David Benefield plays in the super high stakes poker games that normal players can only dream of: “A crucial part of making the jump is learning to play a little tricky”

The swings in the nosebleed games may be sickening but the life of a high stakes player is still pretty sweet

Nobody likes to lose at poker, and I can tell you it’s particularly painful when the stakes are nosebleed. Not long ago, I dropped $600,000 in just two hours of $500/$1,000 Hold’em/Omaha rotation. Most of my money went to Gus Hansen, which annoyed me because he was playing even more aggressively than usual and tilting a bit. But I ran $400,000 below equity on the all-ins. He hit his hands and I didn’t hit mine. Looking back, there’s not a whole lot I could have done differently. It was good old-fashioned variance.

To put things in perspective, though, I lost six stacks, which really isn’t that big a deal – unless you think too much about the money, which I always strive to avoid doing. Try as I might, though, I can’t completely divorce myself from a six-figure swing. Even if it’s standard, losing that kind of money hurts more than winning feels good.

Maybe that explains why, unlike a lot of other top online pros, I’ve never really enjoyed playing nosebleed stakes. However, when all is said and done, it is the most efficient use of my time. It’s also nice to play at a level where your opponents don’t get deterred by the big drops. Win or lose, they return to play. I know I’ll get a shot at winning back my money.

Serious amateurs often ask me about moving up from small stakes to high stakes. A crucial part of making the jump is learning to play a little tricky, altering your style on a regular basis, and being able to play all different ranges of hands. Standard ABC poker is fine at the small stakes, but it just won’t cut it as you advance.

Switching It Up

Knowing which way to play varies so much, depending on the player you’re up against and how he’s playing that day. Against weak players, I’ll get in there with almost any two cards. But if it’s a tight-aggressive type who’s raising, I can’t do that. These days I’m always looking for spots in which to tighten up or loosen up or just change it up. A lot of times it’s a matter of waiting for somebody to make a mistake and knowing how to capitalise on it. Sometimes a guy’s play is deteriorating and he thinks he’s just running bad. You need to adjust for that as well.

Originally I played super loose most of the time, and I had massive swings. But I’ve found a happy medium. The place I’m in now, I can adjust to whatever style will be most profitable at a given moment. I have the experience to sense when subtle adjustments are needed and I’m flexible enough to adapt to just about any situation. The same is true of everybody who plays high and wins consistently.

Spring Break

One nice thing about playing poker for a living is that it gives you plenty of freedom in terms of your schedule. I take advantage of that by coaching high school baseball, which is a lot of fun and very rewarding. But, earlier this spring, once baseball went on break, I decided to head up to New York for a vacation, with no reason to be there other than for a chance to hang out with good friends.

My group in New York included online pros Jay Rosenkrantz, Emil Patel and Phil Galfond. We all got together one night and went out for dinner at Del Posto, a really nice Italian restaurant. Had I gone by myself, I’d have stuck with steak and pasta. But somebody suggested doing the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings. We went for it and it was terrific. All of us drank a lot of good wine, we didn’t talk about poker. Before sitting down we agreed that the topic was off-limits. So, instead of dissecting hands, we discussed girls, our lifestyles and what we’ll be doing in five years. For what it’s worth, I’ll probably be finishing college.

Poker stayed on the back burner that weekend. We played touch football in the park, hit a few bars, and just generally chilled out. It all illustrates the biggest luxury of being successful at this game: having the option to play or relax. That weekend, the latter definitely won out. And I’m glad it did, regardless of how much money I didn’t make.

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