Ben Sulsky is a high stakes cash game regular who plays mostly No Limit Hold’em at the 5/10 and 10/20 level. He has been playing poker seriously for only about a year and a half. In only a couple months after he began he vaulted himself into elite cash game player status. He is now one of the most respected cash game players online at his level, and plans on taking the next semester at the school he currently attends, UMass Amherst, off to travel the world. Sulsky is also an avid poster at FTR.
DS: Tell me your poker story.
Ben Sulsky: I played poker recreationally in high school with friends and got interested in it as I was pushing carts at a fascist supermarket and stealing gourmet foods to upset my bourgeois asshole bosses and wanted a way to make money with my mind. But I sucked so I didn’t play very much for a couple years; though I did win 3k in a freeroll which I then somehow spent or lost or something, I don’t remember.
Ben Sulsky: Then I went to Mexico last January and spent my 2 weeks of idleness on the beach scheming about poker and reading a zillion posts on 2p2 and FTR I basically culled a preflop strategy which was relatively accurate and learned the value of pokertracker and PAHUD which I immediately realized would be a huge edge. I also learned just how much skill there was in the game and that it could be learned academically and practically and was not primarily born of instinct which gave me desire/hope.
DS: Hmmm interesting.
Ben Sulsky: I also set goals for myself well 4 goals for the year and wrote them down
DS: They were?
Ben Sulsky: The 1st was to make at least 3000, the same amount I had won in the freeroll playing cash games at the very least
Ben Sulsky: The 2nd was 10000 which is what I expected to make after looking at winrates and such online
Ben Sulsky: the third was 30k which I thought would be pretty amazing
Ben Sulsky: and the 4th was 100k which was my outside OMG goal and would entail moving up to at least 600 buy in games I thought. Which was huge for me as before this I had sat 200nl once in my life and felt hopelessly confused and outclassed. So upon arriving back in the states I had 2 weeks of break and I played everyday most of the day with a 500 dollar bankroll at 1/2nl buying in for 100, lol. As I was ambitious, hah. I started at 50nl but I got tilted cause it was so nitty.
Ben Sulsky: Well I busted the 500 and then borrowed another 500
DS: From me 🙂
Ben Sulsky: From ISF/Massimo, yeah. And then I got in touch with them and they explained I was a retard and that 50nl would be retardedly underrolled but they would accept it as a compromise.
Ben Sulsky: So as I knew they were winning THOUSANDS of dollars at poker and my boy from home Cy who was our big winner thought they were good I relented
Ben Sulsky: So starting at 50nl I ran sick hot for about 3 months which is the best way to learn poker.
I ended up running close to 10 bb/100 moving from 50nl to 400nl.
Ben Sulsky: I made 60k by April basically by sheer aggression as I had discovered the 3bet
DS: What was it about those games that made sheer aggression so good?
Ben Sulsky: Well, I would never fuck with utg raisers and rarely utg+1 which was important.
Ben Sulsky: But from there I would just 3bet pretty much indiscriminately if I was in position or with any PP/good SC/AK AQ AJ from the blinds, and the amount of times I took down the pot/won with a cbet was just unbelievable.
Ben Sulsky: But I think I was winning like 49% of showdowns but like 52% when seen flop
Ben Sulsky: And I was also beginning to represent various draws on the turn river which in fact I was very unlikely to hold but which my opponents would give me credit for basically. I had discovered rudimentary 3betting, semibluffing and I used these constantly with just reckless aggression
Ben Sulsky: Luckily for me this was the perfect way to beat the tight and loose passive regulars typical of lower stakes and I was very rarely forced to make difficult stack decisions as I had the initiative like always. I really couldn’t make those decisions yet. So I stumbled on a very strong style for the games I was playing thru reading the right literature basically and implementing it.
DS: And what was the right literature?
Ben Sulsky: well I read 20+ poker books most more than once and 2p2/FTR every single well post and most every strat post in various forums. I didn’t actually get a cardrunners membership till June but that’s a super helpful resource as well. And then I would evaluate all of these different strategies and try to assimilate them so my preflop/flop play was relatively good. And I think as I was running well and playing against nontricky, passive opponents and I was excited about learning poker my turn/river play was pretty adequate.
DS: Who were your favorite posters or writers?
Ben Sulsky: Hmm writers I liked Sklansky books especially Theory of Poker the best. I always actively looked for Strassa’s posts and El Diablo’s also Jman for sure those were all really helpful.
I also started posting A LOT on FTR especially in SHNL like from Feb-April I probably posted on 85% of hands in SHNL. I don’t think I clicked on commune till like July
DS: Why did posting on other people’s hands help your game?
Ben Sulsky: Mostly because deconstructing hands over the span of 10 minutes and engaging in debate with others often allows you to learn more effectively than playing as you are less instinctual.
DS: So now you play a lot of 5/10 and 10/20 6max, but you play a lot of HU too right?
Ben Sulsky: Yes I play about 50% 6max and 50% HU with about 75% of my play at 5/10 and 25% at 10/20+
DS: Which do you feel like is your stronger game?
Ben Sulsky: My winrate is definitely much higher HU but I’m still learning the game
in a lot of ways. I think it is much more difficult, you absolutely cannot play well HU without adjusting to your opponent.
