini

Albini’s Third Career

The musician-turned-producer had a third career lying dormant, that of a poker champion.

Albini’s interest in poker began several decades before he was winning WSOP bracelets. His great-grandmother introduced him to the card game while she was staying with his family.

“I think it was just so that she could have someone to play poker with,” Albini said in a 2022 documentary by House of Poker. “And that’s how I learned about the game and I learned what the idea of betting was and what the rank of hands was and the mechanics of the game. And that sort of started my mind thinking in that way.”

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Steve Albini
Steve Albini

As a college student, Albini played poker in dorm rooms and hosted a poker home game with other Chicago musicians after graduating. He then “kind of fell out of poker for a few years when I was getting more involved in the business of running a studio and that sort of thing.”

“I owe an awful lot of my own development as a player to my peer group, to my group of friends.”

Poker re-entered Albini’s life during the online poker boom, when he played on long-gone sites like Reefer Poker (which was targeted toward marijuana enthusiasts and Albini thought would be a great place to play profitable poker) and Full Tilt Poker.

It was on the Full Tilt mixed game tables that Albini met Brandon Shack-Harris, who, like Albini, would go on to become a two-time bracelet winner.

The two maintained a longtime friendship and played together regularly when Albini started a home game in his Chicago-based recording studio. Shack-Harris was on the rail at the Rio when his friend won his maiden World Series bracelet, and again at the Horseshoe and Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in 2022 when he won a second bracelet.

Steve Albini and Brandon Shack-Harris
Steve Albini and Brandon Shack-Harris at the 2022 WSOP

Broken Bracelets & Poker Friendships

When he achieved every poker player’s dream of winning a bracelet, a remarkable victory that saw him defeating six-time bracelet winner Jeff Lisandro during heads-up play, Albini credited the win to his friend group.

“I owe an awful lot of my own development as a player to my peer group, to my group of friends,” Albini told PokerNews in a winner’s interview.

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Albini’s friends were again top of mind in 2022 as he defeated another of poker’s toughest fields, something he pulled off with the help of a golden ornate bell he had been gifted by Shack-Harris.

The rail was so rowdy that Albini managed to break his second bracelet before stepping a foot out of the Thunderdome. He later gifted his friends with pieces of the broken bracelet.

Steve Albini poses with his broken bracelet
Steve Albini poses with his broken bracelet

Another friend Albini made in the poker community was commentator Joe Stapleton, who first met the music legend online during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Learning he was successful at poker was a shock, music even more shocking,” Stapleton joked on X after hearing of Albini’s passing. “He was a sore winner and we had a very awkward exchange where I chewed him out for it (remember Zoom fights!?). After that we bonded over comedy and I eventually learned his history and saw how unapologetically progressive he was and it made me respect the hell out of him. I was lucky enough to meet him in person, twice. Both times he came (to) a show of mine at the Laugh Factory in Chicago.”

The famed poker commentator and comedian finished his tribute with a sentiment appealing to poker enthusiasts and music fans alike: “Many of us will miss you, Steve.”

Steve Albini Wins Second Bracelet

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