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Griffin Benger has made it to the final table of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, the so-called November Nine. In this video interview conducted the day after Benger reached the biggest final table in the poker world, Benger explains what it means to him to have this opportunity, and some of the challenges he faced before this World Series of Poker Main Event began. Benger didn't have a lot of money but took a chance on a $1,000 satellite to the Main Event on 888poker. He won the satellite and is now guaranteed $1 million with a chance to $8 million and the title of world champion. In this interview Benger explains what he's learned playing poker professionally and what he brought to the game from his background as a competitive Counterstrike player. Check out the video interview with Griffin Benger and follow his progress in the 2016 WSOP Main Event on PokerListings.com.
Matt Showell: We're so happy you're here. We've known you for a while. We've spent some time with you. I know a lot of poker players and I know you've put your heart into this game. What does it mean to you to get this far and to have this opportunity?
Griffin Benger: It means a lot. It's not everything. I think people often use that expression, "It's everything to me." And it's really not. Poker used to mean everything to me but I realized poker and money weren't actually things that made me happy and that they were actually a symptom of my brain where I really needed to be challenged on this epic scale where I wanted to climb this ridiculous mountain where it never stops. Maybe part of my head thought that it would stop, eventually I'd get to a place where I wouldn't have to do it anymore.
But the problem with poker, or the solution with poker, and why everyone loves it so much is that there's no mountain you can really get to and it's like, that's it. The game is always shifting and evolving and you have to shift and change with it if you want to stay at the top of the game.
But if there is one mountain that's kind the one, it's the World Series Main Event. So I'm extremely grateful to be a part of it. It doesn't mean the world to me but it is the only thing that matters in the context of poker.
Matt Showell: Do you think it was that attitude that drove you as a younger person to excel in video games as well. I know that's an incredibly competitive world and you succeeded in it and you were traveling all over the world and it looked like you had the same drive in that that you brought to poker later.
Griffin Benger: Yeah, I mean, I think what happened to me in Counterstrike towards the end of my career is that I was skirting a bit on reputation. I think I'd lost a step or two. I was the equivalent of like an aging baseball player, something like that, who still knew how to win championships and still had a little spark. But I was past my prime.
And I think I felt that way in poker for the last few years. I think my prime was around 2013 and then I sort of fell off a bit. Maybe I got complacent or maybe I had the wrong teachers for me. Not to say they were bad teachers but I'm someone who emulates and mimics the play-styles of other players.
I had some teachers around me that were so good at what they did and I tried to do it as well and if you can't do their style as well as they can, then you can crash and burn. I think I hit a point where I was like, "Okay this is happening all over again. I'm past my prime."
And then once I realized that, if you're not at the top of the game in poker, and you're not feeling your best, you're losing money and you're losing life-equity.
Matt Showell: It's high stakes.
Griffin Benger: It's high stakes. So I feel like this story is a bit of a comeback story as far as the resurrection of my poker career. I decided that I was done being a professional poker player. What do I love to do? I went to sports media school. I want to be a broadcaster. I want to be a commentator. I have this pseudo-internet celebrity that I can use to help me get a job in the context of the GPL or whatever. It ended up being the ultimate training tool because I saw the best players in the world playing 18 hours a week for eight weeks straight.
Matt Showell: Did that light a little fire under you?
Griffin Benger: It made me realize I was doing so many things wrong, look at these guys. And I was just taking the best things from all the different players and adding them to my game. I've played two poker tournaments since the GPL: The Unibet Open which I almost won. I ended up getting 8th but I had a ton of chips, and the World Series Main Event which I'm still in.
Obviously it's a ridiculous sample size but I think it has everything to do with the Global Poker League.
Matt Showell: I hope we can speak a bit openly. It sounds like what you're telling me is that you were going through a bit of a rough patch leading up to the Main Event. I'm hoping you can give us a bit of insight into the situation you were in, your career, and the story of how you got into this Main Event. And how it's going to change the trajectory of things for you.
Griffin Benger: Yeah, I didn't have a lot of money and it was really reckless of me to play the $1,000 satellite on 888poker. I kind of deposited and registered for it kind of like ironically. Like, "This is ridiculous. I can't believe I'm doing this right now. I have a little bit of space left on my credit card so ... boop."
I know that the satellites on 888poker are very, very soft. They are probably the softest satellites on the internet cuz they have a great step program there.
Matt Showell: A lot of rec players.
Griffin Benger: A lot of recreational players that get a chance to be in the Main Event. But it gives me a huge edge in the $1,000 satellite. It's like going in a time machine. I just played it and I won it pretty clean. I thought about selling my package because I wasn't in the best state, like emotionally and mentally, to come out here and do this for a week or whatever. But it was a bit of hassle to sell the package so I was just like, "You know what? I'm just going to go out there and see what happens."
Griffin Benger: In poker and Counterstike it was always the next thing. You were always trying to get somewhere. I think a lot of people go through that in all sorts of different contexts and they realize that there is no place that you're trying to get to. Is that something that you've realized and has it been a positive thing for you?
Griffin Benger: I wouldn't necessarily have said it in that way which is really nice to hear because I think a great way to put it. Yeah. I think that's really beautiful. I'm never going to the person that's suddenly playing $100k buy-ins and I'm not going to fire off in these ego-fests, not to say that's just what they are, but I'm never going to try to battle with the best just because that's what people suddenly do when they get a lot of money. I don't have a gambling problem. I've never had a problem with gambling.
I'm grateful that it's going to make me and my family's situation more comfortable but the money's not what's important to me at all.
Matt Showell: What is important to you?
Griffin Benger: Um ... love. Just friendship, camaraderie, empathy, those are what's important to me.
Matt Showell: Cool man. I think people have a lot of that for you.
Griffin Benger: Thanks I appreciate that.
Matt Showell: Congratulations Griffin.