Recently Canadian regular Ben “NeverScaredB” Wilinofsky (Benjamin Wilinofsky) made it to the WSOP $ 5K PLO Championship Finals at GGPOKER, finishing in 4th place. Ben once shone at the poker table, but then disappeared from the radar. It turned out that the money he won at poker did not make him happy – in this article we have collected the story of Ben’s struggle with clinical depression, reassessment of poker success and changing priorities in life.
What is Ben Wilinofsky known for?
In 2011, Ben received $ 1.2M for winning the EPT Berlin Main Event. He was only 22 years old, he beat 773 players from 50 countries of the world and instantly became one of the most talked about people of the year – not only because of the win, but also thanks to interviews in which he showed himself to be a modest guy without a drop of aggression or arrogance inherent to young poker stars.
According to him, the victory came as a complete surprise to him:
It fell on me like a mountain of bricks, and I did not immediately realize the scale of what had happened. Relief, pleasure, adrenaline and other feelings and emotions blocked my rational perception of the situation. But when I finally realized what had happened, I was faced with so many questions and problems that could and should have been resolved that I became too busy. It was so crazy – although I was having fun some of the time, I didn’t leave the feeling that I didn’t know where and why I was and what was happening to me.
Ben called the final of the fateful event amazing and full of fun – during the game he was completely relaxed, but at the same time he experienced such a unique range of feelings that he could not even describe it.
In particular, the EPT Berlin Main Event was Ben’s first live event in his life:
This is an absolutely different experience – you see and hear a person, you get much more information for interpretation and at the same time you are given much more time to think than when playing online. Perhaps, in the latter, I see a key difference between live and virtual poker: on the Internet you make decisions very quickly, especially if you play a lot of tables – the room gives you 15 seconds to think about everything that happens on each table! If you are good at the game, then each hand in such a situation will take no more than 2 seconds – there is no place for this rush in live poker.
Most of all Ben’s victory in Maine was his mother, who shared her impressions in a short interview for The Province:
I am so proud of the person my son has become – not only his poker skills and his ability to play his hands right, but also his broad-mindedness, humility and integrity. He was always interested in strategy games – at first it was chess, I had nothing against it, but when he became interested in card games in high school, it alerted me. He played Magic The Gathering for many hours, and then poker – it was hard to accept, it seemed like he was wasting time. But now I understand that no – he had a gift, which he found use.
His mother turned out to be absolutely right then: from 2011 to 2015, Ben won another $ 211K offline, at the same time breaking online. In 2013 and 2014, he scored best cashes on PokerStars, receiving $ 285K and $ 279K in the SCOOP Finals.
By the beginning of 2016, he was in great poker shape, regularly registering large ITMs on PokerStars and other rooms, but he did not feel happy. Already in May, Ben announced that he was quitting poker and did not know if he would ever return because of his health problems.
Why didn’t winnings end up making Ben happy?
In January 2016, a post appeared on Wilinofsky’s blog, which can be called a real cry from the heart:
The last months have been very difficult for me. Life became like a trip along an endless road in monotonous landscapes – I began to feel that if I didn’t do something, then nothing else would change. I was sick a lot – lately I was especially annoyed by arthritis, although others say that I am too young for him. They say that I am too young for hip problems, although I have had them for a long time due to playing hockey. I’m so tired.
At the time, he was going through a veritable identity crisis. Having abandoned hockey 5 years earlier, Ben tried to find himself in other sports, focusing on bodybuilding, but because of this, injuries only continued to accumulate – he again gave up sports, deciding to first improve his health.
So I lost this part of my personality too, but gained a new one by becoming a vegan. For two years I was sure that it was good for me, although my health was deteriorating – but the doctors said that I needed to consume animal food again, otherwise I would not be able to become healthy. I thought there were many good ethical and environmental reasons to give up animal products, and I ended up eating it all again. And again he lost a part of his personality.
At the time, Wilinofsky’s only joy was spending time with his girlfriend, but she lived in the United States and he couldn’t play online poker from there.
