Pittsburgh poker player keeps focus at the table
By Mark Gruetze
Published: Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
University of Pittsburgh alum Ben Hamnett calls himself something of a nerd who is passionate about economics.
He can add a few other descriptions after a good summer at the poker table. He's also a player featured in a couple of big hands in ESPN coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. He's the winner of $818,847 and a World Poker Tour trophy after taking the Borgata Open in Atlantic City on Sept. 21. And, he's a qualifier for this year's WPT World Championship.
“I feel like I'm a businessman who happens to play poker,” says the 2004 Pitt grad, who received an economics degree after 31⁄2 years of study.
Hamnett topped the second largest playing field in WPT history in taking first place at the Borgata. The official count was 1,181, but that included many people who busted out and posted a second $3,500 buy-in. He estimates about 900 players took part.
The WPT plans a three-day nationwide television broadcast of the tournament in the spring.
The Borgata prize money includes entry in the $25,000 per seat WPT World Championship Tournament in May at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Last year's event had 152 entrants and a prize pool worth more than $3.6 million. Marvin Rettenmaier won, taking home almost $1.2 million.
Hamnett, 29, grew up in East Liberty, but attended middle school and high school outside Waynesburg after his family moved. He still considers Pittsburgh his home, although he travels extensively for poker and for fun.
He started playing poker while attending Pitt and has considered himself a pro since getting out of school. The education in economics proved to be a big help at the table, he says.
“Economics — people don't usually know what that means. Even people who study economics forget what it means. It's the study of how resources are distributed.
“If you think of people's actions and recreational money as a resource you're trying to get, it helps to start seeing that whole thing (at the poker table) as an economic system,” he says. “If you see where the money is flowing in and how it's moving around, then you can put yourself in a position to be there.”
Without that perspective, he says, he might have ended up like so many other young players: “just going head first and see what happens.
“A lot of young players play (poker) like it's a game of chicken,” he says. “They've got their foot on the gas pedal, and they've thrown the steering wheel and brakes out the window.” Any opponent who gets into a pot with such an aggressive player knows the hand is likely to break one of them.
This “terrorist” style makes opponents shy away, and the aggressors pick up a lot of pots.
Hamnett has a different approach, although it's still based on aggression.
“I just constantly am focused on people, constantly counting their chip stacks, trying to figure out their motivations, what are their goals, what are they trying to do, what are they thinking about and trying to adapt to that. It's what you think you would do at a poker table, but then, you end up goofing around, playing on your iPad, talking.”
He figures that when he concentrates on playing his best, his opponents will do the same. Then, he can take advantage.
“You want to make the bet that, when they see it, they're going to be worried. They're afraid they're going to fold the best hand, and they're also afraid you're going to have them beat, and they're going to have to pay off with the worst hand.
“You want to maximize that fear with every bet you make.”
The physical part of playing is important, too. Hamnett says he tries to exercise enough during a tournament to stay relaxed. He eats balanced meals to maintain a level blood sugar, he gets enough sleep, and he does stretches to keep his focus.
The hubbub surrounding a final table can be a distraction. In a major tournament such as the Borgata, players might have to be on the set three or four hours before play begins. The fanfare can lull some into thinking that they've done well enough just by getting that far.
“As soon as everybody has these attitudes, you have a big advantage,” says Hamnett, who recently started tweeting under @riverspecialist. “You're there saying, ‘No, I want to win every chip at the table. I want to put you in tough spots.'
“I'm here to play poker.”
Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or email@example.com.
Mt. Airy adds mobile apps
Mt. Airy Casino in the Poconos has added mobile gaming applications for users of Apple and Android devices.
Bally Technologies, which provides the platform, said the Mt. Airy Casino Resort apps are free through the Apple iTunes store or Google Play. Users can view and book rooms, check Players Club points and see restaurant menus. The apps include a mobile play-for-fun version of Bally's Cash Spin video slot, plus casino gaming information and feedback surveys.
Slot players lost $43.2 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending Sept. 23, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's down from $45 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.
The state gets 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots have been paid.
Statewide, the slot-payout rate is 89.94 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.94. Highest payout rate: 90.64 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest payout rate: 89.3 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia.
Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:
Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $4.67 million, down from $5.24 million last year.
Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.71 million, up from $4.57 million last year.
Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.71 million, down from $3.22 million last year.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Bylsma’s moves — yes, moves — pay off
- Physical Columbus team is a hit in playoff opener against Penguins
- Penguins rally to escape with a victory in Game 1 against Columbus
- Former Apollo Police Chief Breznican scheduled for release from Armstrong County Jail
- At least three people dead in Armstrong County crash
- Obama hopes to replicate CCAC job training efforts across United States
- Police see no sign Franklin Regional stabbing suspect was bullied
- `Women Build’ tackles two Armstrong Habitat projects
- Play of the game: Sutter’s goal completes rally
- 2 serious in New Ken stabbings
- Apollo Earth Day Dash to benefit trail expansion