Ben Adler – birth of a poker player

Lee Jones
Published by:
Posted on 12/20/2021

This is the story of a young man, Ben Adler, leaving his home, his family, and everything he’s ever known, to move to Las Vegas and be a professional poker player. Neither Ben nor I know how the story will end. As I’m typing, Ben is sitting in a $2/5 NLHE game at the Bellagio, writing it.

But at least we know how it starts…

What is this poker thing?

When did you start playing poker?

“When I was a kid in Chicago. My dad taught my brother and me to play five-card draw – we used pennies. I don’t know if we had antes or blinds or anything – we may have been playing it all wrong. But it was poker, wasn’t it?

“I started watching the TV shows back in the heyday. You know – Negreanu, Hellmuth on Poker After Dark and the WSOP. I mean, I literally learned the rules of Texas Hold’em from watching those shows. But it never occurred to me that I could actually go play the game. They were playing for crazy amounts of money, numbers that I knew I could never approach.

“But somehow the YouTube algorithm threw the Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen vlogs at me – probably because they talked about playing against Hellmuth at the WSOP. I just kept watching their vlogs – they would talk about ‘under-the-gun did this,’ or ‘I should have 3-bet there’ and I had no idea of what they were talking about. But they were playing $1/3 and $2/5 stakes. I thought, ‘That seems like an approachable number.’ I’m an obsessive guy in general – if I take an interest in something, I want to know everything about it. So I started reading and watching everything I could.”

Dipping a toe

“What was your first casino poker experience?”

“Just three years ago. I did some research and discovered that they had poker at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin – 15 minutes from where I worked. So eventually I got some money together – probably a minimum buy-in – and went down there. I had no idea what I was doing, where to buy chips, any of it. But somehow I sat down, and won $400, even though I’m sure I played awfully.”

Uh-oh.

“Right? Then I went over to hang out at my friend’s house, and I told him how easy it was. I went back the same day, lost the whole $400 back, and then some. The first session was during the day, when the games are really passive. I’m sure I was betting and raising like a maniac – put a bunch of chips in the pot, get extra chips back.

“When I went back that night, there were guys who knew what they were doing, and they ate my lunch.”

When did you figure out there were ‘better’ and ‘worse’ ways to play the game?

“That first day. I quickly figured out there were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ players. And I was one of the bad ones. I saw that the same guys always had way more than the max buy-in in front of them – they were doing something right.

“Understand that at this time, I was working two jobs. I was a produce clerk at a grocery store, and delivered food for a Chinese restaurant. And I was trying to dig out of a giant financial mess I’d gotten myself into when I was a kid in my late teens. So it’s not like I had discretionary money lying around. But I’d wait until I could get a few dollars together, go to the casino, and probably lose it all. I had no business playing poker, period, but I played anyway.

“I decided I wanted to be one of the guys who was doing things right. All the YouTube vlogs would link off to various training sites, but they wanted kinds of money that I didn’t have. Even if I had had it, I wouldn’t spend it on training – I’d rather spend it on a buy-in.

“Eventually, I found the Hand History Lounge (HHL) via Andrew Neeme – that was within my budget. I go back and look at some of my early posts there – I was terrible. But like I said, I was – am – obsessive. I kept reading and posting, and the lessons eventually took. I started beating the games at Elgin, and was making meaningful money at them.”

The turning point

“What was ‘meaningful money’?”

“I’ll tell you the exact definition of ‘meaningful.’ I remember when I realized that I was making more money playing poker than I was at my two jobs. Combined. That’s meaningful. Seriously, I had spreadsheets proving that I was beating the games regularly – it wasn’t just an anomaly.

Ben Adler at the poker table in Las Vegas

“More importantly, I loved playing poker, and I hated my job. By this time, I was a manager at the Chinese restaurant. My boss is a fine guy and was good to me, but the restaurant business is awful. You work far too hard for not enough money.

“Around this time, through the HHL, I got into a big private game on one of the app platforms.”

How big?

“I’d rather not say, but what I will say is that it was way bigger than I had any business playing. Not that I couldn’t beat the game – I discovered that I could actually hold my own against those particular players. But one or two bad sessions could have wiped out the bankroll that I’d spent a year building up.”

But that’s not what happened…

“Fortunately, no, that’s not what happened. In fact, I had some big wins right out of the gate, and never looked back. I won a whole lot, then took a couple of decent-sized losses. I realized at that point how bad things could go, and quit the game. But by that time, I was ahead by $20,000.”

That’s meaningful money.

“That’s a lot of money. Way more than I ever dreamed I could win playing poker. I completely paid off my debt, and had a real bankroll set aside.”

The phone call

“So you’re playing poker, reading and posting in the Hand History Lounge, and working at the Chinese restaurant…”

“Yeah, and one day, I’m stringing pea pods, the most mindless task ever invented. Out of nowhere, I get a text from Benton Blakeman – he’s the founder and head coach at HHL. It says, ‘Do you have a minute for a phone call?’ I had never spoken to Benton on the phone, and thought that whatever he wanted, it was better than stringing pea pods.

“He tells me that he needs a personal assistant to help manage some of his business interests and do other P.A. kinds of work. Would I be interested in moving to Las Vegas, and working with/for him? In exchange, he’d help me with housing, and provide poker coaching, gratis. So I’d be his P.A. And a professional poker player.”

Wow.”

“Yeah. I said ‘Yes’ after three minutes. He told me to cool down, think about it, discuss it with my parents, etc. Maybe he didn’t realize that he was freeing me from stringing pea pods. I told him I’d put in my notice that day.

“I talked to my parents and trusted friends. The response I got from every one of them was, ‘Why wouldn’t you do this?’. My dad said, and I quote, ‘If you don’t accept this offer, I will kick your ass.’ I didn’t put my notice in at the restaurant that first day, but it wasn’t long after.”

What was the timeline like?

“Fast. Benton wanted me out there for the WSOP main event, and the WSOP was already past its midpoint. I put all my earthly possessions in my car and pulled out of Chicago on Tuesday, November 9th. I drove 27 hours in two days and got there in time to see Benton cash in the Main Event.

“What I distinctly remember is driving out of the desert and into Las Vegas. Now, I’ve been to Vegas a bunch of times, and it’s unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve played poker in Illinois, Texas, Florida – all over. But when you play poker in Vegas, you know it’s different.

“It was night time – I was going south down I-15, past the casinos all lit up. All I could think was, ‘OK, Ben – let’s go. Let’s f’ing go.”