David 'Raptor' Benefield is a lead CardRunners cash game instructor who splits his time between his homes in Fort Worth, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada. He has won several million dollars online since 2004 at stakes as high as $500-1000. David graciously sat down to answer some questions for the launch of Poker Curious and his one-year anniversary with CardRunners.
Welcome to Poker Curious, David. We are thrilled to launch our site with an interview with one of the poker world's most candid, thoughtful, and popular young stars.
You are a strong representative of the youth movement that redefined the online poker world. What single factor has fueled your climb in the poker world?
Dedication. This game takes a lot of work. It isn’t something you can just sit down and instantly be great at. Every single one of the guys out there beating the biggest games has put in the hours at the tables. I worked very hard for the first few years of my poker career, and the beauty of poker is that I still learn something every single time I sit down to play.
You currently have the most popular blog on CardRunners, and one of the most popular poker blogs anywhere. You blog regularly and invest considerable time sharing your life: from overall results to individual hands you play to your diet, your exercise, activities, and personal reflections. What has your blogging experience been like, and why do you think yours is so popular?
I really enjoy writing: it is a way for me to reflect on my life and express my thoughts, whether I'm talking about a brief thought or months of results. I think the reason it is so popular is because I am candid. I'm not afraid of embarrassing myself or someone else, nor of writing about my personal life and beliefs.
A year ago, you joined CardRunners as a lead instructor. Reflecting back on your year, how do you view your experience and more visible role in the poker world?
Honestly, I like flying under the radar. I really enjoy helping people in many ways, including poker. It's great to watch someone move up through the limits, grow as a player, and reach their goals with my help. Being visible has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it's much easier to get into games and find action online when you're famous. The major drawback is that everyone knows how I play now!
What is your attitude on educating other players who someday may take money away from you at the poker tables?
I don't teach and coach to make money: I'd make much more just grinding out hands. I honestly love coaching and teaching, sharing thoughts in a way that leads to mutual growth. Working with a student gets me to analyze not only his game but my own; making videos gets me to review my play and break down everything I did. Often I catch some mistakes.
Do you fear giving away too much of your style, or do you hold back some high-level information when you make instructional videos?
Well, when I am recording, I am usually playing high stakes, so I am certainly playing my best game. I have had to make adjustments since becoming a CardRunners pro--these guys catch on quick--but I like to think that I am a step ahead of the competition.
You were recently on "Poker After Dark" with Cole South, Taylor Caby, Doyle Brunson, Eli Elezra, and Gabe Kaplan. You came across as very comfortable both playing live and being on TV. What do think about that opportunity?
I actually played in live games for two years before I ever installed a poker client on my computer, so I think I have a little bit more experience than some of the other young guys in the poker world. "Poker After Dark" was a great opportunity for me; how many kids get to be on NBC? It was great to be sitting at the table with legends, and I had a blast in the game.
How many hours a day, on average, do you play online? What type of schedule do you keep?
When I was coming up, I would wake up in the morning, order a pizza, and play online until I was too tired to see. Talking about a schedule at that point in my life would have been ridiculous. I played until I got tired, then I went to sleep and repeated it the next day. My life is different now. Right now I am coaching high-school baseball and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so I am waking up every day around 10, working out, and then heading up to the baseball field. I usually don’t get home until 7, and I have been spending a lot of time just enjoying life and hanging out with friends. I would say over the last 3 months I have played maybe 10 hours a week. Poker is great in that it gives us the ability to spend our time how we choose; very few occupations provide that sort of freedom.
What is your poker-playing environment like?
It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I have music on in the background, or a movie on one monitor. On occasion I will have nothing but poker tables on my monitors and I will be focusing on them 100%. More likely, though, I am browsing forums, reading blogs, and so on while playing a few tables.
What is the most you have won and lost in a day?
Heh. What a fun question. Honestly, I'm not even sure. My biggest winning day was roughly $250,000; my biggest losing day was a little more than twice that. Luckily those big losses don’t happen as often.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a poker player?
I think my greatest strength is my ability to play my best game all the time. I have never had problems with tilt, and that has been hugely beneficial. My greatest weakness is probably ego. I know I could often find better games than the ones I play in, but sometimes I just like to play against the best.
How much does your game depend on math, and how much on psychology, game flow, and tells?
I am never sitting there calculating an exact percentage equity, the odds I need to call, and so on. Most of the guys who beat $5-10 NL or higher do all of that intuitively. Everyone knows the math at these levels. I focus on the little things: bet-sizing, timing, and game flow. Some guys you can beat just playing ABC poker, but at the higher limits you have to see nuances to figure out what your opponents do wrong and pick apart their games.
