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Ben Lamb Wins 2011 Player of the Year Race

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Feb 08, 2012


Despite being the self-proclaimed ‘best baccarat player in the world’ and a monster at the cash game tables, Ben Lamb just became the number one tournament player on the planet – thanks to one of the all-time great runs at the World Series of Poker.

The 25-year-old grinder from Tulsa, Oklahoma won Card Player’s 2011 Player of the Year race solely based on his performance during the summer at the WSOP. He won a bracelet, notched a runner-up finish, final tabled the $50,000 event and finished third in the main event.

Lamb, who remained near the top of the chip counts throughout the entire no-limit hold’em championship, grabbed more than $4 million on poker’s most important stage.
From getting almost cleaned out when he was 19 by Phil Galfond, to being one of poker’s newest superstars six years later, Lamb has experienced the ups and downs consistent with a life on the felt.

However, his surge in 2011 was fantastic. He attributes everything to a new mindset.
“In the past years, if I would have won the first bracelet I would have gone out partying for three days and hung out with friends – not really got back out there to play,” Lamb said. “Not drinking this summer and focusing on my play helped. I was playing my best ever and was fortunate in more spots than average.”

Finding the Game

The soft-spoken Lamb was introduced to poker as a teenager in a pool hall. He said that the first card playing between friends became a “war” of trying to one-up each other at new games that no one had ever tried before.

When Lamb went off to college in San Antonio, Texas, he started to dabble online and occasionally found some action at small-stakes home games.

During his second semester he decided to give poker a full-time shot. He dropped out, moved home, and began dealing cards at a local casino.

“It was an easy decision at the time because I had a lot of stuff due that week and didn’t want to do it,” Lamb said. “Obviously it was probably a terrible decision on average. I guess I lucked out by being able to do well in poker, whereas I’m sure a million people have dropped out of school to play and maybe only 3,000 have ever done it successfully. It is not something I would want to do if I was playing small stakes.”

An Online Disaster

While working as a dealer, he would repeatedly run up a couple hundred dollars into a small bankroll – but then quickly bust.

On his fourth attempt at depositing on Full Tilt Poker, Lamb turned $100 into more than $90,000 by running hot at pot-limit Omaha and no-limit hold’em cash games.

However, the then 19-year-old Lamb hit a major road block in the form of Galfond. One night the cash game grinders squared off at $25-$50 no-limit hold’em, and when it was over Lamb had dropped nearly his entire six-figure bankroll.

“It was an absurd amount of money at the time,” Lamb recalled. “It hurt. I lost more money than I had ever seen before in my life.”

Lamb was back to square one with his bankroll, but he remained resilient and rebuilt. He admitted he wasn’t that good back then, but most of the games were soft enough to beat consistently.

Despite rebounding quickly, the loss to Galfond reminded Lamb to play more conservatively with his money. During his first summer at the WSOP in 2006 he won four seats to the main event, but decided not to play because he thought it was too big of a buy-in.

“I was still a little shell shocked,” Lamb recalled years later. At one point his conservatism led to him sit on a bankroll of $250,000 for $5-$10 live no-limit hold’em.
Lamb said that the session was likely a really big increase at the time to Galfond’s bankroll. “I kind of always thought that I somehow influenced his career,” Lamb said with a grin. “Maybe my degenerate night when I was 19 years old made Phil Galfond. He owes it all to me.”

Deep Runs in the WSOP Main Event

Lamb was playing pretty much on his own for the next couple of years, before finding a group of poker friends that opened up his game to some new concepts.

This confidence led to a top-200 finish in the 2007 main event. The 2009 rendition had him playing at the final two tables.

He went on to bust in a gut-wrenching 14th place, but it was his first exposure to the end of a major live tournament.

“The biggest needle was my friends, who didn’t know anything about poker, telling me at the time that I would be back the next year. I obviously didn’t think that would be true. You don’t get back to the final two tables of the main event. It just runs one time per year. So, I was pretty lucky this year.”

Lamb said that the key to his runs was having great table draws.

Finding the Action

Lamb admits he isn’t a great mixed game player – this coming from someone who final tabled the $50,000 Players Championship – but he is working on improving.

While the most consistent high-stakes action around Las Vegas is in the mix, Lamb said good big-bet games run about every two weeks. “That’s where the real action is and the real money is made,” Lamb said.

It’s all just a matter of getting a seat.

“Live no-limit is weird in Las Vegas,” Lamb added. “You can play $10-$20 everyday, but if you want to play higher you have to go to $100-$200 or $200-$400. There really isn’t much in between. There is this separation between these two groups of players, making it really hard to make that jump. So, when a good $100-$200 game comes around there are a bunch of players scrambling to buy pieces of one guy and put him in. Being able to play every time it runs without having to sell any of your action really helps.”

