Ben Warrington: The Worst Decision of my Poker Career

TAGs: Ben Warrington

Lee Davy sits down with Ben Warrington to talk about his recent involvement in the $5k Venetian $2m Guaranteed event where he admitted overselling action in a bid to get out of a debt he had created by gambling outside of the poker tables.

Gambling can hold an almost hypnotic power over men.

I know.

I am a gambling addict.

So when I heard that Ben Warrington had oversold action in the $5k Venetian $2m Guaranteed event a few weeks back, I didn’t grab my pitchfork and torch.

He was the last person that I would have expected would have become involved in something like this. But I am not surprised it happened. The boundaries in our game are very blurred. When the chips start going down the drain quicker than tap water, anything can happen.

Ben Warrington: The Worst Decision of my Poker CareerSo what happened?

Why did Ben do what he did?

Let’s find out shall we?

What was your emotional state of mind coming out to Vegas?

“My state of mind was no different to how it’s always been. I was going there to play as many poker tournaments as possible. A large part of live tournament poker is putting the volume in.

“I was really determined. I visualized having a lot of success. I was working hard on my game. I have travelled a lot this year playing live poker and not much went well. I was away from home a lot but I was prepared for that.

“The first half of the year hadn’t been good at all but I still decided to go for it in Vegas, and planned to reduce variance by selling and swapping with players, living a healthy lifestyle that didn’t involve going out and partying – bur rather focusing on the work in hand. I managed to do that for the most part, and am happy with my efforts up until my last week in Vegas.”

How were you doing financially coming into Vegas?

“I had a good result in Nottingham. That was a needed boost. From then I played a lot of the high buy-in series: Prague, PCA, Deauville, Malta and Monte Carlo to name but a few. Those particular events didn’t go well. I am happy for the effort I put in, but things didn’t go my way, and I made a loss in them all.

“Coming into Vegas I played a full SCOOP schedule. I ended up taking most of my action in the higher buyin SCOOPS and daily mtts went to a backing deal. I ran awfully in the highs and fantastically in the lower buyin daily MTTs so although I turned a profit it was more or less break even. The backing situation was far from desirable. There was a little bit of naivety on my part in that I never imagined that I would come out of the series having nothing to show for it. I was definitely on a downswing, but mentally I was fine, and performing well.”

Do you gamble a lot?

“I sports bet, but that’s under control. I also play some casino and table games. 5-6 years ago, before I was taking poker seriously, I had a few issues. Fortunately, it was never for huge sums of money, and I learned from it. I realize my personality sometimes borderlines on addiction. Whenever I have been in Vegas before I have not really participated in gambling that seriously, so this year was uncharacteristic for sure.”

Talk about the six weeks that you were in Vegas? What was going on for you?

“It was tough from the beginning. I bubbled the $10k heads-up, and that mirrored the previous year. When you put a lot of effort into something that doesn’t go your way you are left disappointed. I haven’t allowed that to affect me in the past, and I didn’t at that time either.

“The one that really hit me was July 4th. Everyone was posting pictures partying at pool parties and I continued to tell myself that I would only party when I had a reason to celebrate. I was playing a tournament in The Wynn that started that day. I eventually made Day 2 and then Day 3, but finished 17th and I believed I was going to win that one. I’m not going to discuss bad beats but it was a really difficult one to stomach and I had the Main Event the day after.

“I was able to recover, although I didn’t feel 100% fresh playing the Main, which is normal after a full summer at WSOP – unlike the people who had just flown in – but I still felt I brought my A game. When that didn’t go well I was left with this frustrated realization that all my efforts this half of the year and WSOP hadn’t been rewarded. I started feeling sorry for myself and realized that I was going home with a lot less money than I came out with.”

Was The Wynn your get of jail free card?

“The Wynn was just another tournament in the schedule. A tournament I performed well in that gave me a great chance to turn a big profit that did not materialize. Having said that, I should have been more prepared for things going wrong in Vegas. I didn’t consider that enough before I arrived. This is why I made some mistakes. After that tournament was done, I should have played the Main and then just got out of town. I felt disillusioned with everything.”

Expand on the term disillusioned

Poker is very different to gambling. It’s in your hands. When I invest money into a poker tournament I need to have the right mentality. That takes a lot of energy. The tournament grind can be best described as a boxing match. If you get knocked down in the first round it’s easy to get up, but as it keeps happening it becomes more difficult to get up because you lose more and more energy. Over the years, I’ve been very good at getting back up again but after the WSOP, the build up of not winning was something that affected my mindset worse than ever before. I kept ploughing on throughout Vegas without taking enough breaks. I wanted to keep trying to do my best. When it all started sinking in that it wasn’t working, it was probably the time to come home.”

