Ben “Sauce123” Sulsky is a 24 year old online pro who has been crushing the high stakes NLHE and PLO games for many years playing both heads-up and short-handed games. He has won millions whilst still being a student and his screen name is feared by many with very few players willing to play him. At the time this interview is published Ben has not had a losing day at the high stakes tables for over 3 weeks of player. In the interview he discusses his rise in the game, his toughest opponents, the state of cash games at the moment amongst other interesting topics.
Hi Ben. Thanks a lot for allowing me to interview you. You have been active within the high stakes community over the past few years playing the biggest games online at both NLHE and PLO. Could you please explain how you started and have risen through the ranks to become where you are today?
I signed up to multiple sites who were offering free no-deposit bonuses of like $50 which you got to keep after playing something like 200 or 300 hands. I actually never deposited any money and think that using bonus promotions like this is a great way to play for real money plus its risk-free. I cashed out some of my winnings and lost the rest, but qualified for one of the big monthly freerolls and ended up coming second in it for about $3k. I lost $1,200 of the winnings the following night playing some cash games and decided to cash out my remaining balance. I didn’t play online again for two years.
I had been playing some $1/$2 live cash games at the casino but not too often as it was a four hour drive. Some friends of mine who are actually twins were grinding $0.25/$0.50 online at the time and they showed me Pokertracker which got me really interested in playing online again so I gave them $1,000 cash which they transferred to me online from their collective bankroll. I lost that quite quickly so gave them another $1,000, and I have run that up to what my bankroll is today. The money I gave them and the money I played with in the casino was money that I had won from playing poker.
Did you start playing cash games or sit-n-goes, and on what sites?
I played $0.10/$0.25 to begin with after I deposited the second thousand bucks. I kept a bankroll management rule of having 25-30 buy-ins at the smaller stakes and then about 50+ buy-ins at $5/$10 and above. Back in the day there were like three or four fish at each table and I was winning around 8BB/100 which was quite standard at the time for the grinders. I started playing on Stars at first then started playing on Full Tilt as well.
When did you decide to play heads-up?
I always thought that heads-up was great and it was a lot of fun but I don’t even think that Stars had heads-up tables at the time. I didn’t start playing a lot of heads-up until I started playing big stakes and it was a time when the HUNL games were really good. It was certainly my favourite game but it was a smart thing to get good at back in the day. There were guys who I would be winning 15-20BB/100 against who would be four-tabling me. Nowadays its totally different especially at HUNL where I rarely get any action.
You said that you find it hard to get action nowadays especially playing heads-up. What do you think about this bumhunting situation which online poker currently faces and what should be done in the future?
For example, if I was to open Stars right now and sit at each of the $50/$100 heads-up tables, I don’t think a single player from the 15 or so players waiting there would be willing to play me. I tried this the other day by sitting on everyone’s table one by one but they all refused to play me. I find it an absolute joke especially at no-limit. It is extremely frustrating at times and you see players sitting at a limit who are unwilling to play any other regular at that limit and are just waiting for the fish you get on the rare occasion. These guys are also probably sharing action with their friends to play at these limits.
I was quite active in the forums at the beginning to suggest some possible solutions but I find it annoying talking to people who cannot separate their own narrow self-interest from the actual issue. They believe that as long as this method is making them money then they want it to stay instead of thinking about the wider problem. In my opinion, the sites should just eliminate the heads-up lobby which might sound strange as heads-up is my preferred game, but I think that this method would create more action overall and lead to better games. There should instead be a “request heads-up” button: e.g. the player clicks on the button, types in the screen-name of the player he wishes to play, and if the other player also types in the player’s name into his box then a heads-up table is automatically created, plus having a checkbox to create more tables once one table is started. There should also be a cap in the number of empty tables at the six-max and full ring games at either one or two. Furthermore, players who sit out as soon as the fish sits out should be banned as its totally disgraceful; the sites don’t seem to do much about this as they still getting rake from these players but its definitely a disrespectful thing to do.
We often see you waiting at the tables to try and get some action. Will you play anyone?
Yes, I can and I do play anyone heads-up at either NLHE or PLO. There are some games that I feel I am slightly -EV in and I still play them, but I won’t discuss what games and against who.
Who have been your toughest opponents so far?
I won’t rank them or anything but I’ll give some guys a shout out as I enjoy playing against tough opponents because it encourages me to play better. There are a few fantastic players at no-limit right now and as I haven’t been specialising in HUNL for the past two or three years, there are some guys at these games who are really challenging to play against such as jungleman12, Isaac Haxton and Kanu7. I haven’t played Ike for a really long time but from talking poker with him, he’s a really smart guy, and I have been playing against Kanu7 a fair bit recently and he’s a player who has specialised in this game and has become very good at it. Isildur1 is really good at HUNL as well.
Have you considered playing more live tournaments or live cash games such as those in Macau?
I am still a student at university so can’t take a month long break for example and fly to somewhere like Macau, and I like playing online rather than live. Its really convenient for me and I like it here in Toronto. I enjoy playing the big cash games in the summer in Vegas but wouldn’t want to play there more often as I don’t like the Vegas lifestyle as such. I'm not that interested in playing more live tournaments than I do and at the moment I go to Vegas for the WSOP in the summer.
