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Ben Ponzio - First on his First Father's Day
Ben Ponzio, 32, celebrated his very first Father's Day by taking home $599,467 and a 2007 WSOP gold bracelet from Event 25, a $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em tournament. Coming into the day sitting eighth, the Chicago area native told his family not to come down to Las Vegas and watch.
PokerListings.com talked to Ben about his tournament, his life and how he wishes they did come just minutes after the big win.
Feels pretty good, doesn't it Ben?
It feels awesome. But I'm surprisingly calm.
You do seem to be handling it like an old pro, what's your secret?
I work in radio, so I've been around big-name radio guys, celebrities and all that for years. So I'm comfortable in this kind of situation.
You've been around some big tournaments before, but when did you get involved in playing the game?
I've been playing my whole life, but I only started playing in big time tournaments recently, a couple times a year. This is really only the second time this year I've gotten out, and I've been pretty lucky. This is my third tournament this year, and I finished at the final table at a Circuit Event in Indiana, the Pot-Limit Omaha event, and I busted out of the Omaha event here and then played this.
This time around you came in with a pretty short stack; how did you pull this off?
There was a lot of aggressive players, and I'm good with a short stack, so I waited for my spots to get in and come over the top of them and then as the blinds got higher, shove in. I found a few spots, chipped up, and once I chipped up I didn't get mixed up in playing tons of pots. I just waited for my turn. I just played ABC poker.
Pretty smooth style Ben, where did you pick it up?
I play a lot of tournaments in Chicago, underground, and I have had a lot of experience at final tables where there is players playing like that, and it seems to always be the right move. I don't watch a lot of poker on TV, but I read a lot of the books, and I've gotten to know a few of the pros who talk to me about my game and have given me some advice. It seems like the guys who are consistent, they come off as these super-aggressive guys, but they're really not.
Besides your consistent, steady play at the final table, was there any moments in the event that you look back on now as key?
One hand with about 35 players left, I was really short. I had made one mistake that cost me a lot of my chips and I got short stacked. I was sitting there, there was a dead small blind, and I was the big blind. The button shoved all-in, and I threw my hand away.
The very next hand it folds to him again, he raises again and I see an Ace, I shove all-in. The big blind shoves all-in behind me and he calls them both. I had A-7 against A-9 and pocket queens, so I'm dead. But out comes the 6-7-6, I turn another 7, and I pulled that out of my butt. That was the hand I should have lost on, but I didn't.
Seems like you are not the kind of guy to risk your stack too often. Was that the only time in three days?
That it was in dire risk, yes. There were times that I was short, but I never just sat and kept trying to put my money in bad or anything like that.
So where are your family and friends?
I'm from Elmwood Park, Ill. - Chicago - and I am married with a daughter. This was my first Father's Day, and I'm missing it. I was supposed to fly out at 2:15 p.m. today, but I had to stay. A couple of (my family members) were going to fly out here, and I said, "I'm a short stack, don't bother." Now I kind of wish they did.
So is this the beginning of a pro poker career or just the end of a long three days?
I won't leave Chicago, so there's no way (I'll play professionally). I make a really good living at what I'm doing, and I don't want to play this seven days a week. Could I do this again? I hope so. Will I play more tournaments? Probably. My bank roll just got a lot bigger, but I'm not going to make it a full time thing.
But can we expect to see you again at the 2007 WSOP?
Winning this I might show up again for a couple of tournaments, but my schedule won't allow me to play the Main Event. I've just got too much other stuff going on.
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With a newborn daughter and a busy career in radio, you can't blame Ben for not committing to more WSOP action this year. But with the kind of chops he showed here, you know he'll be back in the money again somewhere. It's just a matter of time.