Ben Wilinofsky is 24 years old. He's Canadian, a hockey lover, and the kind of guy who likes to roll around with his dog. He's won $3 million in online poker tournaments. He has $1.25 million in live tournament earnings, a big chunk of which came when he won EPT Berlin two years ago. His life is one that almost anybody would envy.
"These things are all true of me, but they are not the truth about me," Wilinofsky wrote late last year.
The truth--something we never knew when we watched Wilinofsky become a champion--is that despite all appearances to the contrary, the man who calls himself NeverScaredB online is the farthest thing from a happy-go-lucky, freewheeling online poker giant.
Ben Wilinofsky is clinically depressed.
Late last year, Wilinofsky wrote a long and moving post on his blog in which he revealed his diagnosis and the courage it took to seek it. Read it. Seriously. It will help you begin to understand the lifelong struggle many people face when dealing with an illness that's so hard to understand.
As Wilinofsky wrote of depression, "It doesn't make sense because it doesn't have to."
So, take a moment, and read through his post, because it might help you to begin to understand how a millionaire poker player with seemingly not a care in the world has much, much more on his mind than implied odds.
It will also begin to explain how he came to look like this.
That hair on his lip wasn't a fashion statement. It wasn't a disguise. It was a message that Wilinofsky was confronting his illness and doing it in a way he hoped could help others who suffer as he does.
If you're at all tuned in to modern charitable activities, you've probably heard of Movember, a charity drive in which men grow moustaches to raise money for men's charities. In Canada, Movember supports prostate cancer research and male mental health initiatives.
And so, with a beard going in October, Wilinofsky got started on his 'stache. He started raising money. And then he wrote the PokerStars VIP Store with a question.
"I am wondering if I would be able to use my FPPs on a charitable donation," he asked.
PokerStars employees (and even PokerStars Blog writers) happen to participate in Movember, so it was clear from the outset that Wilinofsky's mission was legit. The plan was a go.
When it was all said and done, Wilinofsky matched all the donations he got to the tune of 480,000 of his Frequent Player Points worth $7,752. It was a lot of money that could've been spent on a lot of cool things in the VIP Store.
"I thought a little bit about the Tag Heuer Aquaracer that was on sale in January, but I'm not much for luxury items," he said this week, "and a watch seems like it's pretty obsolete now that I have a cellphone."
In all, Wilinofsky, his FPPs, and his contributors ended up sending more than $15,000 to the Movember movement, money that could end up being spend on men's cancer research or mental health initiatives.
"Although I've been championing the cause of mental wellness, it wouldn't matter to me if the money went to prostate cancer research instead. More than the money, the point of Movember was to raise awareness and help move the discussion of mental health issues forward in an open, unprejudiced way," Wilinofsky said. "Social progress will do more for those with mental wellness issues than the money ever could."
There's a lot to be learned about our perceptions. A millionaire may be the most miserable person you've met. A champion may feel like the world's biggest loser. A poker player's life may not actually be fueled only by greed. The genius human brain may be a person's biggest enemy.
Wilinofsky, indeed, could teach us a lot. With his efforts, his FPPs, and his moustache, he's trying to do just that. That takes a lot more courage than he'll ever need in a poker game.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging