Ben Grundy has used online cash games to become one of the highest-earning British players of all time
Ben Grundy is a quiet poker phenomenon. In April he posted profits of $550,000, taking his online winnings since January 2006 to over $5.2m. That’s almost as much as the Devilfish, the highest English live tournament earner of all time, has earned from tournaments in his lifetime.
For 2008 alone, the 31-year old managed to rack up over $2.5m. Just a quick glance at his graph from January 2006 to January 2009 (plotting 180,000 hands over 889 days) shows t an amazing level of consistency. So just how did the Milkybarkid become one of the most successful British poker millionaires?
Acorns and Oaks
Grundy’s early online steps started back in 2002 and as he acknowledges, they really were just dabblings. ‘I used to deposit £300 and I’d either double it and cash out or lose it. I never really took it too seriously. I was just having a punt online, that sort of thing,’ he says.
That’s not to say that he was green. Grundy had always been more of a live game player, frequenting the casinos in his hometown of Cardiff when he was 18 and playing cash games and tournaments throughout his time at university. When he moved to London, he was a regular at the now obsolete Starkeys in Russell Square and of course the Vic. ‘I played the £250 or £500 Omaha game,’ he recalls. ‘I’ve always done really well in Omaha – I’ve been playing since I was 11.’
These live game skills gave him a solid grounding and by the time he started taking online more seriously in 2004, he was depositing £20,000 in his Betfair account and playing $100 sit&gos and medium-stakes pot-limit Omaha games. ‘I was making maybe £4,000 or £5,000 a month just playing $2/$5 and $5/$10.’
Despite these decent stats, the year proved to be only marginally profitable due to the fact that he’d have ‘massive winning runs and equally as bad losing runs’. At the time, he hypothesised on his blog that perhaps his online experience had been a waste of time. ‘I really do have a love-hate relationship with online poker,’ he wrote. ‘I know that it is probably the easiest area in poker to make consistent money but I often lack focus or choose games that I shouldn’t be playing.’
A New Start
Going into 2005, Grundy resolved that he would no longer try and be a jack of all trades by playing MTTs, sit&gos and limit hold’em and instead he’d stick to what he knew best – pot-limit Omaha, no-limit hold’em cash and satellites into big events. It had an immediate effect. His online profit for January was $4,540 for 17 hours of play, equating to $267.06 per hour.
With a bankroll now touching the £50k mark, Grundy realised he could now do what he’d threatened to do the year before – wind down his IT company and go pro. ‘It’s a risk I know but a calculated one,’ he divulged in his blog. ‘My bankroll is probably half of what I’d like it to be but if I go skint I can just get back to the real world and get a job again.’
He didn’t have to worry about his bankroll for long. Two months later he won a €14,000 package to the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo and recorded his best live result yet when he finished seventh overall, cashing for over $105k. ‘I handed in my notice that week,’ he says.
Shortly after, Betfair made Grundy their first officially ‘sponsored pro’, which freed up his entire bankrollfor online cash games and saved him the hefty expenses which accompanied travelling the live tournament circuit. He began to smash the £10/£20 pot-limit Omaha tables and honed the ultra-aggressive style that he is renowned for today. ‘I developed a new ultra-aggressive pre-flop tactic where I would raise with about 40% of hands pre-flop and call a lot more before the flop as well’, he says. ‘Hands like 5-6-7-9 were an instant raise and sometimes a re-raise pre-flop.’
By September he had racked up over £41k from his online play – already more than his original monetary aim of £40k for the entire year. The month brought more good news as Betfair introduced ‘six-pac’ (six-handed_ PLO tables, a development which Grundy wholly welcomed. ‘I was used to ten-handed but am definitely much better when there are less players on the table,’ he says. ‘I’m just better at putting people on hands, I make better decisions and know when to float and when to value bet.’
Although he took the worst battering of his online career in October, losing £10,000 over two days, he rallied and finished the year easily hitting his £40,000 profit mark. He set the bar high for 2006 – he wanted to hit £150,000.
On The Up
Despite a rocky start in January where he suffered five £10,000+ losses over five consecutive sessions, Grundy had almost completed his goal by June. But perhaps more importantly he had learned things about his own playing style that would set the tone for the future. He realised that he was not a natural multi-tabler and that anything more than four tables was a -EV decision.
Instead he decided he would stick to two PLO tables and possibly one no-limit hold’em table at one time. It’s a strategy that he has employed ever since. ‘I play so aggressively and play so many hands that I forget what the action is if I try to play over four or five. It’s all massively important to what I do after the flop so I lose my focus.’
