David ‘Raptor’ Benefield, one of poker’s top young pros, explains why he’s stepping off the high stakes circuit to resume his studies. Is the dream over…?
Poker’s a great game, it’s enabled me to earn a good deal of money, and I’ve enjoyed playing for the last seven years. But now I’m feeling it’s time to go after fresh challenges. I’ll be heading back to university in September and probably won’t play another hand until Christmas holiday. Friends have expressed surprise about my decision to move on from something I’m obviously good at. But the truth is I never planned on playing poker forever. My decision to enrol in university, and pursue a degree in education, has to do with looking at what will make me happy in the long run. I’ve spent too many days sitting around my house, focusing on my computer screen, waiting for big fish to come on and play. I don’t want to be there when I’m 40 years old. There are better things to do with my time.
Doing it for the kids
My moment of realisation came in the spring when I began working as an assistant baseball coach at the high school I graduated from. Taking
the job meant I had to make a big commitment: I couldn’t travel to tournaments, I couldn’t take spur-of-the-moment trips with my friends,
I couldn’t drop everything to play poker if the games got good. Instead I was spending a lot of time outside, working with kids, helping them
I found it to be a lot more rewarding than devoting countless hours to winning other people’s money. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with playing poker. It’s great for a lot of things, and it’s great for a lot of people. But going back to school and trying something a little different is what I want to do right now.
I went to the World Series this year and spent more time hanging out with my friends than playing poker tournaments, though I did get to 14th place in the $5,000 no-limit Hold’em [cashing for $35k]. The great thing about being in Las Vegas this year is that I had my girlfriend with me
for part of the trip. We hit some restaurants with a bunch of other poker players and their dates, and we all checked out the best tasting menus around town. At Joël Robuchon, in the MGM Grand, I discovered that I really like foie gras. Normally, I’m a meat and potatoes guy, but these tasting menus give me a chance to experience dishes I wouldn’t normally think to order. We hit a bunch of other French restaurants, and I’ve now decided that tasting menus are the nuts.
Still a baller
My birthday coincides with the World Series and it’s always fun to spend it with a bunch of friends. This year we went to XS and got the best table in the house – right next to boxer Floyd Mayweather and his entourage. We actually had a better table than he did, and that’s one of the nice things you can access when you’re a successful poker pro in Vegas. Bottle service, great meals in restaurants, riding around in limos, and staying in top hotels rank among the great perks of being at the top tier in this game.
But I’ve enjoyed all that and I’m not going to miss any of it in the future. I’m grateful to have had the experiences I’ve had and to have built up financial security for myself, but what I really value are the lessons I’ve learned from playing. I’m going to university with experiences and knowledge that few freshmen can possibly come in with. I’ve developed strategies that extend beyond the poker table; they’ll be with me for the rest of my life. I’ve also had a chance to see how money affects other people and how it affects me. One thing I can tell you for sure is that it doesn’t
make me happier. It doesn’t give me a great sense of fulfilment.
I’m attending university with the hopes of finding that fulfilment and starting a new chapter in my life. But don’t worry. I’m not leaving poker for good, and you’ll most definitely see me at next year’s World Series. Come 2010, with a year of school under my belt, I’ll be hustling as hard as anyone to make the money.
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