Ben Yu has had a great 2015 World Series of Poker so far. Not only did he win the $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship, but he’s also cashed a total of seven times during the summer, a record that put him inside the top 25 of the GPI WSOP Player of the Year standings.
But while you may not have heard of Yu before his success this summer, he’s been a force at the WSOP for some time now, having cashed 32 times at the Series in a career that dates back to 2008.
Before he began his Main Event campaign, I sat down with the Nevadan, who grew up in California, to talk about his incredible summer, his association with Team CardsChat, and his goals as a poker player.
ES: You won a bracelet, and you’ve cashed six times [now seven, as Yu cashed in the Lucky Sevens event after our interview]. Those results seem to speak for themselves, but how would you rate your 2015 World Series of Poker?
BY: Good. I always feel that players have too high expectations. Even for elite players, a median performance will result in you losing money, because tournaments are structured very top heavy. That means that even when you only lose a little bit of money, you should be happy; you’re above the median.
So when you have an actual winning summer, you have to feel good about it. I was very fortunate; I ran very hot on the last day of play, which is usually what it takes. It feels great.
CC: You played for Team CardsChat in the Little One for One Drop. How did you get involved with CardsChat?
BY: I’m friends with some of the members, and I’m pretty good friends with [CardsChat Forum Admin] Debi O’Neill, who is pretty much the mastermind behind the team.
The first time I played for CardsChat was at a Circuit event at Planet Hollywood in November. That was a little smaller and a little less crazy, but it gave me a chance to meet the team.
That’s when I first came across the CardsChat forums. I posted a little bit on there. It’s very interesting. It has a lot more of an international flavor than the other major poker forums.
CC: As a member of Team CardsChat, you fired four bullets into the Little One for One Drop. What made you willing to rebuy so freely in that tournament?
BY: It was a number of things. It is nice that some of the money goes to charity. Actually, I tried to minimize the number of barrels I fired by coming in at 6 pm, which was the last minute for Flight A, which I busted pretty promptly. Then I was happy to play Flight B for as long as I had the time to.
It’s been a long grind, so I did try to skip a little bit of Flight A. I do get really burned out towards the end of the summer, but I know that if I don’t enter everything I can and give myself the best opportunity to achieve my goals, I’ll regret it later.
I know I’ll be a little tired at the table and be playing my B+ or B game rather than my A game, but the World Series is one month of the summer. I have the rest of the year for leisure and recreation. So if they’re going to let me fire four barrels, then I’m going to fire four.
And I heard that four wasn’t even that many! There were a lot of people with four, quite a few with five, and one guy that had seven.
CC: You mentioned wanting to achieve your goals. What kind of poker goals do you have going forward?
BY: During the summer, I pretty much just hit the ground running and I’m here every day playing, so I don’t stop to think about it. I crossed off winning a bracelet, which is kind of a strange goal because it requires so much luck. You have to run so good to get to the final table, and run good at the end. But it was definitely still one of the goals that I’ve accomplished, and probably the biggest one that I’ve crossed off.
A lot of my goals are little things that may not be impressive to anyone, but that I enjoy myself. At some point this summer, I realized that I had achieved my 30th WSOP cash. I tweeted that I had thought to myself that if you had told 16-year-old me that I would have 30 WSOP cashes before I turned 30, I can’t imagine how excited the punk-ass 16-year-old version of me would have been.
There are little goals like that. I had eight cashes last year, and when I got my fifth cash midway through the series, I thought I had a good chance to break that. I’d like to get to nine or ten cashes sometime, that would be kind of cool to have. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s something that I’d like to go after.
ES: I imagine that a lot of your goals are internal, and related to how well you play.
BY: That’s actually the most important thing: just playing well. Poker is a pretty tough game, especially when you’re playing against a lot of the best players. In tournament situations, you have to do a lot of strange things because there are payouts and it isn’t a cash game.
I think Vanessa Selbst says this is why she likes to play tournaments: because you get to think of fun, cool stuff. I like the fact that you get to think of cool and crazy stuff during play that you wouldn’t do in cash games. Tournament poker is just very difficult when you’re up against tough opponents who will make you think about what weaknesses you have in your range and will try to punish you.
Playing well is the number one criteria I hold myself to. It does feel really bad when you bust a tournament to a cooler or a coin flip, but the most important thing is still whether I play well.
