Ben Sulsky (Sauce123) and the Pokerstars All-Star Showdown

This last week I witnessed one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in poker. Actually two, since watching Greg Merson ship the WSOP main event was pretty sweet. But on top of that, Pokerstars hosted an incredible competition where 8 of the (probably THE) best Heads Up No Limit players in the world played in a single elimination tournament to determine the best in the world.

The terms were simple, each player puts in $100,000 and in returns gets a seat in the 8 person bracket where competitors will battle on 4 tables with 1,000 big blinds. Each match would run until one player had all the money, and that person would move on to the next round. Unfortunately, this post will not summarize the amazing action of the tournament, because that has already been done at great detail in this thread. But long story short, almost every match took 15+ hours and the final match concluded with Daniel Cates (w00ki3z.) defeating Ben Sulsky (sauce123) in an amazing match. Despite the fact that every match was a marathon battle and incredible poker was played throughout, my favorite part was not railing these matches, but rather reading the thoughts of Sulsky in the thread I linked. After a grueling match, he decided to have a few beers and answer some questions from some readers in the thread. I enjoyed his responses so much that I decided to pick them out of the thread here and provide a more direct method of sauce knowledge injection. I apologize in advance for the poor punctuation. I’m just pulling Sulsky’s post from the thread and centralizing them because I found them very interesting.


Q: Going into the tournament, knowing the brackets, which two did you think would up in the final? And if this was played with group stages (everyone battling everyone), which two would you think would end in a final?

Replace you with Isildur in this tournament, how do you think he would manage?

A: i thought jungle was a significant fav in his half of the bracket. and i thought my side of the bracket was more wide open, id like to think that i was the favorite, but kanu and ike are amazing players as well. KT is also an excellent player, though i think a bit below those other two.

it’s really tough to tell tbh. isildur has always outperformed my expectations of him (ive always felt i should be winning more against him than i ever do, in nl at least). i think he’s a dog to me/ike/kanu though, but if im going to be wrong about anyone, he’s the likeliest person for me to be wrong about, mostly because the way i do analysis does kind of a poor job figuring out the ev of his turn and river play.

Q: I am curious why you think Jungleman did so well in this event and what makes him different from the other top players. Do you think he is adapting better, playing more fundamentally sound, just generally guessing better, or a combination of doing everything a little bit better than his opponents? What makes him tough to play against?

A: jungle does a lot of things amazingly well. that being said, it isn’t like winning for 10k hands makes him the undisputed heavyweight champ. i think jungle’s biggest strength is checkraising the right ranges in the right spots in single raised pots OOP (and playing those ranges well on future streets), i think he’s pretty unanimously considered the best in the world at this.

i think it’s better to think of players as being committed to strategies rather than thinking of them constantly adjusting and guessing. i don’t think either me or jungle did much changing in our strats at any point in the match.

Q: I know long sessions are the norm, but did you run into any issues with fatigue having to do so many marathon sessions back to back to back?

A: yea, these sessions are brutal. ive never wanted to grind 19 hrs at a stretch, there’s a reason im not a tourney player 🙂

i definitely felt tired and little off coming into today’s match. my match vs ike was just incredibly tough and extremely draining.

Q: Do you think there are others like yourself that will get interested in the game again and join you or do you think highstakes will just be plagued by bumhunters?

A: im not sure. there are definitely tons of very smart players who could get competitive at the highest stakes again, off the top of my (very tired) head, people like CTS or taylor caby, or hawrilenko or bryce come to mind.

maybe this is rich white man’s guilt or something, but it seems like the guys who are excelling at poker right now tend to come from less privileged backgrounds and countries. it seems to me like these people have had to deal with real ****, instead of people like me where the worst thing that happens is i buy bad pot, or get a ****ty roommate. it seems like people who’s families don’t have any money just don’t have time to give a crap about ego or being the best or being baller, and they’re just going to play well and get the job done while the games last.

it’s clear that this state of affairs represents a free rider problem though, where it is in everybody’s best interest to bumhunt, but it’s in the group’s (i.e. the group of all poker pros) interest to give some action once in awhile. the poker sites are very concerned with selling poker as a gambling game and making it attractive to recreational players. im just about the least predatory guy out there, and i don’t think it’s my job to sell the game to fish or court the fish, but i DO think it’s important for poker pros to have fun at the table, open their mouths sometimes, and enjoy themselves. i figure if im at the table to enjoy myself (as well as win), im ok with playing with people who are at the table to enjoy themselves and lose.

Q: p.s you’ve said in thepast that you talk a lot of strat w/jungleman, was their a clear fav coming into this match or was it up in the air?

A: id say it was fairly up in the air. i think most people (including myself) thought i was the favorite. i think most people (including myself) think im less of a favorite considering how badly i got worked in this match 

that being said, i have a lot of faith in the strat i was executing against jungle, and i think most of the results of the match were due to him running well, not in all in ev, but situationally.


Q: Wouldn’t it behoove you to take more time making decisions? I am surprised at how quickly you guys play when there is no need to force a quick decision.

