Ben Lamb earns one of poker’s highest honors after a dominant streak at the tables
By Sean Chaffin
While his run for the championship was cut short, Lamb took home more than $4 million and was named WSOP Player of the Year. Beyond his impressive Main Event run, Lamb had a dominating performance at the World Series of Poker, and won more than $1.3 million before the Main Event even kicked off.
As ESPN cameras rolled, Ben Lamb explained his strategy going into the final three players of the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio on Nov. 9. “The tournament starts with 6,800 people. It’s such a daunting task, but getting this close, you just have to take the opportunity and do whatever you can.”
And then he did just that—and fireworks ensued. Lamb sat on the small blind for the first hand with 55.4 million in chips; chip leader Pius Heinz had 107.8 million, and Martin Staszko brought up the rear with 42.7 million. With blinds at 600,000/1.2 million, Heinz folded, and Lamb raised to 3 million. Staszko then re-raised from the big blind for 7.5 million, and Lamb announced all-in and Staszko called.
It was a surreal turn of events on the first hand of the evening. The players flipped their cards: Lamb, Kh, Jd; and Staszko, 7s, 7c. Nothing would hit the board to help Lamb. He would be eliminated by Heinz a few hands later when his Q6 lost to Heinz’s JJ. The 22-year-old Heinz would go on to defeat Staszko and take home the $8.7 million and much sought-after gold bracelet.
While his run for the championship was cut short, Lamb took home more than $4 million and was named WSOP Player of the Year. Beyond his impressive Main Event run, Lamb had a dominating performance at the World Series of Poker, and won more than $1.3 million before the Main Event even kicked off. His 2011 WSOP included a runner-up finish in a $3,000 Pot Limit Omaha event for $260,000; winning his first gold bracelet and $814,000 in the same game’s $10,000 world championship; finishing 12th in the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em Six-Handed Championship for $56,000; and placing eighth in $50,000 Poker Players Championship for $201,000. Amazingly, he accomplished all this while only entering eight events.
South Tulsa has always been home for Lamb. The 26-year-old lived in the same house his entire life until heading off to college, and then for greener poker pastures in Las Vegas. He attended Jenks High School, playing billiards and golf with friends when not in class. School came easy to Lamb, and he says he didn’t have to study until college.
“My parents and family were great and very supportive growing up, and I had a great group of friends,” he says.
While he was in high school, the poker boom was well under way. Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 rags to riches WSOP win sparked a renewed American interest in the game. Lamb joined in the fun—pulling out the chips and cards with friends in high school, and later in college at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. As he began raking more pots, Lamb realized the cash he was making could allow him to put college on the back burner. Some people are skilled at golf or chess, but Lamb had a skill at calculating odds, reading his opponents, and making the right moves in high-pressure cash poker games.
“I played a little bit in high school and more so in college,” he says. “I was making decent money while in college and decided to take a year off and give myself a shot at poker. That was six years ago and I’ve never looked back.”
Lamb is not the first poker shark from Tulsa. Bobby Baldwin became Main Event champion in 1978 and won four WSOP bracelets before becoming a top casino industry executive.
In Oklahoma, Lamb could often be found in poker rooms at the Creek Nation and Cherokee Casino, where he also worked as a dealer for six months. Dealing also helped teach him more about the game, how certain player types bet, successful hand strategies, reading players, and more. These years playing and dealing would help shape him into a top-notch player. Little did he expect, however, how far his poker game would take him only a few years later.
A Penchant For Poker
Making the final table of a major poker tournament takes deep focus and concentration. One bad play or mistake, and your tournament life could be over. The Main Event at the World Series of Poker is another thing entirely. Players who continue to advance play for as much as 12 hours per day. Tension is high and attention spans can wane, as bleary-eyed players riffle and count their multi-colored chips stacks.
For Ben Lamb, who has lived in Las Vegas for three years, success came in earlier WSOP events, including a deep run in the 2007 Main Event, where he finished 156th in the $10,000 event for a win of $58,570. More success would follow. From 2006-08, Lamb began scoring in larger tournaments both online and in casinos. In the 2009 WSOP, Lamb came in the money in three events including another breakthrough in the Main Event. He finished in 14th, winning $633,022. He added three more cashes at the 2010 WSOP.
Life has definitely changed for this poker shark, including his recent purchase of a new condo in the high-end CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip. The location is ideal for his line of work.
“Well obviously I have more money,” he says of his recent success at the tables. “I was doing well before this summer, but this summer definitely increased my bankroll and allowed me to play the bigger games more aggressively and with deeper stacks. In the past, if the buy-in was too big, I would sell a percentage of myself, meaning that my wins and losses would be decreased. Since this summer, I haven’t had to do that as much. If all goes well this November, it could really set me up financially for life.”
Professional poker is definitely not for everyone. The lifestyle can bring major financial swings, but Lamb seems to make it work. His daily routine is a bit unorthodox and doesn’t fit a 9-to-5 schedule. He usually wakes up around 11 a.m. and gets caught up on odds and ends. Around 1 p.m., Lamb usually goes out to lunch with a friend or two, and gets caught up on TV that afternoon or anything else that needs to get done. Lamb’s girlfriend, who is in pharmacology school, gets home about 4 p.m., and they will cook or grab dinner around 7 p.m. As she studies after dinner, Lamb heads off to “work,” walking to the Aria or Bellagio casinos to play. Outside of poker, Lamb enjoys golf, billiards, and ping-pong, and is an Oklahoma City Thunder fan.
During his first bracelet win, Lamb had several friends in the audience cheering him on. When he finally won, he raced to his friends and was engulfed. Who says poker’s not a spectator sport?
While this Oklahoma ace may not have reached his ultimate prize, the poker world can expect to hear more from this card shark—you can bet on it.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer based in Rockwall, Texas, and editor of www.PokerTraditions.com, devoted to poker history, lore, lifestyle, and people. For more information on his work, visit www.seanchaffin.com. Do you have an interesting poker tale? Email sean@PokerTraditions.com.
** SIDEBAR **
Ben Lamb makes no bones about his hard-charging style at the table, and for those who watched ESPN’s live coverage it was very apparent—his goal is to be aggressive, especially in late position, on the button, or on the small blind.
“I’m a very aggressive player,” he told Casino Player. “I like to put the most pressure I can on the other players at the table.”
This style of play, however, requires you to be able to read other players and recall their betting patterns. It’s imperative to know what your opponents bet in certain situations, and what range of hands they play. Lamb said he keeps an idea of ranges of hands with which his opponents may come into pots. You can do the same if you can anticipate an opponent’s moves, and raise them when you suspect weakness (even with inferior hands at times). Lamb, and eventual WSOP champion Pius Heinz, are super-aggressive and used that strategy, coupled with keen reads and knowledge of their opponents, to rake pot after pot.
While aggressive play may be profitable in the long run, don’t get too carried away. Expect to occasionally be re-raised with better-than-expected hands, and be willing to lay down hands. Like the Kenny Rogers song says, “you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em, know when to hold ‘em.”