Interview: Ari "BodogAri" Engel
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Biggest Win: $46,000 online, $63,000 live
Best Known For: Over $1,000,000 in online tournament winnings
Ari "BodogAri" Engel is one of the most feared online multi-table tournament players. This week, Ari sat down with us and discussed tournament strategy, as well as what got him into poker in the first place.
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PokerTips.org: First off, Ari, tell us what got you into poker and how long you've been playing.
Engel: My roommate in college used to play all the time. For a few months, all I did was watch him play when I wasn't in class. I did not play at all [at the time] and finally after much watching, I jumped on the $5 and $10 sit-'n'-go bandwagon. Over the next nine months, I got my degree, played a bunch of low-stakes games, and made some, but very little money. After graduation, I stopped playing online (as I had a large amount of debt from college, very little cash, and a full-time job). I continued playing in low-stakes home games and someone testified about a good online poker site. Ten days after signing up, I had made more than my yearly salary, so I quit my job.
PokerTips.org: Relative to other top players, was poker something that seemed to come natural to you? If not, what do you credit with helping you become a top player?
Engel: Kinda, I went from not being able to make money during college (anything worth living) to killing the game, and I'm not really sure how it happened. Of course, over time I've tried to improve my game.
PokerTips.org: If poker hadn't worked out for you, what would you likely be doing right now?
Engel: I went to New York University and got a degree in Management & Organizational Behavior and Finance. I got a job after college working for a startup company. In college, my goal was to work on Wall Street with the idea of eventually going into management consulting.
PokerTips.org: You're best known for multi-table tournaments. Do you ever dabble in cash games or sit-'n'-gos? If so, for what stakes?
Engel: I played $2-$4 no-limit for a year non-stop. That's where I built a significant portion of my bankroll. I absolutely killed that game, but it was filled with sports betters and, in general, very inexperienced players. I don't feel like I currently have the skills to beat higher stakes cash games, so I don't try.
Regarding sit-'n'-gos, I used to play them quite a bit after busting from that day's multi-table tournaments. However, I approached them the same way as multi-table tournaments for a long time and my results suffered. Combine that with an unfortunate shot at the higher stakes sit-'n'-gos, and I'm down about $20,000 in them. Nowadays, I think I have an edge in most sit-'n'-gos, but I still don't play them too often. The fact that the most one can cash for is five times the buy-in limits the upside too much for my style of play.
PokerTips.org: In general, how many online tournaments do you play per week?
Engel: Usually about 50-60. This number has varied greatly during my online career, but now I refuse to play more than four tables at once, as I believe it severely restricts my game.
PokerTips.org: It's no secret that the variance associated with multi-table tournaments can be absolutely brutal. How do you deal with the emotional and financial swings of the game?
Engel: I've gone 48 tournaments in a row without cashing in the past. My goal is to try and embrace the losing nature of tournament poker and use it to my advantage. Namely, people are too scared of busting out, and like you mentioned, don't fully grasp the inherent variance in tournament poker. The best players in the world are not going to win very often (where a "win" is a first through third finish). Knowing that I won't win very often helps me both emotionally and strategically. On the other hand, the constant losing does invariably get me frustrated sometimes. Thinking about how much I've won in poker, and how I wouldn't have been able to do it without the losses helps a little. The bottom line is you have to have self control to do well in this game. Little mind games can work, but being a "Man" about it is absolutely necessity. Nobody can always win, so just get used to losing.
PokerTips.org: For our readers unfamiliar with the variance of MTTs, describe a typical downswing in your game.
Engel: I don't focus on results when referring to a downswing in my game. For whatever reason, a person's game can go downhill very easily, so I constantly monitor my game looking for holes. If I lose a lot of money in tournaments over a short period, I will remove some of the higher buy-in tournaments that I otherwise would play, and insert a lower buy-in (weaker skilled opposition) in its place. Furthermore, I do not play poker unless I absolutely want to. It is so easy to go into "zombie" mode and just keep registering for tournaments, even when you are clearly not playing well. Taking breaks (whether 15 minutes, 15 hours or 15 days; it's a personal decision) is a must. I can credit breaks for saving tens of thousands of dollars.
PokerTips.org: What role do you anticipate playing in this year's WSOP?
Engel: Well, I had anticipated playing tons, but it's about half way through and I've only played two events (no results). So we shall see, but I do plan on playing more. A bracelet would obviously be sweet.
PokerTips.org: What do you enjoy doing away from the tables?
Engel: Of course, I go on vacations, work half-schedule, etc, but my normal day involves very little time away from poker.
PokerTips.org: Describe some of the weaknesses in your poker game.
Engel: There are way too many to list here. Poker is all about balance, and that's something I'm working on.
PokerTips.org: What sounds more preferable to you between having an enormous bankroll and being almost entirely unknown or having a somewhat meager bankroll but being a well known "pro" with a several TV appearances?
Engel: I'd prefer anonymity and cash. I like the idea of a being well-known "pro" because of the potential for endorsements, but I have no interest in being recognized when I go for a slice of pizza.
PokerTips.org: Do you have any goals for yourself in the poker world?
Engel: Yes, to try to play my "A game" at least 80% of the time.
PokerTips.org: Finally, what are some typical mistakes that keep mediocre tournament players from being at the top level?
Engel: Not enough out-of-the-box thinking. Creativity is a hugely undervalued aspect of tournament success.