Until May 2016, he tried to understand himself, clinging to the only part of his personality that he understood – poker, but then publicly announced that he was leaving the game:
I grew up playing poker. I started playing it at University – before I lost my virginity, before my first girlfriend and my first breakup, before my first bills, my first move, even the first pair of shoes I bought with my own money. Poker has gone through my whole life – with it I learned what ups and downs look like, real trials and pure triumph. But now I have lost my stability and lost myself. Once upon a time, poker was something that made me feel like someone. It’s gone now – I feel lost and I’m really scared. I am almost 28 years old and now life scares me more than ever. But I’m also quitting poker because it’s actually a dumb card game in which the rules are limited to the movement of money between people.
Ben also stressed that poker does not give him what he needs for a happy life – so he goes into the unknown, hoping to find something that will help him find himself. For more than a year after this post, Wilinofsky did not appear in offline tournaments and did not play online – he completely disappeared from the radar of the poker community.
And in July 2017, the PokerListing portal was able to contact him and ask about what happened.
Ben first revealed the secret of choosing his nickname for online poker – “NeverScaredB” [прим. автора: никогда не боящийся Би]:
I haven’t told anyone this before, but my nickname is connected with the fact that I wanted to move forward with the image of a fearless person. Then I did not think about it, but now I believe that there was something Freudian in my choice – because I would like to be like that in everyday life. Do not worry and do not doubt, do not suffer from fears in your head.
While he was active in poker, Ben did have a reputation as a fearless player, but his success lurked serious psychological problems:
When you win something and receive external stimuli from poker, you start to think that everything is fine with you. There is more money, people appear who support you – you even have objective criteria for evaluating yourself. But this is just an ointment that you rub into wounds to relieve pain. It does not heal anything and does not make the situation better – it only eases suffering, and for a short time.
According to Ben, the more successful he became at poker, the more the dissonance between his inner state and outer results loomed:
The first victory lifted me to the seventh heaven, but only for a short time. My normal state was never happy, but a few days of high from victory gave me the false feeling that this is happiness. I chased after him – trying to fix my internal problems in this way, I played poker again and again, honed my skills, went to the finals, but in the end I felt nothing but emptiness. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I didn’t really acknowledge the problem and didn’t really try to solve it.
Quite quickly, Wilinofsky began to catch himself thinking that he was depressed, but this did not push him to seek help – he was sure that he was in a temporary state, and it could end naturally. For example, if you win even more money. Or sleep with another girl, or better several in a row.
It took me a long time to admit that such achievements do not help anything. The increase in the amount of winnings does not help you to become happy in any way, but to say it openly, directly and honestly, to discuss it with someone is very difficult, because you get used to wearing the mask of a person who controls his life and everything is fine with him.
However, Ben managed to overcome the fear and identify the problem. So the question arose before him: what to do next? He found a way out by going through various methods:
You can go to therapy and take pills, exercise, yoga or meditation – whatever until you find something that works. I’ve tried a lot of things. Poker was one of those trials – it wasn’t a problem for me in itself, but it wasn’t part of the solution to the real problem either. It was only over time that I realized that poker is an easy solution to the wrong problem – and I don’t want to do it anymore. My task is to move forward until I either hit a wall or go through it and see it from the other side.
Wilinofsky is back in poker: what is he doing in 2021?
After undergoing therapy and stabilizing his health, Ben began to play poker again, but much less. In 2017, he added $ 70K for two wins in the $ 1,050 Sunday Grand PLO on PokerStars, and in 2018 he secured his second offline victory in his career – the first place in the WPTDS Main Event with a prize of $ 168K.
At the final, Maine Walinofsky appeared in great shape – he knocked out the last 5 opponents and did not even look tired, but at the end of the game he told reporters that he was not going to fully return to poker:
This event was my last of the year and I’m not going to play anymore. Sometimes I stop in Canada to hang out with friends, and then we play poker for fun – but now I’m chasing a dream and going to do what I should have done a long time ago: reach the pinnacle of happiness in my life.
After that, he really looked only at two live tournaments in 2019 and has not yet returned to them, but in 2021 he reappeared on PokerStars to play SCOOP, as well as in tournaments at GGPOKEROK and at cash tables in other rooms.
At the same time, he follows the poker community, constantly communicating with poker players on Twitter and commenting on various news, and also collaborates with RunItOnce Phil Galfond. He also plays chess again.
In his Twitter posts, he shows no signs of his former melancholy, and the blog in which he shared sad thoughts has remained abandoned since 2016.