Impossible as it seems, it’s been a year since we began chronicling the ups and downs of Ben Adler. Ben left a dead-end restaurant job in Chicago and moved to Las Vegas to become a poker pro. As he notes, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But he’s still there, still grinding, and he’s got some great perspectives to share.
“It’s been… it’s been over a year right?”
“Yeah, in fact, I haven’t worked in a restaurant for over a year – what a relief. And I was in Las Vegas for the 2021 WSOP, which of course was in November of last year.”
“Tell me the difference between the October 2021 Ben and the December 2022 Ben.”
“The October 2021 Ben was excited – scared to death – but excited. Looking back, it’s been a lot harder than I expected. I mean, I knew it was going to be hard going into it, but it’s been even harder than I anticipated.
“I’m just now getting into a phase where I really believe I know what I need to do to be successful long-term. Before I was just pushing forward blindly. I have more confidence in myself, in all aspects of my life, not just poker. I quit an industry that I’d been in for 11 years to go take a ‘job’ where I have no safety net. I don’t have a paycheck, but this is the first time in my professional life where I have experienced, well, ‘free time.’ When you work in the restaurant business, you live to work, you don’t work to live.
“I was used to working 50-60 hours per week, all weekends. The only time I got off was when I asked for it. Now, I’m free to spend time with my family when I want to. I can just enjoy life. And poker can get incorporated into that. I traveled to California and played poker. I go back to Chicago to see my family, but I play poker when I’m there. Heck, I’m coming down with FOMO hearing about the PCA and PSPC. It had never really occurred to me before, but I could actually travel to the Bahamas, Europe, or Asia for a working vacation. It’s kind of surreal.
“My life has definitely become more exciting and thrilling, but it comes with big variance. I was used to working, getting a paycheck, and knowing how much I was going to get each week. Well, I’ve said this before, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Truth: if I hadn’t had a backer, I might have gone broke.
“It was so much harder than I thought it would be.”
“Do you ever question whether you made the right decision to jump?”
“Does that question ever come up? Every day. Especially during the losing days. I mean, I had a pretty decent downswing – I didn’t win any money for three months. Coming from a fixed income, and suddenly no money for three months. And the car payment and rent don’t go away.
“That scared the hell out of me. There were times when I’d leave the poker room virtually in tears. ‘How can I do this any more?’ But you remember the lows much more than the highs. If I go play today and lose a bunch, I’ll leave upset, and completely forget that I won huge yesterday.
“Last month, I was on the edge of this downswing, I wasn’t winning any money. I went to the grocery store to get food for my roommate and me. I came out, and my car was gone – stolen. Seriously – what else can go wrong?
“When life is pounding on you, on top of a poker downswing, it can be tough. I reached a point where I said to my friend Dan, ‘Screw this – I’m moving back home.’ Fortunately, Dan talked me out of it. Eventually you get recentered, refocused, and life goes on.
“It’s not what you see in the vlogs.”
“When you were saying, ‘Screw this – I’m moving back to Chicago to manage a restaurant,’ how does that jibe with your statement that you now (as a poker player) have a real life, time to yourself, etc?”
“Downswings make you think silly things. They make you lose your mind, and play bad. Then the IRL hassles come in and it’s chaotic. But you need that moment where you zoom out, and you think, ‘Okay, if you move back, you’ll be temporarily rid of whatever bad things are happening in poker. But are you going back to an industry you hated? Are you, at age 30, going back to live with your parents? What are you going to do, Ben?’
“That would snap me back into focus. But the bad days can poison your mind.
“Then there are days where you win $6,000 in five days, you’re on the top of the world, and you think you’re going to be a millionaire by the end of the year. You live the highs too high and the lows too low.”
“So, is that the skill that you have to develop to succeed in this business? Not live the highs too high and the lows too low?”
“The biggest thing is playing within your bankroll. Here’s the example: March Madness – the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. Biggest poker weekend of the entire year in Las Vegas. I go and play my regular game, $2/5. Mostly I was playing the Bellagio $500 cap $2/5. But I went and played the Aria $1000 cap $2/5 too. During the weekend, I’ll play the deeper games because the action is good and the fields are soft.
“Anyway, I win $2900 in one day, playing $2/5. Biggest one-day win ever. I think I’m unstoppable. Next day, I go and play the $1500 cap $5/10 at the Bellagio, and get destroyed. Sure, I won $2900 in one day, but in the next five days I lose $6,000.
“That’s one example. It’s happened a couple of times. You get on a win streak, and you think you can beat any game in town. You spend more money outside poker than you should – ‘Oh, I just won $3,000, I can afford this $200 dinner.’ The opposite side is when you’re downswinging, some $200 expense comes up and you’re worried about it.
“If every poker player just played within their bankroll, whatever that is, they’d be way better off.”
“So with a year behind you, are you finding that skill? Though I doubt it’s like riding a bike – you get it and then you just have it forever. It’s a constant mental grind, I’d think.”
“Yes. It’s all about controlling tilt. Poker tilt, life tilt. Tilt is the enemy, whether it’s good or bad tilt. When things are going bad, just remember that volume cures variance. Play through it. When things are going well, remind yourself that you’re not unstoppable. Even the best professional players have downswings. A top pro wins 65-70% of their sessions – there will be times when that 30-35% losing session cues up a bunch in a row.
“Andrew Neeme had a vlog where he discussed, ‘Regression to the mean.’ It’s the idea that your results will ultimately trend back to your actual EV, whatever that is. One way of seeing this is that on your winning days, you’re not the best poker player in the world, and on your losing days, you’re not the worst poker player in the world. It’s important to remind yourself of both those things.”
I would buy a poker t-shirt that says, “Regressing to the mean.” And with that, I’ll leave you to wait for Part 2 of the series.