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Friday, July 15, 2011
Ben Lamb's secret weapon

By Gary Wise
Special to ESPN.com

Confidence is a powerful thing in poker. All other things being equal, it takes your game to the next level. It's a difference-maker.

Ben Lamb has always worn his confidence on his sleeve. Gifted with a likable, relaxed demeanor and a quick mouth, Lamb is the kind of player who will loosen up a table, then take advantage. He's known for a style of play that never allows players to find their comfort zone in the game, but his charm lets them enjoy the experience. For Lamb, confidence is never in short supply.

"Ben is definitely good," said friend and frequent opponent Scott Clements of the 26-year-old Oklahoman pro. "I've played a lot of pot-limit Omaha with him and he's always a blast to have at the table. He'll put you in a lot of awkward spots. I haven't played him in a lot of no-limit [hold 'em], but I'm sure with his confidence running high he's doing the exact same moves in no-limit, putting players in awkward spots where they don't know what to do."

Obviously they don't know what to do, because he's got all of the chips right now. Again.

Lamb has had a remarkable 2011 World Series of Poker, with a $814,436 bracelet-win and two other final tables placing him second in the player of the year race after only Phil Hellmuth. Now, the added confidence that comes from that kind of success is a major part of what's propelling him through a huge field in the main event.

"If your plays are working, you'll have an air of confidence other players will notice," said Lamb, after finishing Day 3 of the main event with 354,500 in chips. "You'll be more confident when you put in a big bluff or people will see you winning and not want to play against you. If you have the kind of image I currently have, you can utilize it to get a little more respect. I think it's pretty important. Phil Hellmuth has a great image. People play so bad against him. I think it contributes to his success. I think it's contributing to my success."

Of course, confidence can't be falsely mustered. Lamb's emanates from a history of success. Going pro in 2004, he started online by investing $100 at a time. Seven times he deposited, seven times he busted. On the eighth try, his life changed. Over a two week stretch, he turned that eighth deposit into $93,000. He eventually lost $75,000 of those winnings in one session to Phil Galfond, noting with grinning recollection, "I had $300 cash in my pocket at the time." Although this all may seem reckless, Lamb sees logic in it.

"I think it's important that people take shots," he said. "There's just so much opportunity you can gain by doing it. You shouldn't do it every day, but if a good game comes along … every month you'll see one of those great games come along. When it does, sell some pieces if you can't afford it, because you should probably play it. There's a lot of people who never opt to not take the shot. The ones who take it every time go from $300,000 in a day a couple of times a month to broke, so you need to find a balance. That can't be fun, but it makes sense to take that one shot."

It's hardly a surprising philosophy once you talk with Lamb's friends about his reputation for hardy living. He'll bet on anything and everything, and enjoys the benefits of his young wealth with plenty of drink, golf and, admittedly, more drink.

"Off the felt, Ben's a real nice guy," said close friend Jason Mercier. "He's a lot of fun to hang out with and I enjoy partying with him. I'd say that five of my 10 worst hangovers have been partying with Ben."

"I mean, I don't know where I get the rep from," Lamb said, bearing an ear-to-ear grin. "I live in Las Vegas and everyone parties. They just tend to have more fun when they party with me. I don't like to half-ass the partying."

Despite his enjoyment, Lamb's gotten away from that lifestyle this summer. "I haven't drunk in two months," Lamb says with mock amazement. "Soon as I bust the main event, I'll be the drunkest guy in Vegas, but I said I wasn't going to drink for the summer. I play cash primarily. It's not about drinking at the cash games so much as, if your friends are going out drinking, there's incentive to leave. WSOP time is a big chance to play in good games, so I made the bet to not drink for the two months. It's kind of strange to have all this success and not drink. I won the bracelet and went to bed."

The correlation between his giving up alcohol and his success isn't lost on Lamb. "I mean, yeah, the lack of alcohol has helped," he admitted. "It's not the only thing. Obviously luck is involved, and I've been playing every day, been really dedicated. I spend my off hours with the girlfriend. Not drinking has definitely made me more dedicated. I feel like I play better because of it."

Once WSOP is over, he'll still drink, but he's recognized the benefits of a dry period.

In the meantime, Lamb has a main event to focus on with the benefit of experience. In 2009, Lamb finished 14th in this same tournament, taking home $633,022. "I think I'm better prepared because I went deep in '09," Lamb said. "The WSOP, in general, is different. You just don't have these huge live field events anywhere else and you don't get a chance to practice for them. Going deep in this before, I feel like I'll be able to take advantage of knowledge others don't have."

As he approaches the money (again) with a big stack (again), Lamb has a lot at stake, including the ludicrous payouts of the main event and the potential for player of the year honors. But it all seems to fly by him, leaving him without a care in the world. Those are the benefits of the kind of confidence he brings. It could lead to greater things.

You can read more of Gary Wise's musings at jgarywise.com.