DS: How does your poker game differ from other good players you play with?
Ben Sulsky: I think I’m generally less instinctual than most players as I sucked at poker when I first started and really learned the game through a lot of work/study.
DS: And do you think this makes you better off?
Ben Sulsky: I like to think it will allow me to continue to improve after other players plateau and I think it will help me to avoid things like prolonged downswings and tilt which throw off instinctual players as they are getting constant negative reinforcement. For instance today a good player/friend asked me “What do you do with QQ when two TAGs raise/3bet and you are in the blinds?” I said almost always shove of course. And I would never consider doing anything else even if 50 times in a row one of them showed up with two aces and the other with two kings.
Ben Sulsky: So I think that when I improve at poker, which I’m always trying to do, I rarely get worse through the effects of variance or mental reinforcement
DS: How has being wealthy at this age affected your life? And similarly how has being wealthy at this age affected the lives of family and friends?
Ben Sulsky: I would say being wealthy is pretty sweet. I have probably spent 10-15k of my poker winnings this year, 5k of which was on a car. I really have no aspirations to spend large amounts of money or get expensive material goods
Ben Sulsky: The best thing about being moderately wealthy at a young age is the fact that I can imagine finding a way out of the capitalist system of 9-5 and minimizing risk. This should leave me the free time in the next 40 years to spend time on community, charity, traveling, learning, family, partying, writing or just creating something original which is all I aim to do.
DS: What do most people around you think about you playing poker as a main source of income?
Ben Sulsky: People around me basically respond with jealousy and incredulity and sometimes disdain from either one of the first two. They look at poker as a vice/gambling when in fact it’s more like investing. Also, there is just fear because its not a middle class job and also people look at it as not-worthwhile because it does not contribute anything tangible to society like carpentry or construction, which is what “a god damn man should be doing.” Luckily, I don’t hold too much love for society or its institutions and tend to reserve it for individual people so this does not bother me deeply. But I can see all of these things as being concerns to many which may tie in with the fact that the vast majority of successful poker players are introverts and very independent.
DS: What efforts do you make to balance life and poker?
Ben Sulsky: I don’t find balancing life and poker all that difficult. I definitely love playing poker but I don’t define my worth as a person in any meaningful way with my success at poker and so it remains an academic activity mostly as in I find it more analogous to writing an essay or playing a computer game, and these kinds of things just get boring/draining if you do them too much.
DS: I’ve found that many low stakes players will be completely baffled by certain high stakes hands, and often dismiss certain advice from higher stakes players because “It doesn’t apply to their level.”
DS: Do you have any advice on how low stakes players should approach the advice of higher level players?
Ben Sulsky: If they can’t figure out why the advice doesn’t apply to their level, or if they are unable to convince the higher stakes player why it doesn’t apply to their level if they do in fact patch together a reason, then most likely it is just an emotional response to cover their feeling of inadequacy as a poker player. Waving their e-dick basically. Many, many, smart people are low stakes poker players but not wanting to figure out the strategies of people much more successful than they are is an illogical and moronic response.
DS: Ummm wow.
Ben Sulsky: It’s just like if Michael Jordan walked up to me and offered to teach me a jump-shot and he advocated lifting the ball above my head and I said “Well, all the players in my game shoot underhanded so this doesn’t apply to me.” It’s the same thing. I’m not advocating very aggressive high stakes plays are correct in low stakes games. For instance you may want to fold AK preflop to a 4bet, but if this is true, than the inverse is also true, that you should be threebetting a shitload!
DS: Nice response
DS: So what are your plans for next semester?
Ben Sulsky: I’m traveling to Argentina for a few months starting in early March and splitting a house with some other poker players I’m also trying to travel to Thailand with our very own trickflow in February so basically I’m taking a semester off school to travel and play poker with the emphasis on travel.
DS: Alright well gl in your travels and thanks for the interview!
DS: What’s the funniest poker story you have?
Ben Sulsky: Ok so it’s a live 2/5 game. And I have about 7800 and this crazy Indian dude playing 90/10 has 4k or so or a little less, 3700 maybe, and everyone hates him because he’s so obviously terrible and is just spouting off these absurd comments about what an amazing player he is at every opportunity. He’s like an insurance salesman or something at a conference so his ego is just having like this immense 2 hour long chatty orgasm cause he’s luck boxing at a 2/5 table; it’s painful. So I check the BB with KTo and the flop comes KT4 rainbow so there’s— 40 or so in the pot and I lead for 110 or something
Ben Sulsky: he raises to 475 or so I make it 1350, he calls turn is a Q or J putting two clubs out there, I check he bets like 1400, I shove for a bit more he calls with 444, good game sir.
Ben Sulsky: And after the hand he begins to just vomit the grossest platitudes about never going broke without the nuts and how his dick is 14 miles long for like hours all the while never tipping the dealer. So the hate intensified and then some giant Midwestern type started calling him a towel head
and he puffed up like blowfish because now his feeling of entitlement had a target and the floor had to come over. It took like a half hour, very gross.
Ben Sulsky: I ordered a Heineken and a shot of Jager.
Ben Sulsky: /end