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Capture the Flag - Ben ‘Sauce1234’ Sulsky

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 24, 2010


Even though Ben “Sauce1234” Sulsky is busy writing papers and reading books to get a degree in philosophy at the University of Toronto, he has managed to solidify himself as one of the top online cash-game no-limit hold’em players in the game. The 22-year-old New Hampshire native started playing poker in high school, and after a short break from the game, he managed to turn a meager bankroll into one that was capable of sustaining sessions at $500-$1,000 no-limit hold’em on Full Tilt Poker.
Remarkably, after dropping out of college and eventually going back, cashing out his entire bankroll and starting with play money all over again, Sulsky turned a small deposit into another bankroll with which to compete at the highest stakes offered in the online world.

Card Player caught up with him to hear his unique story of sleeping in his car on trips to play $1-$2, playing with play money after beating $500-$1,000 games, and returning to school after a meteoric rise through the poker world.

Brian Pempus: How did you get your start in poker?

Ben Sulsky: Back in high school, I turned my thousand play-money chips into about a million. I decided that poker was something I could do. After playing with the play money, I put $50 on a bunch of different sites and eventually ran that up to about $5,000. I was 18, and at one point, I lost $1,000 in a night. I couldn’t fathom losing $1,000 in a night, so I cashed out my winnings and decided to live on them for a year or two. I started playing again when I got to college. I was in school for about six months before I eventually ended up going to Turning Stone Casino, which was an 18-and-older casino and was a four-hour drive from my first school. I would go there and sleep in my car all weekend, because I was playing $1-$2 and was really interested in turning a profit for the weekend. I realized that I was spending $60 on gas and another $40 on food for the weekend, so I needed to sleep in my car. I would be out there in upstate New York in December, freezing my ass off, going to bed at 6 a.m. after playing 25 hours of poker.

BP: Did you do well from the start in those live cash games?

BS: The first weekend, I brought $500, and I considered it $500 to lose, because I didn’t expect to win. I was basically a novice at the time, and I didn’t really know anything about poker. I played by the seat of my pants at first, and tried to make good reads. I tried to stay focused and play well. I won more than $1,000 the first weekend that I played $1-$2, by just grinding. I had a few other good weekends, so I ended up dabbling in the $2-$5 and $5-$5 games. I started playing online after a while, during my sophomore year the following winter.

BP: So, how did you get started playing online at that point?

BS: I took $500 and had one of my friends give me the money online. I was an idiot at first, playing 50¢-$1. I wasn’t good at bankroll management at this point. I thought it was half the size of what I was playing live, and therefore I was bankrolled for it. I lost my first $500 within three days, and then I deposited another $500 and went on a heater. I began playing 10¢-25¢ with the second $500. I had realized the error of my ways. From that point forward, I went on a ridiculous heater and was playing $5-$10 by June, after starting in January. I was properly bankrolled at that point, with about $50,000.

BP: What was your progression from $5-$10 to the nosebleed stakes?

BS: At first, I lost half of my bankroll playing $5-$10, and in the fall, I moved down to $3-$6 again. I retooled my game and did a lot of experimenting. I thought about things more deeply, and I eventually was taking some shots at $25-$50. I had returned to school after the summer, but by January, I decided to leave. I was 21 at the time and it was way too exciting to be playing, and I just could not concentrate on school. So, after that, I decided to travel to Europe with friends and play some European Poker Tour events. It was then that my game really took off. I started winning, and realized that heads up was definitely my best game. I learned a lot from playing against guys in Europe, and by the end of that trip, I was playing $50-$100 and $100-$200. It all happened really fast. By the end of the summer, I was playing $500-$1,000. I won every session I played, but in the fall, I went on a ridiculous downswing. I staked a bunch of guys for the big games that were running around Guy [Laliberte], and things went poorly. I was on a huge downswing myself, even though I sort of felt invincible at the time. So, I lost a bunch, and decided to go back to school in the fall of 2009.

I’ve taken huge breaks from poker before. I cashed out my whole bankroll before I went back to school, because I wanted to be able to focus completely. When I was in school, I was not loving it as much as I thought I would. I ended up playing again with play money in my spare time, because I just really loved poker. I won another 2 million play-money points. A friend owed me $1,000, and he sent me the money. I started playing 25¢-50¢ again just for fun, after having played $500-$1,000 a few months earlier. Over the past year, I have moved up from there, and I am now playing nosebleeds again. I worked it all up from that $1,000 deposit, and turned it into a bankroll now.

When I was playing nosebleeds the first time and lost a bunch, I didn’t feel very confident in my game. I thought that maybe I had just gotten really lucky to reach that level. So, when I started playing again, it felt really good to be playing games that I could beat for a ton of money. It also gave me that confidence in my game, and I knew that if I had a little bit of money and a couple of years, I could build up a large bankroll. It made me feel like I had earned my way to the point of playing the highest stakes.

BP: What went into your decision to return to school, and does studying philosophy help you in your life as a poker pro?

BS: It is the most interesting field of study. Poker has earned me the room to enjoy what I study. The degree won’t be incredibly practical, but it does keep me in school and interested in being there. At this point, I think it is fun to be a little bit more settled. There are a lot of things in philosophy that have practical significance in poker. A lot of the things that I read and write for class make their way into how I think about poker. Right now, I do homework or practice the mixed games when I don’t have action. If I am sitting at heads-up no-limit tables, I get, on average, one game per day, and that’s if I am sitting there for eight hours. It is just way too little. To be a good gambler, you ideally want to be able to play every game. I think that most of the action in the future will be in the mixed games, and hopefully in some of the no-limit draw games.

BP: Have you made any trips to the World Series of Poker?

BS: I went for about a week this past summer. It was hellish. I was sleeping on a couch at my friend’s house, and it was 100 degrees with the sun out. I couldn’t sleep for the entire week. I played the heads-up event, which was why I went there in the first place. I lost in that, and made a day two of another no-limit hold’em event, but eventually busted out. I can’t see myself going back to Vegas. If I do, it will be to play big cash games in The Ivey Room, and some of the other big mixed games. It would be fun and pretty relaxing to play high-stakes poker live.

BP: Can you explain why you think you’ve had so much success in poker thus far?

BS: I am not afraid to be aggressive when I should be. I do a lot of work away from the tables and am very self-critical of my game. In the past four years of playing poker, my game has gotten pretty good from rigorously looking at hands every day and putting in a lot of time. I also just love the game, and don’t mind putting in the hands or taking shots, and moving down when I have to. I am not stuck in my ways, at all. I don’t see myself playing poker professionally my whole life. I find poker interesting, and I want to find something else that’s as interesting, but is more constructive and has more to it. However, poker is a pretty awesome thing to be doing right now, and I am very grateful for my success. ♠