Ben Adler: March Madness

Ben Adler poker player
Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: June 27, 2022 19:56 PDT

[When we last caught up with Ben, he was climbing out of a downswing. Let’s discuss that a bit more, and look up and forward to March Madness.]

“March Madness is coming up. Tell us about that.”

“So, the last time I went back home to Chicago, I made a pretty serious scheduling error. It was Superbowl weekend, and that’s prime hunting season. If you’re a pro, you schedule your work around the best times to play. Superbowl and March Madness [the NCAA Men’s Basketball Finals] are two of the very best times to play. And in fact, March Madness is, according to the veterans around here, the single best time to play poker in Las Vegas.

“It’s the perfect storm – we’re kind of coming out of Covid and March Madness. I’m not gearing up in any particular way, except that I’m planning to play a ton of hours. I’m doing all my other professional responsibilities now, so I can be laser-focused on grinding during the games.

“Also, Vegas turns into a giant party during March Madness, so it will be fun. There will be a buzz in the poker rooms (all the poker players are betting on the games). And you know, even though the downswings are definitely no fun, I still love playing – I’m excited to walk into the room and sit down at the table. So that’s how I feel going into this weekend.

“One of my goals is to play where there are big sportsbooks. Aria is my home base, but they have a pretty small sportsbook. The point is that my backer has this calculus down pat. So maybe he says, “Bellagio,” because they’ve got that massive sportsbook right next to the poker room. But hey, he’s the coach and he calls the plays – I play where he points me.

“I don’t need to over-complicate my prep for March Madness. If I play tight and in-position against a bunch of drunk sports bettors, I should do pretty well.

“To that point, the most fun I’ve ever had playing poker was when I was in town in October and November of last year, during the World Series of Poker. I wasn’t playing in the tournaments or anything, but – you know all about this – during the WSOP, there is a poker buzz in town, nothing like it. I’m counting on March Madness to bring some of that excitement.

“And it’s not that I plan to make $10k or something. But here’s the thing about being a pro: you can control three things: (1) how well you play, (2) the quality of the games you’re in, and (3) how many hours you put in. March Madness pretty much guarantees checking the #2 box. Now I just gotta take care of #1 and #3.

“I said it before, but it’s worth restating: having my backer point me to the best game choice is incredibly comforting and reassuring. Should I play the Aria $1/3? The Wynn $2/5 is deeper stacked, ($1500 max buy-in) which is better for me, but the game might be a hair tougher. All these trade-offs and decisions that a pro has to make. But my backer, with his decades of experience in this town – he says, ‘Go play at the Wynn.’ and that’s all I need to hear.”

“Awesome. Have you thought about him telling you where to eat lunch? Take another decision off your plate and simplify your life some more.”

“I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it, I do struggle with that as well. But seriously, it’s an incredible gift this person gives me.

“But back to my downswing – I should have this embroidered on my shirt sleeve – all I have to do is not screw up. When I sit and watch the game, and see all the mistakes they’re making, I know I can play better than that. My A-game will beat them. So it’s just a question of playing my A-game.

“Speaking of A-game, I know this isn’t a strategy segment, but can I tell you the secret sauce?”

“My pen is poised to write it down.”

“I’m absurdly unfair about position. Position is important when I’m playing the Bellagio $2/5 with its $500 cap. But when you get to the Wynn $2/5 that has a $1500 cap, position is maybe the single most important thing. Speaking of which, they say that the Wynn $2/5 game is the toughest $2/5 in town. But the few times I played it – I dunno, maybe I was lucky – but it was pretty soft. I did play once during their big tournament series, and it was miserable, which makes no sense. But I picked up and left after 90 minutes. Another one of my superpowers: I’m not afraid to change tables, and I’m not afraid to change rooms if all the games are bad.”

“So I’ve kept you on the phone too long – what are your closing thoughts here?”

“It’s been a testing month. I’m a mild-mannered guy, but there’s been plenty of times when I walked out of the poker room steaming. The way I clear that out is go out and walk on the Strip. I get some air, see the lights, listen to music. The other work I’ve been doing for my employer, that helps. It gives me something useful to do, and it makes me feel productive. Yeah, maybe I got clobbered at the table, but I made this video, it’s good, and I’m proud of it. That goes a long way toward rebalancing myself.

“Speaking of walking… I’m a big people watcher.”

“Any of that in Vegas?”

“Heh. It’s a zoo out there on the Strip. So between Shoshtakovich on the earbuds, the pretty lights at Planet Hollywood, and whatever weirdness Vegas decides to host that evening, I get back on track pretty quickly. It’s definitely not a Haydn night when I got beat for a buy-in at the Aria.”

“Ah, so very good to chat with you. Let’s do this again soon.”

“For sure, thanks a lot.”