Griffin Benger was a competitive video game champion before he became the #1 ranked online poker player in the world.
In his earlier years Benger was known as “shaGuar” and played Counter-Strike. The highlight of his career was a world championship win in 2007 which earned his team $250,000.
Benger's now eight spots away from another world championship -- only this time the top prize is $8 million. And he doesn't have a team to share it with.
Benger: Canada's Next Poker World Champion?
After battling his way to the final nine from a starting field of 6,737 players, Benger now gets a three-month break before returning to Las Vegas to play out the final table.
From Toronto, Benger is the only Canadian still in and if he wins he'll become the second Canadian world champion of poker.
$1k "Reckless" Satellite Becomes $1m+ Score
The run Benger is having in poker's biggest tournament came at a great time. Before this Main Event, Benger says he was struggling financially and going through a difficult period in his career.
“I think what happened to me in Counter-Strike towards the end of my career is that I was skirting a bit on reputation,” Benger said in a video interview with PokerListings.com the day after making the November Nine.
“I think I'd lost a step or two. I was the equivalent of like an aging baseball player 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.
“I think I hit a point where I was like, 'Okay this is happening all over again. I'm past my prime.'"
In 2014 Benger won $1 million on the televised poker show Shark Cage, but since then the biggest cash on his live record was just over $10,000.
Benger said leading up to this year's Main Event he didn't have a lot of money but decided to take a shot at a qualifier online anyway.
“It was really reckless of me to play the $1,000 satellite on 888poker,” said Benger. “I deposited and registered for it kind of ironically.
“I was 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,” he said, making a button-clicking gesture with his hand.
Benger said initially he considered selling the $10,000 package but opted to come to Las Vegas to see what would happen.
After roughly 80 hours of poker packed into one week Benger made it to the final nine and a guaranteed $1 million, all from his original $1,000 investment.
The more of his opponents he outlasts at the final table, the more money he'll win. At the very top sits $8 million and the world championship bracelet.
Global Poker League “Ultimate Training Tool”
The GPL was founded by French entrepreneur Alex Dreyfus with the mission statement of "sportifying" the game of poker.
It's a good fit for Benger who went to school for sports media and broadcasting. Not to mention he's a massive Toronto Blue Jays fan.
Benger says his experience hosting GPL broadcasts put his poker game back on track.
“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,” said Benger.
“It made me realize I was doing so many things wrong. I look at these guys, I was just taking the best things from all the different players and adding them to my game.
“Obviously it's a ridiculous sample size but I think it has everything to do with the Global Poker League,” he said of his recent success.
Click here to watch the short documentary we shot with the GPL's Alex Dreyfus, Eric Danis and Joe Stapleton in Las Vegas.
"Poker and Money Don't Make Me Happy"
In a short documentary with PokerListings in 2012 Benger said he knew from an early age that competition was what drove him.
But over the course of his e-gaming career, and later poker, Benger says his competitive drive pushed him too far.
“It means a lot but it's not everything,” Benger said of the Main Event the day after making the November Nine.
“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, that eventually I'd get to a place where I wouldn't have to do it anymore.
“But if there is one mountain that's kind of the one, it's the World Series Main Event.
“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.”
Benger will be in seventh position chip-wise when the final table begins on October 30 and you can follow the action live on PokerListings.com.
In the meantime watch the short documentary PokerListings.com shot with Benger in Toronto and Las Vegas in 2012.