Are you conceding that after the Main you lost some sense of control and that was the time to go home?

“It was like that. That was the time to stop playing poker tournaments. Busting the Main is not the tournament where you wake up the next day and feel fine. I have always been more on the emotional side than the robotic side. It leaves you feeling really frustrated and pissed off that things hadn’t gone the way I had expected – not just the series, but for the months leading up to that.”

Why on this particular occasion, after 10-years of dealing with downswings, did you not want to go home in a hole?

“There was definitely financial pressure. Then I always plan to have a few weeks break. I wouldn’t have had the bankroll to continue doing what I had been doing, which is playing in the biggest poker tournaments. This is why I took a punt and put my money into areas that I normally wouldn’t”

What happened during the time between the Main Event ending and the $5k Venetian Starting?

“I played the $1k Venetian event and didn’t make Day 2. There was a few days break before the $5k and there was a point where I had lost some of the money that I should have been using for the $5k event.”

How did you lose that money?

“Playing the table games. I saw some Swedish poker players playing the Ultimate Texas Hold’em game. They said that it was probably the best casino game in terms of making money. So I sat down and put 2k in and then the money went. Then another 2k and that went. From there it became a slippery slope and I lost far more money that I could afford to lose.”

Did you know at this time that you would likely be gambling with other people’s money?

“No, not when I first sat down. I had some cash on me. It was when I started losing that I lost control of the money I was spending. I wasn’t conscious of what would happen if it all went wrong? I should have been. Essentially, I panicked. I realized that I didn’t even have the money on me to refund these guys even if I didn’t play the tournament. What should I do? That’s when I made the terrible decision to send a few messages out. Before that everything was fine. I didn’t have a huge percentage of myself in that tournament, but I was fine with that. The day before the tournament was when I panicked. I made the impulsive decision to sell for it and the mistakes I have made from the gambling will be written off.”

So the Ultimate Texas Hold’em game cleaned you out?

“In terms of cash in Vegas yes it did.”

How much did you lose?

“It was an amount of money that covered the buy-in for that tournament including the re-entry, and it was something I didn’t face up to myself. At that point I had a few options, one of which was to own up to my mistake, tell people I couldn’t play the tournament, and give them their money back, and I guess I was too afraid to do this.

“I sold about 42%, and then I also had cashes, and swaps to pay out that needed settling after the series. These things also played on my mind. I wasn’t sure if I had enough money to pay these people back. This is why I decided to play in the tournament.

“Also by having to explain to people what I had done, means facing up to it myself. That was difficult. I have had a lot of time to think about that and it doesn’t seem as scary to me now. But it did in that moment. That is a big regret of mine. I should have faced up to it.”

Ironically one of the reasons you didn’t want to come clean is you didn’t want to damage your reputation?

“In poker, at my level, you are dealing with a lot of money. If you are buying pieces there needs to be a lot of trust. Mainly that they will pay you out when all is said and done. If there is doubt then that will sway investors away from you. I have never had a problem with that. I have always been visible. This is the first event where I have failed in that respect. Reputation in the poker community for me will take a long time to repair, if at all. A lot of people who know me well have messaged me, asked me why I have acted so out of character, and have told me that one mistake doesn’t define whom I am. My reputation means a lot to me. It’s an important part of what we do for a living. The first way to ruin it is to make a mistake like I have done.”

At the point you lost the Venetian buy-ins why didn’t you ask a friend to bail you out?

“That was something that I regret not doing. It entered my mind. I didn’t know when I could pay anyone back. In the past I have made a mistake of lending money from someone not knowing when I could pay it back. That was a long time ago and it created a rift when he wanted it back and I didn’t have it. That was five years ago and I said I would never do that again.”

What other reasons was there that stopped you from taking a different course of action?

“There was an issue with pride.”

Did you tell yourself that the only way you could get out of this hole was to oversell the event and then to never do that again?

“That’s pretty much it. On a personal level I want to win as much as anyone. So having to go through that and do it was horrible from a personal standpoint, that’s not considering the thoughts of the other people who had investments, and felt they had a good chance of getting a return. I think at the time it was a panic decision. At that point I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be playing the tournament anyway. I had made bad decisions up to that point. I tried to use other people to bail me out of bad decisions I had made.”

Were you speaking to anyone about this mess at the time?

“No, I just bottled it all up.”

If you had won the tournament you would have been in trouble, and yet you told people on 2+2 that you played your best game during the event, do you want to address that conflict of interest?

“It’s understandable that people will be skeptical of what I said. The tournament that I played, at that point, I wasn’t thinking about what would happen if I made the money. I was just playing poker at that point. I was trying to make correct decisions. If I had gone deeper in the tournament I would have been in a very difficult predicament where the only way out would have been to make a mistake. The point I was trying to make was I didn’t make it deep enough to worry about that problem.”