A: id say i could make 95% of my decisions within one second or less, but i tend to take extra time just to balance my timing tells. i usually have a strategy in my head, which says something like ‘call 45%, raise 8%’ (for example) for some situation, and then i just balance my timing tells by mentally running over which sort of hands id stick in each range and trying to intuit whether they sum up right more or less.

at the biggest stakes, in hu nl, we are executing full scale strategies rather than playing hands. so the real grunt work is done away from the tables, when we’re deciding what sorts of frequencies to play vs a given opponent. at the table, we’re typically making fine tuning type adjustments, making sure we dont give off timing tells, and trying to pick up timing tells or flow tells on our opponents.


Q: sauce, favorite hand(s) of all of your matches? also, did the play of any of your opponents surprise you at any point?

A: one really fun hand was vs ike, where i raise AQ, he calls bb. flop AJTccc, chk chk, turn Q, bet/call, river Q, bet/ i jam for something like 14x pot and he calls with K8ss. throughout the tournament i tried to take advantage of situations where my opponent’s strat dictated he could never have the nuts, but my strat included some small set of nut hands. where my confidence in my opponent not having the nuts is near 100%, i was choosing the betsize of all in, to maximize my EV. it was cool in that specific hand that i was confident enough to make that betsize choice, and that ike chose to (exploitatively?) call down with only a straight!

as far as tonight:

Seat 1: w00ki3z. ( $181200.00 USD )
Seat 2: Sauce123 ( $76000.00 USD )
w00ki3z. posts small blind [$200.00 USD].
Sauce123 posts big blind [$400.00 USD].
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to Sauce123 [ Ad Kc ]
w00ki3z. raises [$600.00 USD]
Sauce123 raises [$3200.00 USD]
w00ki3z. calls [$2800.00 USD]
** Dealing Flop ** [ 3s, 2c, 3d ]
Sauce123 bets [$2000.00 USD]
w00ki3z. calls [$2000.00 USD]
** Dealing Turn ** [ Qh ]
Sauce123 checks
w00ki3z. bets [$8400.00 USD]
Sauce123 raises [$23200.00 USD]
w00ki3z. calls [$14800.00 USD]
** Dealing River ** [ Ts ]
Sauce123 bets [$47200.00 USD]
w00ki3z. folds
Sauce123 wins $47200.00 USD
Sauce123 wins $57600.00 USD from main pot

i thought this was a cool bluff, for a lot of reasons. in actuality, i was just randomizing my play here, and this is a line i like to take with AK (or some other hands) once in a great while to punish opponents to value bet hands like 88 or Q8 on the turn, and who don’t slowplay their boats and/or 3x and/or AA/KK. it was also a spot where had i been called i would have been down to my last couple of stacks, and it seemed like i had no momentum in the match.

***** Hand History for Game 88740723607 ***** (Poker Stars)
$40000.00 USD NL Texas Hold’em – Sunday, November 04, 04:38:12 ET 2012
Table AllStar Showdown 200400 4 (Real Money)
Seat 2 is the button
Seat 1: w00ki3z. ( $75600.00 USD )
Seat 2: Sauce123 ( $48600.00 USD )
Sauce123 posts small blind [$200.00 USD].
w00ki3z. posts big blind [$400.00 USD].
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to Sauce123 [ 7d 7h ]
Sauce123 raises [$600.00 USD]
w00ki3z. calls [$400.00 USD]
** Dealing Flop ** [ 4c, Js, 7c ]
w00ki3z. checks
Sauce123 bets [$1200.00 USD]
w00ki3z. raises [$4000.00 USD]
Sauce123 raises [$8400.00 USD]
w00ki3z. raises [$12400.00 USD]
Sauce123 calls [$6800.00 USD]
** Dealing Turn ** [ 8h ]
w00ki3z. checks
Sauce123 checks
** Dealing River ** [ 5s ]
w00ki3z. checks
Sauce123 bets [$18400.00 USD]
w00ki3z. calls [$18400.00 USD]
Sauce123 shows [7d, 7h ]
Sauce123 wins $71200.00 USD from main pot
w00ki3z. doesn’t show [Td, 8s ]

this hand was also super cool because i correctly identified that jungle doesnt c/r turn very often after flop checkraising, and i felt that a lot of his flop checkraising range contained 8x or 4x. then i decided ot check back turn because i felt that he might c/f those hands on the turn but call a bet on the river. and i felt that he would call even more frequently on this runout, thinking i cant vbet without 6x, but that i myself dont hold 6x that much, and that i can have stuff like AK or QTcc, or 7x. so i sized my vbet ot eke out an exploitative call from exactly 8x, and slowplayed turn for same reasons.


Q: How much math do you actually incorporate into your descision making? Do you think incorporating math into your poker game is a must in order to become a elite player?

A: i didnt even notice this. it seems really bad to play suboptimally strat wise in order to ‘apply pressure.’ there’s no way playing 4 hands at the same time is going to cause me to make a bigger mistake than the missed ev which playing 4 hands aggressively when they shouldn’t theoretically be played aggressively costs.