That’s fully understandable. Do you prefer playing NLHE or PLO, and at what stakes?
It depends on my mood. PLO is pretty fun as you get to throw a lot of money in all the time but it is pretty insane. I have played as high as $200/$400 PLO on Stars but I wouldn’t play that high now, and instead would play as high as $200/$400 NLHE and $100/$200 PLO. The PLO games are much bigger because they are deep ante games so it makes the games about 1.5x as big, and you get the money in more often playing deep in PLO rather than NLHE. The swings in PLO are crazy and due to the way the high stakes games play, you can pretty much count on having a 100 buy-in swing. If you don’t plan on moving down stakes often then you should have something like 300-400 buy-ins for a bankroll.
What was your parents’ reaction when you decided to play poker?
My dad actually played poker at a similar age and he is a very good bridge player, and he played both of them for money. My mum is also a good bridge player, and both of them know that poker is a skilled game. I grew up playing strategy games with my family my whole life so they didn’t have a problem at all with me playing poker.
Do you intend on getting a “normal” profession after you graduate from university?
It’s difficult in my case to get a standard profession as poker has been so good to me in which I have been a big winner for years and expect to continue to be in the future. I also get to play in games which I enjoy; playing in the highest games against the best players deep-stacked so its a lot of fun. It’s not like I’m playing 24 tables from a chart and just grinding it out. I don’t intend on getting a job in the near future whilst poker is still good but I don’t want to be a poker player my whole life though.
It seems stupid to go and work (office hours) for someone else when you are already making a lot of money. Have you had any major downswings during your career so far?
I have had a tonne of major downswings. My first million-dollar downswing was when I was playing $200/$400 NLHE and PLO on Full Tilt, and lost everyday for what seemed to be forever playing against everyone. I was really young at the time and had won for ages prior to that so it was a big shock for me. I let my game slip as I became maybe a bit too self-confident but learnt from that mistake. I usually take stop-losses so I don’t lose too much too quickly because I get frustrated when I’m losing.
You are different from someone like Isildur1 who seems to play until he wins ridiculously big or loses it all. Have you considered signing with a site?
I have never actually been approached by any site. In fact, I applied once for Team Pokerstars Online but never heard back from them. I got rejected from Team Online haha; it doesn’t seem that they want me. I like to keep a pretty low profile as well.
Wow. That’s really surprising to hear. Has the Full Tilt situation affected you a lot?
Yes, I really got screwed big time there. The loss of that money has affected the stakes I can play at. I had a lot of money stuck on the site; I won’t reveal figures but its a lot, and as far as I am concerned the money is gone. It would definitely be great to get it back but I just assume that it’s gone.
entire situation is extremely awful for the game of poker in general and the poker economy. Are you interested in playing the World Cash Game Heads-up Championship that has been proposed by Kanu?
I think it would be really fun to play but I think that it’s a crazy idea as well. The plan is to get all the best HUNL players to play each other which sounds crazy because cash games are for people who are willing to play each other. I haven’t even committed to playing in it and I don’t know if I would even be a favourite in it, maybe I would or maybe I wouldn’t. The problem with winning this thing is that people will think that you are the “best” so getting action which is already hard to get in HUNL, would become near impossible. It does however seem tempting to play because it would be a lot of fun.
That makes sense but it would be great to see the best competing against each other. Do you play heads-up sit-n-goes and do you feel you have an edge there as well?
I play the $5k ones, preferably the non-turbo ones but still play the turbo ones. I think that I am a favourite in them but it obviously depends on who I’m playing; probably against a couple of the top regulars I may not be a favourite, but I think that I’m still a favourite against most of the players who play these games. I don’t even think that the top HUSNG pros are really amazing or anything considering how much they play these games and just specialise in it. I think that if you can win in cash games which is, in my opinion, the best way to play poker, you can win in most other formats.
Other top pros seem to share a similar view to you about these games. We know that you have played as high as $500/$1000 on Full Tilt in the past. Are there any particular pots that you remember from the nosebleed games?
I lost a $250k pot which was by a considerable margin the biggest pot that I had played at the time and it was in a $500/$1000 six-max NLHE game. Galfond limps pocket kings pre-flop in the hijack and I think its Gus and Ziigmund in the next two seats, and one of them makes it $4k and the other re-raises to $13k. I am in the big blind and have AK sitting with about 120BBs so decide to four-bet to something like $33k. Galfond tanks for a bit and he goes all-in, and even though I knew I was beat quite a lot there I still decided to call, and his kings held up.
There must have been a lot of action in that game with the players you mentioned. What are your plans for the future in poker?
I am going to keep grinding until I finish school this year then I am going to go travelling and grind online over the summer. I think Vegas is too high variance and I am unlikely to have a higher EV playing there rather than playing online.
One final question. Where did you get the name “Sauce” from?
It was when I was in the 8th grade and playing on the basketball team. My last name is “Sulsky” and the captain of the team couldn’t pronounce it so he called me “Sauce” instead. Everyone thought that it was hilarious so it stuck.
Haha. It’s been great to speak to you and hope all goes well for you in the future.
No problem and thank you.