CC: On your poker blog, you mention that you’ve sometimes been mistaken for a floor person at the WSOP. Do you think that might stop now that you’ve won a bracelet?
BY: Probably not! Last year I wore suits or business casual a lot more often, and right now I’m just in “business Miami.”
There was the joke that the next time I was mistaken for a floor person, I was going to give the most heinously incorrect ruling possible. Something like “I’m sorry sir, I’m going to have to confiscate this pot,” then grab the pot and dump it into a random player’s stack.
I started dressing up to get some attention, which is really embarrassing to admit! But when I look good I feel good, and when I feel good, I play good.
Now that I’ve been here every year, people do know me, so maybe I’ll be mistaken for a floor person a little less. Of course, now I’m friends with people who love to make jokes [like] “Hey, can I get a ruling on this?”
CC: What are your overall impressions of the World Series this year? Have you enjoyed yourself at the WSOP this year, outside of your results?
BY: More than anything else, I really enjoy being at the World Series. It’s just like being at summer camp, except instead of shooting bows and arrows and going for a swim in the lake, we’re just gambling a lot of money. But it really is like camp in that all of my friends are here.
It would take a lot of legitimate problems for me not to be here. I think there are a lot of gripes that people have that are legitimate, [such as that] the card quality was definitely poor, and the $1,500 limit event structures were not necessarily a great change overall.
That said, I feel like when people complain about the World Series or anything else, they don’t think about how much you have to take into consideration when you put on a big event like this. That goes for everything from putting together a schedule to structures, logistics, and more. People don’t think about how much has to be considered.
Let’s take schedules. People at the tables will always suggest that the WSOP should try to have the $1,500 tournaments for each game before the $10,000 events. Which makes sense, [since] the winners of those events are more likely to jump into the $10,000 events. The problem with that is that you need to spread the $10,000 events throughout the series, because the people who play them are pretty much the same clientele.
So you can’t do what these people are suggesting for all of the events, you can’t have every prelim before every $10,000. The WSOP also wants to have some high-profile events early in the series to bring people out, [which is] something exciting for people to read about and watch on the streams. It’s a complicated issue.
Often, when people are complaining, a lot of it gets lost in the shuffle. When you have a lot of complaining, the legitimate complaints can get lost. I think that before people voice an argument, they should consider everything. One of the things I’ve learned from poker is that you should consider perspectives that are not your own.
Obviously, I’m not talking about all complaints. The card quality was pretty bad this year, we can all be blunt about that. But a lot of the issues at the WSOP are nuanced, and I do commend them for trying different things.
So the limit structures weren’t good for the first three weeks. People have been clamoring for better structures, so I do commend them for trying, and also for fixing it eventually. Things are not perfect, but we’ve come a long way since the days where players received 1x starting chips, getting 1,500 chips for a $1,500 buy-in.
One of the nice things about the World Series is that it tries to cater to so many different people: recreational players, high rollers, people who play every different game. There are just so many different demands the organizers are trying to meet. I think when people are voicing concerns, they should think critically about the situation.
CC: How have you enjoyed doing commentary for WSOP.com?
BY: I commentated on the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha event, which is actually my worst discipline, which is pretty funny! It happened to be when I was free, and it was fun.
I’ve thought a lot about Pot Limit Omaha tournament situations: because the hand equities run so close, PLO tournaments might be the most broken form of poker ever. I’m not even sure if that’s a good or bad thing, because you get to do some very creative things, but sometimes it is correct to fold, or at least not raise, aces when you’re on the bubble or at the final table.
I did really enjoy that, and it was kind of funny that it was in the event that I’m the least skilled in. I played 41 events this year. Every year, I pick out a couple of events that I’ve been getting better at, but haven’t felt strong enough to play in the past and add them to my schedule. Between January and June, I try to get better in that game. [I] watch training videos, talk hands, play hands, and get more experience.
The $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha Championship was the event I added this year. This is how I’ve gotten here: in 2008, when I turned 21, I only played in one Limit Hold’em event, because that was the only game I played back then. From that point on, I made a pact with myself that I was going to learn everything so that I could play everything, just like the people I admired on TV did.
As we go to press, Ben Yu is still a contender in the Main Event, ending his Day 2 play with just 38,300 in chips. But whether or not he cashes in that event, I think we can all agree this is a formidable player whose accomplishments to date will continue to make him a player to watch for years to come.