Do you use poker software tools?
I have never played with a HUD, but I do consistently use PokerTracker. Honestly, I don't use much software.
How do you identify and plug leaks?
I review my hands after every session, try to figure out what went wrong in certain situations, and figure out what I could do differently next time. If I see that someone is 3-betting me very frequently, I will make sure to adjust to that and 4-bet him more. It's things like that. Having a friend to review hands with is also extremely helpful.
What are your impressions of the current state of the high-stakes poker economy and its future?
The high-stakes games are tough. There are a lot of amazing players in those games. I honestly have no idea how long the games will last. $500-1000 is just so huge; I would honestly rather just 8-table $25-50 than ever have to play that big, but when the games are good it is criminal not to be in them.
You have shared some of your results from taking shots at higher limits. How do you approach shot-taking at higher limits than your bankroll would normally dictate?
I think it is absurd to follow strict bankroll requirements. Often you hear less experienced players talking about how they will move up to the next level when they have 50 buyins, but never before. That is just silly. I have never had a problem moving down and playing smaller if I run bad at higher stakes. I might be playing $500-1000 one day and $10-20 the next if that is where I think my hourly rates are the highest. So many people get caught up playing big games; tilt, ego, or whatever keep them from moving down to recover their losses. Some people chase higher and higher until they go broke. If you see a fish, and it won’t destroy your bankroll to sit in the game, I think you should take the shot. Sell some action to a friend if you have to, but get in the game.
Having had success online and live, what differences do you see to be successful in each?
The major difference is patience. Online players are terrible at sitting and not playing a hand for an hour. We are also terrible at evaluating our own play compared to weaker players. A lot of online guys think ‘Hey, I am awesome at heads-up. That means I can raise 8-6 offsuit in the hijack at a live tourney with a 40-big-blind stack, because I am so much better than these fish.’ This kind of mindset gets a lot of online guys into trouble in live settings.
How much attention do you give to the live tournament scene?
Little to none. I don’t really keep up with who is running good at the moment. I already know most of the better players on the circuit and almost all of the good cash-game players. I pay attention to the WSOP, but that’s about it. I don’t travel so much for poker anymore, so I just don’t bother keeping up with that.
Many top players say that one of the keys to success is finding a balance in your life and making a healthy place in it for poker. How do you accomplish this, and what makes you happy outside of poker?
I think a lot of successful players have no balance whatsoever. They are thinking about, talking about, or playing poker 24/7. I used to be like this, and I think you have to be like this to get to the high levels of success in the game. Over the last year I have been pulling myself away from that and trying to enjoy life a little more. Poker can be quite consuming. Recently, I have been coaching baseball, training in jiu-jitsu, reading, and hanging out with my friends as much as possible.
What is your approach to the millions you have made? Do you grow your bankroll, invest or spend most of it?
Well, I like to think I invest my money well, but I have lost more in the stock market than my biggest downswing in poker. I own a bit of real estate, which isn’t getting hurt as bad. I figure that if I lose all my money in the stock market, at least I will have a place to live. As far as spending goes, I spend way too much money on food. Probably my favorite activity is going out to nice long dinners with good friends.
At this point, do you play for a love of the game, or for the money?
Money. That’s why I don’t play anywhere close to as much as I used to. I still enjoy live tournaments, and I can’t wait for the WSOP. Poker is stressful, and dealing with the swings at high stakes has sort of taken the fun out of it for me. I know a lot of people are the exact opposite, though; they love the thrill of winning and losing giant pots. I guess I’m just a big nit.
You have blogged over the last year about wanting to go to college and reduce your focus on poker. How are those plans going?
I was accepted to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and will be attending this fall.
What advice do you give to those who want to achieve your kind of success in the poker world?
Have patience and an open mind, always be willing to learn. I was lucky enough to befriend a lot of successful players early in our careers, and I had the privilege of watching many of them play. I saw many different playing styles in action, and I was never afraid to ask questions.
Thanks, David. Before you go, we would like to introduce a Poker Curious feature: at the end of every interview, we ask some fun questions inspired by Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio."
What is your favorite fun poker phrase?
Ship it. It can be used in so many ways outside of poker, and it is super fun to say.
If the poker industry disappeared completely, what other career would you most like to attempt?
The career I am working on now, an intellectual one.
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
This is the hardest question anyone has ever asked me. I feel like death row sushi would be pretty bad, so I guess a good steak, and then a brownie fudge sundae for dessert.
When your poker career is over, what would you most like to be remembered for?
Winning the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Too optimistic?