Q: How stressed out are you when playing these matches? Hard to quantify obviously but what does your frame of mind tend to be like? Is it mainly just a constant focus on adjusting your strategy or does the money/pressure to perform creep in and make life hard for you?

A: well, this isn’t a lot of money for me, relative to the stakes i usually play. so that wasn’t an issue.

i was a little stressed out because my parents and girlfriend got kind of excited about this format, just because it’s a tourney and gets some media coverage. so they were rooting hard for me, and i wanted to win a bit more because of that.

other than that, i think the fatigue thing was really brutal. i dont like sitting in a chair in front on the computer for a zillion hours/week, makes me feel disgusting. not to mention the fact that keeping focus throughout was incredibly difficult, especially when stuck/running badly. i tried to do some downward dogs on every break, and got a bunch of healthy food to keep me on a relatively even keel given the circumstances. i definitely noticed i was more unfocused for this match than for the match vs ike, i can’t stress enough how draining that match was.

do any of you guys remember the feeling you had taking the SATs? I remember being so insanely focused for those 3 hours or w/e, that after it was over i was in a sort of daze, almost hungover. i think high level poker (at least when im playing my A game) is a lot like that, except it’s everyday, and it’s as much as 20 hours straight. in some ways that sounds horrible (so much effort!) but in other ways it’s kinda great. first, because poker is a lot of fun, and the SATs are balls. and second, doing this sort of intense focusing day in and day out for years just has flat out made me a smarter and more effective person. it’s hard for privileged white kids with hippy parents (like me) to learn discipline, and i think poker has helped out a lot.


Q: Why do you think you can get away with such a high VPIP from the BB against absolutely worldclass players?

A: three words.





Q: Is this much different from what you’re doing when playing 6max? Thanks for doing this.

A: 6max requires a lot more feel, in some ways. i think basic strategy and fundamentals are easier in 6max though, since you can just play tight and print money vs fish. the tough parts are especially in multiway pots (and remember, each preflop hand is a multiway pot!) there is all kinds of soft collusion, and it’s very important to get inside of people’s heads in those sort of situations. with those caveats though, i mostly have the same attitude, in that for each situation that comes up i have a set of frequencies/ranges i am planning on playing vs a given opponent. i would say im a bit more exploitative 6max, and i have somewhat less of an idea as to what optimal ranges are for each spot. but once u fix one part of the problem (e.g. villain raises 50% of buttons) the rest kind of falls into place.


Q: How much do you think hunl has progressed in the last year? Specifically I’m wondering about jungleman, we haven’t heard much from him in the last year and I’m curious if you think he could be this competitive and tough in this tourney if he hadn’t been playing a lot and keeping up with the game.

A: i think in 2009/2010, isildur, jungleman and ike were a lot better than everybody else. i think me and kanu have done a good job closing that gap in the last 2 or 3 years. i think in general, me/ike/kanu share a common methodology which really shows when you look at how we play pots. i think jungle and isildur have developed strategies of their own which are a little less fundamentally sound, but which they execute with a ton of precision and finesse, and which apply tons of pressure by turning the large majority of their opponent’s range into a bluffcatcher.


Q: How much math do you actually incorporate into your descision making? Do you think incorporating math into your poker game is a must in order to become a elite player?

A: i ‘incorporate math’ into every decision i make !

some caveats though. im not a particularly gifted mathematician, at all. id say was in about the top 10% of my high school in math. i think part of that has to do with the fact that i’ve never loved math. i think to be a really gifted mathematician you have to have a love of symmetry and order instantiated in numbers, and this drives you to think about math at a deep level. i have only ever really been interested in math as a tool to give precision to problems, and i think this is what has always made it impossible for me to be great at math. i have a lot of admiration for the personalities who love pure math though, i think it’s a really amazing trait.

i don’t think it’s necessary to be crunching numbers in order to be a world class poker player. if i had to guess, id say ziiigy and isildur have never crunched numbers away from the table in their lives. neither do ivey or PA probably, and i know phil G doesn’t too much either. all 5 of those guys are tops in the world, and ivey is pretty obv the best in the world! contrast also people like Bill Chen and J. Ankenmann (or even sklansky/malmuth) who are pretty obviously very gifted mathematicians and do a lot of analytical work, but who are just never going to be world class players, no matter how much effort they put in. i think the mentality of a world class poker player is more like a professional athlete’s, and less like an academic’s than most people think. as sklansky has said; doing math won’t make you a good poker player, but if you weight the % of good poker players bayesian style, doing math certainly contributes!

in my personal case, i find that doing math away from the table helps me to hone my intuitions about strategy. i like to translate my poker intuition into frequencies such that it’s more amenable to analysis, and i think the best way to do that is to do math away from the tables until the frequencies become like muscle memory.

Other Links relating to this article:

Graph / Stats from last match

Sauce123 Well


About zephendrix

I work for a stock options market making group and go to grad school at the University of Chicago. To read more check out my well:
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