Are you saying you would have punted it off at some point in that event?

“I would have had to, yes.”

Was it part of the plan to deceive people into believing you used two bullets, when you only used one, so you could use that money to pay people back?

“The day of the tournament I had told some people that invested that I had played two bullets and to the others I hadn’t specified. The following day I began by confirming to the people I had not contacted, that I was only in for one bullet. After, I had to address those people I had lied to in updates the previous day that in fact, I had not re-entered. It was something I was not sure how to break to them but I really did not want nor plan to to leave it like that.

“One of those people was Mark {Herm}, I then read a message from him saying he wanted receipts and from there it facilitated my decision to admit to him I had only played one bullet. He felt like should he never had asked, that I would not have mentioned to him, which is understandable and from there suspicions arose. After telling Mark, I then told the other investors I hadn’t contacted yet that I had only played the first bullet. Regarding overselling in my first bullet, if it had never been discovered then probably I wouldn’t have refunded people.”

What went through your mind when he asked for tournament receipts?

“Surprised and worried. It was obvious that this was the moment to tell him the truth that I had only played the tournament once.”

Were you always going to refund Mark for the second bullet?


Are you worried about what would have happened had you gotten away with it?

“I am happy that I didn’t get away with it. I have had a week to think about it now. The people that invested deserve their money back and I will make sure that happens. If you get away with something like this it could become something that I did again. It was the first time I had made that mistake. I know that people will speculate on that truth, but I don’t travel around the world with the view to scam people.

“At the time I made the decision I was sure it was a one off, but you never know. I wouldn’t have learned these lessons. I wouldn’t have been able to look into a friend’s eye and see the effects of my decision. I wouldn’t have talked about it. I wouldn’t have understood the consequences. Not only personally, but also through other people’s pain.

“It’s been a dark cloud from a personal sense. I would never have envisaged taking that course of action no matter how bad things got and yet I did it. From a financial and personal perspective, for the past few months I have been really trying to look at other possibilities of earning a living other than solely through poker. And that is something I realize I have to address and find a solution for, before I step back into the poker arena to continue to fight to achieve the success in poker that I desire so much.

“Online poker is all consuming. You can’t do anything else. You wake up play poker for 12-hours, sleep and rinse repeat. With live poker there are networking opportunities, more time on your hands, and you can do other things rather than rely solely on poker as being your only source of income. I really have to look at that now it’s caused me to cheat friends and investors. It’s affected everything that I have worked hard towards all of my life.”

Are you going to make sure that all your investors are made whole, including those that you had swaps with.

“I have contacted all of the investors and also the people that I had swaps with and will be giving them what they deem to be an appropriate return. I will also make sure that all the investors get their money back. It will take some time, but everyone will be paid back. I have paid out investors for the package, including this refund, and now I need to finish refunding the people that invested in me in this tournament. It’s going to take some time to arrange but I am in contact with them all and have assured them it will be done as soon as possible.”

What was the reaction of investors when you told them?

“Their main concern was to receive the refund, but most also told me that mistakes do happen and while they were disappointed they did not get angry as such. All but one of the investor treated and spoke to me in a way I would say ‘correctly’.”

People were surprised that you cheated two of your close friends. Why did you do this?

“I was in a situation where I needed the money quickly. I had done business with them both in the past, and the transactions are always quick and without fuss. I needed that at this point. It’s one of the worst decisions I have made in my life. I have friends from a lot of countries but the Spanish poker community is where I’ve always belonged. I’ve been a part of the community since the beginning and seen it develop with the emergence of many great players and people over the years. They have treated me with like one of their own, and each year more so. They are the most important people to me and the ones I have let down the most, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m going to have to work very hard if I stand a chance to regain their support and faith in me.

“I also want to apologize to the poker community as a whole for my actions, including those who have commented and spoken so loudly in the 2+2 thread. I have read many threads over the years with tales of people’s fraud, collusion and dishonesty. And suddenly, here I am, and I am one of those tales. I have a strong set of principles and values and yet I cheated people. I only hope that by trying to explain the process that led up to this point it inspires people who are feeling like I have been feeling to get some help before a mistake is made. Talk to someone. Don’t bottle up your frustrations and deal with this on your own. I am going to continue to figure out what went wrong at a deeper level, and hope that by writing openly about what I did can help other people learn from my terrible mistake.

Where do you go from here?

“Well I am doing what’s in my power to make it right. I will not let this mistake define me as a person, nor ruin a decade of hard work in the field that I chose to dedicate the best years of my life to.”


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