Lamb has moved so close to Aria that he can get there in a few minutes once he receives a call or a text about a game. He has a good relationship with the staff at Aria, which helps him be one of the first on the scene to snag a seat.

He also has friends that are regulars at $10-$20 and will inform him when some players take a seat in Ivey’s Room.

Due to action around town, Lamb truly had one of the most nonchalant years in tournament history. Lamb chose to sit out the WSOP Europe in the fall so he could play cash in Las Vegas.

Opportunities with Online Poker

With the state of Nevada moving quickly toward licensing and regulating Internet poker sites within an intrastate industry, Lamb will soon have a chance to grind on the virtual felt once again, but perhaps more importantly, an opportunity to represent an online poker room.

He said that an Aria-branded site would be perfect for him.

“I love the people at Aria,” Lamb said. “The people who run the casino are considered my friends. Hopefully something comes together and we can reach an agreement that is beneficial to both of us. I don’t see myself working with another company, other than the Aria. I live here basically, and play here every day, so it would be hard for me to not want to do something with these people who live amazing lives and are all really cool. I feel very comfortable at the casino.”

According to Lamb, online poker will likely return earlier than most of the poker community had dared to hope for – although it may be to a limited degree. It is unclear if and when Nevada casinos would offer web poker interstate in an effort to create larger player pools.

Lamb thinks if a bill ever passes at the federal level, poker could be better than it ever was before – at least in terms of popularity – but the games likely will never be as soft as they were during the early part of the poker boom.

Not a Great Hourly

Despite winning the Player of the Year, don’t expect to see Lamb at the majority of the stops on the tournament circuit.

He said that he might play about 15 tournaments a year going forward; up slightly from the 10 he used to enter. “The hourly really isn’t there,” Lamb said of tournaments.
Lamb said that doing so well in tournaments came as a big surprise: “Winning Player of the Year is great, but it’s so hard to do. It’s not like I think I have a great chance to win it in 2012.”

What the poker world can count on is Lamb entering some of the biggest buy-in events around. Six-figure entry fees, which gained popularity in 2011, are within his price range, he said.

The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, arguably the second biggest series of the year behind the WSOP, was not on his schedule. Lamb wants to play golf every day in Las Vegas.

The sport was a hobby of his when he was a teenager, but over time he stopped playing. He just picked it back up about eight months ago, after a decade away from the fairways.
As a true gambler, teeing off for Lamb sometimes involves lots of money. Lamb will wager anywhere from $100 to $10,000 a hole, depending on the circumstances.

“I’m pretty dreadful right now,” Lamb said with a smile. “Not having to work every day makes it easier to find time to do other things.”

The Best Baccarat Player in the World

Lamb is a serious poker player, but he does venture into the pit on occasion – where he said he is a lifetime winner according to MGM tracking.

He said he plays “small enough” where a loss wouldn’t be detrimental to his finances. His biggest loss has been $10,000, although he has won more than that amount a handful of times.

“I play pretty small compared to how high I play poker,” Lamb said. “I don’t see any way that over the next few years I won’t be a winner with what I’m already up. It’s a fun game. Friends come into town and we go play baccarat, blackjack or craps.”

“I am the best baccarat player in the world,” Lamb joked. “Ask anybody.”

Despite making a living from time spent in a casino, some of his friends away from the felt didn’t really understand the life of a poker pro. It took making the final table of the main event to change perceptions.

“Before the summer a lot of my friends didn’t see what I was doing out here in Las Vegas, and thought I was being a degenerate,” Lamb said. “Maybe I was, but I was doing well at it. But this year they were able to see me on TV and the level of success I was having. They kind of thought before that I wasn’t having a career, and that it was just gambling.”

The humble and self-reflective Lamb always acknowledges that there is an element of luck in poker, but with one of the sharpest minds in the game, he has learned to take as much chance out of it as possible.

The Scotch-drinking poker pro does have a reputation of being a partier, but by not consuming a “drop” of alcohol during the WSOP, he was able to improve his work ethic and turn a corner on his career.

“I feel like in the past I’ve squandered some opportunities to make a lot of money,” Lamb said. “I had money, and I didn’t want to work. I just wanted to have fun. The games are getting tougher, so while I am able to make money playing I want to do that – before eventually moving on to something different. But I’m always going to play poker. The swings are brutal sometimes. If I am losing it would be nice to have the ability to step out and work on a business of some sort.” ♠