French poker pro David Benyamine is one of the biggest gamblers the game has ever seen: “The difference between Doyle Brunson and me is that when he has the same bad run, he’ll lose much less”

The Frenchman David Benyamine tells us how he became the big game’s newest superstar

As we sit in the tranquil pool garden Courtyard at the Venetian, Las Vegas, the warm mid-afternoon sun is making David Benyamine smile. But the surroundings are just the tip of the iceberg as far as his grin is concerned. Benyamine is reputedly the biggest winner from the Big Game in 2006. Of all the success stories to come out of Bobby’s Room in the past 12 months, this guy stands proudly at the top the tree.

Over the two years he has been playing there, perhaps the biggest compliment to Benyamine’s talent is the praise he’s been getting from regulars such as Phil Ivey and Jennifer Harman. Doyle Brunson affectionately calls him the ‘French Kid’. But his rise has not come simply as a bolt from the blue. He was ripping up the cash game tables over a decade ago after a back injury cut short a promising tennis career. Jammed between the returning forehands on the clay courts of Paris and the daring moves on the baize at the city’s famous Aviation Club, Benyamine’s life looked to be drifting. ‘I worked with my parents in their two shops,’ he says. ‘I didn’t like that.’

Dream ticket

A friend introduced him to poker and it wasn’t long before Benyamine’s rise took shape. He quickly graduated to playing cash games at the Aviation, before his big chance came in 2002. ‘Somebody came up to me in the Aviation and said: “Do you want to play in Las Vegas? I’m going to give you a 20% freeroll and you’re going to play tournaments and cash games.”’

Benyamine jumped at the chance, but then his backers changed their plans and he was left stranded in Vegas for a month with the $4,000 he brought with him. So he started playing cash games. ‘I built it up to about $400,000. I lost $100k and left America with $300k. I went back to France, played, lost my money and went back to America every year after that.’ Las Vegas is now his permanent residence and he says he ‘loves it’. And he still has the same passion for poker he first picked up back in the Aviation days. ‘If ever things turn bad for the other players [at the Big Game] they’re just going to go home. I’m going to try and fight. It’s still new for me. I haven’t had enough good and bad runs. I just never want to leave the table no matter how unlucky I’m getting.’

After reportedly posting the best run of any professional in the Big Game this year, David Benyamine has picked up the enviable tag of ‘King of Cash’. So what makes him so special?

When was the first time you sat down in the Big Game?

I sat down as soon as I had enough money to play. A lot of my friends said: ‘You really have the level to beat those guys.’ First of all they were playing pot-limit Omaha and we play a lot of that in Europe. I thought I was better or at least as good as them – so I felt that I would have a good shot. As for the other games, I wanted to learn and it was kind of expensive to do so. But, I have always been a fast learner and wasn’t scared at all. As soon as I had the chance to do it, I jumped at it. I have lost a lot of money in the last few months, but I still believe I’m the biggest winner in the last year and a half.

People say the reason why you’re so successful is because you’re such a massive gambler.

They may be right. I am a massive gambler, but it’s very hard to call somebody a certain way. Unless you’re a pro who has been playing for 40 years like Doyle Brunson or Chip Reese, then every day is a new day. Some days you play real tight, some days you play a lot looser. You’re feeling good and running over the whole table – so you gamble more and you push it more. Some players go on crazy rushes like that. Others don’t, but they may not lose as much money.

What improvements do you need to make in your game?

When things go bad, I feel that I don’t have the experience to ride over every setback as they [other Big Game players] would. The difference between Doyle Brunson and me is that when he has the same bad run, he’ll lose much less; he’s not going to want to gamble as much as me. Other players will reset much faster. I suppose they’re just smarter than me in that respect.

You said you’ve been playing a lot of pot-limit Omaha recently. What’s your favourite game?

We have thirteen games every day [in the Big Game]. Sometimes we change because there are some players who don’t want to play all the games. During the World Series, we played a lot of pot-limit Omaha, but I’ve always thought that a player must be able to play all sorts of games; no-limit, pot-limit, limit, hold’em, stud – whatever.

Is there a big difference between cash games you play here in Vegas and the ones you used to play back in France?

Of course yeah. There are much more pros in America than in France. Also, in the States, the much better players play really well in all games. We didn’t play any limit games in France. I could say that I’m the instigator of limit games back there because when I came back from US, I forced them to play limit. Since then they’ve been playing limit at the Aviation Club every day.

Is Vegas the best spot in the world to make money?

I would say that you can make a lot of money from a very small bankroll. I’ve heard a lot of stories about Freddie Deeb and players who have started the day with a couple of hundred dollars and won $70,000 in one day. There are not many spots where you can do that.

Is there a particular mistake that you see players making time and time again in no-limit hold’em cash games?

Players thinking they’re pot-committed when they can actually still get away from the hand. When the last card shows up, you don’t have to put another third of your money in the pot. Imagine you make a big bet on the river, you have $9,000 and have Aces. You make it $8,000, the other guy makes it $10,000 and another guy calls. Are you pot-committed with your Aces? No, you save the $1,000. It’s not a lot of money for that hand, but it’s a lot of money in your lifetime.

Have you ever played against Andy Beal?

No, I was supposed to, but Phil Ivey did such a good job against him that I didn’t need to play. I was next on the list, but Phil told me: ‘Y’know what, I’m going to keep on playing, because I feel so good that I don’t think he’s going to have a chance.’

And would you like to have played him?

I think I would have done good, but everything can change. When you’re playing very high stakes you have to be extremely lucky. Of course the best player is going to win, but he’s not going to win in the next 45 minutes, he’s going to win if he gets to play all year long. We’ve seen some of the best players lose against him [Andy Beal], but it doesn’t mean they’re not as good as Phil Ivey. The day Phil beat him, he might have had the right cards, the right frame of mind and perfect timing. That’s what you need to win in this game.

Despite the sums of money you play for and with every day, you seem to have your feet firmly on the ground?

I just love playing poker and would be bored if I had to stop; so all I want to do is find a way to keep playing for as long as possible. I have kept my life in perspective. It’s very important that I do that because I have lost so much [money]. My girlfriend [Erica Schoenberg] reminds me of the value of money, the value of time and pretty much the value of everything in life.

Sometimes we get the feeling the money just goes around the table. Is that the way it is?

Well, yeah, it does. It didn’t go around the table when I won that much money straight. I was getting all the money and a lot of the famous names that I don’t have to talk about, lost a lot of money. I was getting so lucky. It made a big, big difference.

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