He also discovered the benefits of PokerTracker and explains how he would sometimes ‘spend a few hours studying my most frequent opponents statistics and replaying numerous hands’. Although he no longer pores over the numbers, Grundy says that PokerTracker still plays an important role in his game. ‘I import all the hands and have a look occasionally but I’m more interested in who I win or lose against and trying to work out who’s who. People change their IDs all the time. PokerTracker is good because it allows you to see who the winners and losers are.’
This period of play was also significant in that he proved that he could play out of a downswing by putting in massive amounts of volume. It might not have been a ‘by-the book’ solution but it was certainly effective. In one session in April 2006 he put in a 24-hour stint where he was down £10,000 at one point but finished £28,000 in the black. Nowadays such marathons are rare but Grundy still believes that he plays more than most players. ‘If I have nothing else on, I play from 11am and finish at 7pm. I prefer to play in the day and have the evenings off. If I do feel like playing at 11pm then I’ll play till 5am.’
With the first half of 2006 turning out so well, Grundy cut down his online hours, heading over to the WSOP and hitting various stops on the EPT. When he returned to the fray during the final quarter of the year, he decided to take a shot at the higher games like $100/$200 and $200/$400 PLO (the highest at the time) with the separate six-figure bankroll that he had spun up on Full Tilt.
After three sessions, his run-ins with players like David Benyamine, Durrrr and Phil Ivey had been solid – yielding $129k – but he was very mindful of the fact that should he lose it all, he would drop down to his normal games.
Into 2007, Grundy decided to try and make $100/$200 his regular game but ran into a wall resulting in one of the biggest downswings of his career. ‘I lost 80% of my bankroll and was down to about £30k. I just kept depositing and wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play at all.’
Although he staged a recovery in May, losing one too many $100k pots had taught him that being rolled for a game doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play it. He has retained the same mentality today and understands more than anyone the need to separate ego from winning poker.
‘I could easily play $200/$400 or $500/$1000. I just don’t see the need,’ he says. ‘I could probably sell percentages and do it. But I just think that if I can beat $50/$100 on my own money, why am I going to sell off 70% to go and play bigger. It’s only for the ego of saying, I’m playing $500/$1000. I just play comfortably within my bankroll.’
Return Of The Kid
As soon as he returned to his standard $25/$50 PLO games, Grundy got used to winning again, recording over $100k for one day’s play. Come the end of the year, his PLO game had netted him over $1m. Were it not for substantial losses in no-limit hold’em heads-up cash at the start, he says that ‘a very good year would have been an amazing one’.
As he had in previous years, Grundy set out some objectives for 2008, with his highest priority being to, ‘practice better bankroll management and game selection’. For bankroll management, he enlisted the help of staking site Badbeat. ‘That installed discipline in me which I didn’t have before. They were giving me $100k every day but across three sites. If I lost $50k then I quit on the day.’
For Grundy, better game selection meant being smarter in situations where he could actively choose who to play. ‘I might be tired and think I’ll leave them alone today. If I see four people waiting at a heads-up table and I want to play two of them, I’ll choose the two worst ones, I won’t just randomly select.’
He also decided to concentrate on PLO heads-up games, specifically at the $50/$100 level. In conjunction with Badbeat’s enforced stop-loss, there was a dramatic effect on his bankroll. By July he was up to $2m, a million dollars more than he set out to win at the start of 2008. Heads-up PLO had always seemed to be the natural choice for Grundy because it combined constant aggression with his favourite poker variant.
It continues to be his dominant game. ‘I raise the button over 90% of the time and I rarely fold even to button raises,’ he says of his strategy. ‘Heads-up I play 85% of hands. I probably win 60% of hands against 90% of opponents. There are only two players that I play that are more aggressive than me. I’m quite happy – if I think my opponent is weak – to bet, bet, bet with complete air.’
Grundy finished the year an astounding $2.6m in profit, easily the best result in four years of online poker and taking him to the coveted millionaire status. Suffice to say that he looks back at 2008 with fond memories. ‘That was an insane year. I think I went 28 days without a losing session.’
It’s now five years since Grundy made the decision to go pro and he reveals how he probably could never have predicted going from making £9.50 an hour to taking stabs at the $500/$1k games on Full Tilt. ‘It’s hard because the value of money changes and you have to keep your feet on the ground as much as you can.’ That’s why he’ll probably never make the nosebleed stakes his regular game. ‘It would be fun to have a go but I’d only risk a few hundred thousand dollars. I get really down when I lose £70k-£100k in a few days. I’d have to have $20m to play it I think.’
He is pretty much set for life and admits that his motivation to play winds down every day. ‘I’m not desperate to get out of it yet but I can see a point when I might be. I don’t need the money and could do something different. I’d love to win an Omaha bracelet though – that would be awesome.’
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