EPT11 Prague: Ben 'f3nix35' Dobson - a major success story

If you log on to PokerStars and take a look under the Tourney>Special tab you'll find a number of tournaments designated as, you guessed it, special. These are usually referred to as "majors" and although not all of them run on a Sunday, the majority of them do. Final tabling one of them in a calendar week is an achievement in itself but final tabling two of the biggest ones within three days, well that's ridiculous.

But it was reality for Ben "f3nix35" Dobson as he achieved the remarkable double only a couple of weeks ago. On Sunday, November 23, he finished fourth in the Sunday Million, collecting $103,638.84 after a four way chop. Then on November 25, he added another $78,680 to his bankroll when he finished second in the Super Tuesdaywhich, with a buy-in of $1,050, is PokerStars' biggest buy-in weekly tournament.


It was double delight for Dobson in November

"Although I actually won less money in the Super Tuesday it meant more to be because it's was against such a high calibre of players," Dobson tells the PokerStars Blog during a break in play. "There were more tough spots in that tournament and spots where I picked up chips in unorthodox ways. Whereas in the Sunday Million it was more a case of trying to just play really good, solid poker and letting other people make mistakes. The Sunday Million is much softer, it gets a ton more runners, but a higher percentage of them are recreational players."

So with a different level of opponent in the Super Tuesday how did he approach that tournament? "Because everyone is good, it was more a case of trying to create opportunities for others to make mistakes also it has a better structure and you're a lot deeper later on as well, there's much more play later on," he says.

So this raises the question: if everyone in the Super Tuesday is good where's the value in playing it? "It's fun to play a tournament because the average stack is going to be more than 25 big blinds when you're in the money," he says. "I do like challenging myself a lot and I'd say there's still good value in it. I'm one of the many satellite qualifiers who plays that event, I like to play the satellites into it. $1,050 is a lot bigger than my average buy-in and it's by the far the biggest buy-in of the week that I play, the next biggest is probably the Sunday 500."

Dobson's run to an eventual runner-up finish was actually pretty smooth. "I had a big stack from about 100 left in the Super Tuesday and managed to keep it," he says. "I was above average pretty much the whole time from when we were in the money onwards. I think I was chip leader with 13 left and I was three of nine when the final table started. I still had absolute chunks at that point."

One by one the players fell and Dobson would get heads-up against the curiously named "IsildursHair". "I have no idea who he is," Dobson says. "There was still some play, he had a two to one chip lead going into it. He played pretty well, I didn't win that many pots heads-up. I didn't seem to flop much, it felt like he was running me over a bit. I watched the replay though and he had it a few times and he bluffed me a couple of times."


Ben Dobson - he was thrilled honest!

The saying goes that only the person who wins a tournament is ever happy, but Dobson bucks the trend. "I was thrilled to finish second, it's by far the deepest run I've had in that tournament. It felt really good, I'm playing against the best players in the world and I'm actually doing well against really good players rather than getting chips because players are making mistakes against me and stacking off in bad spots."

The Brits are known for their vociferous rails when players final table big live tournaments but online is it the same? "By the time I reached the final table there wasn't anyone railing because it was about eight in the morning on both occasions," Dobson says. "Everyone else has gone to bed, so I was just there with bleary eyes and a coffee mug just going at it alone."

But once the world woke up the plaudits started to flood in: "Are you real?" said Max Silver. "Aawwww yeahhh the f3nix has risen again,' tweeted Adam Levy and with some irony Jon Spinks asked, "Is that all?."

And that's not all. It's been an incredible 2014 for Dobson who for the past eight years has called Nottingham home but recently moved to Burnley and also got married this year. "It's been a really good year. I came second in a $215 SCOOP event, for $200,000 earlier in the year. I wasn't expecting to get anything near anything for the rest of the year and if I hadn't it still would've been a great year. What happened two weeks ago was amazing."

Unfortunately Dobson busted out of the main event earlier today, but as you'd expect from a man who rivals Julian Thew for the nicest man in poker award he was only to happy to chat to pokerstars.tv about his incredible year.

He turns 26 on Monday and jokes, "I'm getting on a bit." Despite being "old" when it comes to online poker he can keep up with the kids. "I'm pretty high volume, I try to play a lot and when I do I play a lot of tables, I like grinding, I really enjoy playing a lot of tournaments," he says. "I play up to 24 at once, it probably averages about 12 but during peak times it's more and obviously at the start and end of sessions it's a bit less."

