Five or six years ago, David Benefield was one of the most feared and respected online cash game players in the game. His 2008 WSOP Main Event run, which resulted in a 73rd place finish, had the online railbirds drooling at the possibility of a "Raptor"-headlined final table. Things have changed a lot in those years, both in poker and in Benefield's life. Poker is no longer the center of his life. Instead, he is a student and an entrepreneur who finds time for poker here and there, namely in the summer at the WSOP.
Just how big a role poker will play in Benefield's life once this final table plays out remains to be seen. Benefield's hopes of making the November Nine were slim when he began the penultimate day of play dead last in chips with 27 players remaining. He rallied, rallied, and rallied some more though, eventually earning a spot at the final table. While Benefield is still in the position of the short stack, his patience and experience could certainly result in a run similar to Jeremy Ausmus' rally from last in chips to fifth place last year.
Name: David Benefield
Birthplace: Fort Worth, TX
Hometown/Current place of residence: New York City, NY
Occupation: Consultant/Retired Poker Pro/Student
Education: Currently studying Political Science and Chinese at Columbia
Marital Status: Single
Children (names and ages): 0
Years playing poker: 7
Years entered Main Event: 6
WSOP Earnings: $455,713
WSOP Cashes: 12
WSOP Final Tables: 1
Best Main Event Finish: 73rd in 2008
We caught up with Benefield shortly after the November Nine was set:
WSOP: It was a stressful day for you, but how does it feel to make it through to the final table?
Benefield: It feels incredible. I came into the day 27 of 27, super short-stacked. I got my money in good a couple of times, managed to win. It is like a dream. I can’t even believe I’m here. I don’t know what is going on, and it doesn’t feel like I am in the right place.
WSOP: You’re a cash game guy and not much of a tournament player. In fact, poker doesn’t even seem like it is a very big part of your life anymore. Still, where does rank in terms of accomplishments and dreams come true for you?
Benefield: I mean, this really is a dream come true. I think every poker player dreams about making the final table at the World Series. It is just such a huge deal. Not everyone who makes the final table is necessarily the best player. I don’t think I’m the best player at tournaments at all. There is just so much luck that goes into it. It is something that you don’t really expect to ever happen. Even if you are ten times better than everyone else, it is really unlikely you are ever going to make the final table, so yeah, I feel super lucky to be here. I feel great.
WSOP: You started Day 7 as the shortest stack. You also came into the final ten pretty short. What was your approach?
Benefield: It’s weird. It has been a weird day for me. My stack’s been going up and down, pretty crazy. I got up to 15 million at one point, made some bad calls, and it didn’t work out, so I got down to a short stack. I’ve been grinding a short stack since Day 3, so I can’t believe I’m still here. My strategy going into the final table since Mark [Newhouse] was really short…obviously it is a disaster for me to bust when he is so short, so I gotta play really tight. I’m not really going to call it off light without really good hands. Then when he doubled up, I started trying to open up a little bit, but I kept getting like nine-three off, so I couldn’t really do anything anyway.
WSOP: Your interests have shifted away from poker the past couple of years. What brings you out to the World Series each summer to play?
Benefield: I don’t really know. I went back to school four years ago. I was trying to think about things I wanted to do in my life and completing college was one of those things. It seemed like a reasonable time to go back because I couldn’t play online really anymore. What kept me still coming in the summers…all my friends were here, I wanted to play a couple of tournaments, decent cash games…I don’t know, every poker player still comes out for the World Series. I actually didn’t play the Main Event last year because I was in China studying abroad, but back this year.
WSOP: Where does college factor in to your life now? Are you going back to school in the fall?
Benefield: I was 99.9% sure I was going back [to Columbia] in the fall, but I didn’t expect to make the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event, so that may change things [laughs]. So, I gotta think about it. I gotta talk to some people, talk to my advisor, and see what my options are. I don’t know, I gotta figure some things out.
WSOP: You were very short for a lot of this tournament, but you kept doubling up and always seemed to keep your composure. Is that just a byproduct of having played millions of hands?
Benefield: I don’t think I am the most traditional tournament players. I am not super aggressive when it comes to going all-in and restealing and stuff. I like to see a lot of flops, I like to try and play turns and rivers and play smaller pots. I think that helps not having the giant swings and busting out as much, but I still had to run really good in all those spots as well.
WSOP: Now that you’ve made the final table, what do you think the next two or three months of your life are going to look like?
Benefield: I don’t really know. I mean, if I am going back to school , I need to start studying Chinese again, because I haven’t done much of that in the past six months and I am really behind. If I decide to put it off another semester, maybe I’ll go play some tournaments and do some interviews, I guess. I don’t really know what people do in this situation. I’ve got to figure it out.
WSOP: What is your impression of the table as a whole?
Benefield: I think everyone here is a great player. We’ve all been lucky to make it this far, but I think everyone plays pretty well. I’ve played with all of these guys over the last few days and I think everyone is super happy to be here and we all realize how lucky we are. We’re all just stoked.
WSOP: You gave up poker to go back to school. You’re studying political science and Chinese. Why study those subjects?
Benefield: I don’t know. I was doing Classics and Philosophy for two years. I studied ancient Greek and translated the Mina. I did a bunch of ridiculous things trying to figure out what I want to do and I still haven’t really found anything. When I transferred, I originally planned on doing economics and had no intention of doing Chinese, but I had to do a language requirement. I said, ‘Oh, I guess you could keep doing ancient Greek,’ but thought maybe I should do something a little more practical, so I started taking Chinese, got really interested in it, started taking some poly-sci classes, didn’t really care about economics, and that is kind of where we are at now.