Hard work doesn't always pay off; bad things often happen to good people; and contrary to popular belief, putting in your dues doesn't guarantee success. Still, every once in a while the stars align, a dream comes true, and things work out in the end – that's something Ben Yu found out Friday night when he won Event #50: $10,000 Limit Hold'em Championship for $291,456 and his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet.
There's no denying Yu had worked hard. He's grinded the WSOP since 2008, which is when he made the trip to Vegas to play a single event. He cashed it too, finishing 69th in Event #53: $1,500 Limit Hold'em Shootout for $5,055. Two years later he made the final table of the same event, ultimately finishing runner-up to his roommate Brendan Taylor.
"In 2010 I was broke," Yu admitted. "Earlier in January of that year I owed my friends a good amount of money, like five figures. By the WSOP I had grinded my way out, so when I got second in the last prelim of the summer I was just so stoked. I went from having $1,000 to having a five-figure bankroll. That was so amazing. I actually didn't mind not winning at that point … Because I was just reveling in how much money I had, I didn’t appreciate how close I was."
It was the closest Yu would come to a bracelet before Friday night, though it was far from his only WSOP success. In fact, before Event #50 Yu had 29 WSOP cashes on his résumé for an impressive $422,854 in earnings. Not too shabby for the 2008 Stanford graduate, who majored in civil and environmental engineering and minored in public policy.
"I got the opportunity to go to Stanford, which was great," Yu said of his college days. "I knew that if I didn't do my four years there I would be able to play a lot more poker, and it would have furthered my poker career a lot, but the amount of opportunities I got – to work on Capitol Hill, to travel to Panama for a summer internship – by doing that I decided poker was ultimately what I wanted to do, but I got to learn so many life skills, networking skills, and business skills. That was worth giving up three years of poker. That experience is something I really value."
Since graduating and finishing runner-up in 2010, Yu has established himself as one of the game's good guys. He's friends with some elite players such as Justin Bonomo and Gabriel Nassif – both of who busted the Event #50 final table and stuck around to cheer on Yu – and frequently enters big buy-in events, such as the $50,000 Poker Players' Championship, where he's made two deep runs in the past three years.
"The WSOP is the most important poker thing to me," explained Yu. "Since I was 16 and watching the 2003/04 series on TV, I was like everyone else, I grew up watching that and it's what brought me here … It feels so good to win, there's nothing like it. There's nothing as good as winning a tournament, not chopping it, but just winning it."
Yu's win came after 11 players returned for Day 3. Among those to come and go were noted limit hold'em players Brian Tate (11th - $22,314) and Terrence Chan (9th - $27,341), reigning World Poker Tour Player of the Year Anthony Zinno (5th - $72,377), and WSOP bracelet winner Jesse Martin, who was actually Yu's heads-up opponent.
Yu began heads-up play with an almost 2-1 chips lead, but it still proved to be a lengthy 80-hand affair. Then on Hand #210 of the final table, which took place in Level 28 (30,000/60,000), a short-stacked Martin raised to 120,000 on the button and then called when Yu three-bet to 180,000, leaving himself just 10,000 behind. Yu then bet the flop and Martin called off.
Yu had flopped top two, which meant Martin needed to catch a king to make a straight. The turn wasn't what he was looking for, and neither was the river. Martin had to settle for second play and a $180,114 consolation prize.
"I think of the 11 [that returned today], I'm probably only the fourth or fifth best player," Yu said modestly. "Terrence Chan, Brian Tate, they're all remarkably better than me. I think Jesse Martin is definitely better than me as well… It does feel great when you're able to play against the best and succeed."
As for the money, one couldn't help but wonder if Yu would take a shot in Sunday's $111,111 High Roller for ONE Drop.
"There are four or five open events I don't play, I either don't have enough money for or don't have enough skill for," said Yu. "I think the $100K is just don't have enough money for, so I'm probably gonna pass on that, but we'll see."
Final Table Results
|1||Ben Yu||Henderson, NV||$291,456|
|2||Jesse Martin||Shrewsbury, MA||$180,114|
|3||Justin Bonomo||Glendale, CO||$130,480|
|4||Aleksandr Denisov||Moscow, Russia||$96,309|
|5||Anthony Zinno||Boston, MA||$72,377|
|6||Kenny Shei||Las Vegas, NV||$55,341|
|7||Gabriel Nassif||Paris, France||$43,035|
|8||Marco Johnson||Walnut Creek, CA||$34,027|
|9||Terrence Chan||Vancouver, BC, Canada||$27,341|