Fortunately if Dobson makes a deep run in a big tournament he doesn't have to sacrifice the volume. "If I go deep in something like the Sunday Million or Super Tuesday I don't have to cut back the number of tables as by that point it's probably 1am and I'll be down to around six tables anyway. Going from 20 to five or six means feels pretty light and I find can concentrate on it well anyway."

One of the most common positives you'll hear about being a poker player is that you're your own boss and can keep your own hours, something Dobson embraces. "I took the Monday off after the Sunday score and then I played the Tuesday and then I took the rest of the week off apart from the Friday. I go by feel, I don't always play Tuesdays, I always play Sundays but that's the only day I always play, other than that I play when I feel like it."

And unlike many of his peers Dobson is keen to spread his horizons further than just no-limit hold 'em tournaments. "I try to play other games, mostly cash games though. I don't really play tournaments in other formats outside of the WSOP. But I do like to dabble in the eight-game cash games on PokerStars," he says.

"I know how to play the other games but I wouldn't say I'm particularly brilliant at any of them. I've never had coaching in them I just enjoy it. It's mentally challenging. I think the mixed game tournaments at the WSOP are amazing. I want to get good for them."

Dobson plans to do that by taking time out from playing to study. "I'm trying to put one day a week into studying the games to get better at them. It's partly to keep it fresh, partly because at the stakes I play the games are softer than no-limit hold 'em. A fixed limit game with blinds of $2.50/$5 is just better value than a no-limit hold 'em Zoom game with the same blinds."

But at the end of the day whatever Dobson choose to play is for the same reason: "I basically do it because I enjoy it, I don't enjoy it enough to pursue it full on because I also enjoy tournaments but it's nice to mix it up and it's a lot different than no-limit hold'em tournaments. I like stud-8, I like 2-7 Tripe Draw, I like limit O8 too. On the surface these games seem quite simple when you first start playing them. Then you learn a bit more and you're like, "Oh my god how could I not think about this before?" and you work out there are more levels to it and then more levels open up and you realise that these games that appear simple are actually quite complicated."


Ben Dobson pictured at EPT10 London where he won two side events

And his hard work online has paid off in the live arena. He's won a $1,000 Triple Stud event at the PCA, two side events at EPT10 London and a France Poker Series event in Amnéville. But how does he decide which live events to play?

"Primarily for me it's the satellites. I always try to win a seat to the main event of a festival otherwise I probably won't go to it. I like to try and win a seat online. I'm really hoping I can run good and win a seat to the PCA. I love it there, I've been for the past two years but haven't won a seat yet. I've already won my Deauville satellite so I'll be going there.

"I would say winning the FPS Amnéville event is my best live achievement to date. It was my first big major live event that I'd won. It felt so huge at the time. It was such a big boost for me because I'd been grinding a lot at mid-stakes and it helped propel my bankroll forward. I'm also proud of a £500 six-max side event in Nottingham earlier this year. That was really fun because it was six-max and the action was flowing. It was deep stacked and had a great structure.

As mentioned above Dobson got married earlier this year. If he were a 25-year-old in any profession that would be younger than average but as a poker player it makes him a massive outlier but then Dobson isn't someone who lives for poker and only poker. "I've never lived with poker players, during trips like this I'll stay in an apartment with other players but I also like to enjoy life away from poker. I find that living with poker players means everything involves gambling and can be an unhealthy lifestyle. You can become nocturnal and get takeaway every day that sort of thing. I like to work on the life/work balance."

Away from the table for Dobson really does mean shutting off the poker part of his brain. " I do outdoor activities, cooking, spending time with friends who know nothing of poker and completely get away from it. It helps me clear my mind and stop me from burning out. If you have a really bad day at the table and everyone around you is talking about poker and you're feeling a bit grotty it's terrible. But if you're spending time with people who know nothing about poker then you just don't talk about it and you get away from it immediately. It's refreshing to go out for meals and not talk hand histories and not do credit card roulette. It's nice to have conversations about the real world."

Talking of the real world, Dobson's now familiar screen name has an unusual beginning. "I was trying to fill in a name for an online computer game and everything I could think of was taken. So I was listening to band called Fenix TX so I went for that. And when I signed up with PokerStars everything was taken again, even Fenix. So I just put some numbers in. I don't even know if they're still going, I haven't listened to them in years. Maybe I should go back and see if they've done anything, I should put them on the next time I make a final table!"

You sense Dobson will be listening to them in the not too distant future.

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Nick Wright
@PokerStars in Prague