David Benyamine chats to PokerPlayer about his huge swings in fortune playing online: “In no-limit hold’em I’ve lost $6 million or $7 million”

After a brutal 2007 David Benyamine is trying to put the dark times behind him

It’s a Thursday morning in Las Vegas, and David Benyamine is splashing around in his bathtub. I reach him via telephone, and he tells me he’s got the jacuzzi jets going.

The information conjures mental images that I’d rather not contemplate, but you can’t blame him for multi-tasking when you consider the rush that the French-born high-stakes cash-game specialist has been on lately.

According to highstakesdb.com, during March he snagged more than $1 million on Full Tilt’s pot-limit Omaha games. Considering that Benyamine has had his ups and downs – in the pit and at the poker table – it would make sense for him to spend every waking hour riding out his current wave of good fortune. But he has to take a break once in a while, and it’s good of him to spend it with us. Even if he is naked…

I hear you’re crushing the games online…

DAVID BENYAMINE: Don’t believe what you hear. In the last few months I’d run really bad on Full Tilt. Then suddenly I got on a good run, kicked it up, and played as high as I could. In three days I won $800,000. Then I went down to maybe $200,000. Then last night I won like $300,000 or close to that.

That’s really swingy…

DB: Especially when I play two or three games. And these games are pretty high. My record in limit hold’em is so bad, but I still play it. In no-limit hold’em I’ve lost $6 million or $7 million. In pot-limit Omaha, I’ve won that much. It’s very strange. I never lost in my life playing limit hold’em online – except on Full Tilt. I’ve won millions on other sites. But on Full Tilt I’ve played 30 or 40 sessions and won only twice.

How do you deal with losing that kind of cash in a single night?

DB: It’s rough. It’s not that easy, depending on how you spend your money and your life. In my case, the choices have been poor. I’ve gambled a lot in the pit… But I am comped for life.

What do you play in the pit?

DB: I’ve played craps, blackjack, roulette and high-limit slot machines. I have played everything. I’ve been very silly in my choices. Sometimes you lose track and get caught in that spiral. You lose a lot of money. Then you get reset.

When you say that you’ve lost a lot of money, what’s a lot? Ten million dollars?

DB: I’ve lost millions but less than $10m. The line is so small between a pro and someone who is not smart in the pit. If you don’t respect that line, you easily fall into playing too much or gambling too much or making stupid choices.

A lot of us have the gambling addiction, and if it makes you weak you can fall on the other side. That happened to me. You need to be smart enough to wake up and realise that you’ve wasted time and money. You need to realise what’s good in life and that it’s not just about playing and gambling. The wake-up is amazing.

Does losing in the pit affect the way you play poker?

DB: I think so. You can’t think straight after you’ve lost $500k playing craps or high slots. Then you try winning $100k at poker. You’re not in the hole at that game, but, right from the start, you’re already steaming and trying to win back money.

When did you have your first big break as a pro?

DB: The first time I came to Las Vegas, for the 2003 World Series. [Backgammon champion] Mike ‘Svobo’ Svobodny backed me for six or seven tournaments.

You didn’t make the money that year, did you?

DB: No. But I had $4,500 in cash on me. With that, I sat down in the live games and won $400k. I’d never played limit, but I had no fear and total confidence. I played as high as I could with Johnny Chan and Freddie Deeb. They thought I was a fish. I went from $80/$160 Omaha to $500/$1,000. I either had luck or some skill. I don’t know. All I know is that I won.

How do you manage good and bad runs?

DB: I haven’t been the best in the bad runs, but I have been the sharpest in the good ones. The first thing you need to realise is that the more you win, and the more confident you feel, the less confident everyone else feels. You have many opportunities to bluff and push people around.

It obviously works. We hear that you went on a multi-million-dollar rush in the Big Game and played so well that it was almost like you knew what cards your opponents held…

DB: I made so much money, and I’d never had it before. Then I gambled with the money instead of being conservative. That was my reaction. But making money is not my goal. My goal is to be happy and to have the right people around me.

Where is the Big Game at right now?

DB: It’s gone down. We used to play $4,000/$8,000 limit. I haven’t played that high because I’ve lost money and it seems that a lot of people don’t have the money now. We’re playing $1,500/$3,000 and that will probably be what we play.

Game selection doesn’t seem to have ever been a big deal for you…

DB: Previously, I haven’t moved down enough, but doing that is now my goal. Otherwise I can play for weeks at high stakes, get no good hands and never win. If you keep losing, you should play ten times smaller than you normally play.

Eventually it turns around?

DB: Yes. Over a period of two weeks, I get all my luck for the whole year.

How do you differentiate between live and online?

DB: You get more information live but less action. I like the convenience of sitting on the lazyboy in my office and being with my fiancee [fellow pro Erica Schoenberg]. Then, when I feel like it, I can switch everything off and go hit golf balls. It’s better than travelling to the casino and being with people you don’t want to socialise with. And sometimes you feel bad taking money from somebody when you do it in person.


DB: One reason why I decided to play high, back in France, was because I felt bad about taking money from working people. I found that playing high was one way to avoid taking money from people who can’t afford to lose it.

What do you do when you’re not playing poker?

DB: I play golf, tennis, I do things with family. Every day I’m out practising for two big bets that I made in golf and tennis.

Tell us about those…

DB: The tennis bet is against a Russian kid from New York. It’s for $500k and I have to beat him, even, after the World Series. Two weeks ago I injured myself, so I can’t do anything for three weeks. But the Russian hasn’t had much time to practise and is already thinking of settling for $100k.

What about the golf bet?

DB: That is with Phil Ivey, also for $500k, but with a $50k settle. Last November I gave him a bet that I will beat him, even, within a year. Phil will definitely play me. He has the best of it right now. But I will try to kick it up.

What is on tap for the rest of today?

DB: I’ll have some lunch with Erica. Then I’ll come back here and play online. I’ll play whatever good games I find – even if they’re not the highest games. That is the new way for me. I need to manage what I have, make a nice comeback, and have good game selection.

Any plans for the longer term?

DB: Doing very well in the World Series. I have never given my attention to tournaments – I’ve run bad, I’ve not played my best. Now I am ready to show the world. Watch me.

If you like this sort of interview then you must try PokerPlayer magazine as its full of these very month

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