Above the rest
If you took a popularity poll among railbirds (those who observe online games and tournaments and often chat while watching their favorite players), Kevin "BeL0WaB0Ve" Saul might very well win the Most Popular Player vote. Known for being very amiable and accessible to even micro-limit players who want to say "Hi," Kevin has developed a reputation that always puts him in the limelight of any tournament he is playing.
As for his ability, there are few in the poker community who will argue that Kevin is one of the greatest online tournament players of all time. He plays an astounding number of tournaments and has been winning at the high-level buy-ins for years. He recently took a position as one of the lead teachers at www.pokerxfactor.com, where he produces videos and answers questions from PXF members in their forums.
Saul recently met incredible live success, winning the main event at the WPT Bellagio Cup in July for over $1.3 million. Bluff caught up with Saul while he was playing several online multitable tournaments. It doesn't take long to realize that he's the sort of person who is almost always multitasking and probably feels most comfortable doing so.
Bluff: What's up, Kevin? How was your summer? Did the World Series of Poker go all right for you?
Kevin Saul: I played about a dozen preliminary events as well as the main event. After missing the money in my first nine or so tournaments, I cashed in two of my last three. I got 38th in a $2,000 no-limit event and number 60-something in the $1,000 no-limit rebuy event.
Saul: I think I was playing well live all summer. Some of the tournaments were just early exits, and in a couple I got big stacks but then spewed chips playing sloppy and missed the money. But for the most part I was playing really well the real confidence boost came when I finally cashed in a $2,000 no-limit event. It was my first cash after three years of playing in the WSOP. I had gone about 35 events without cashing. I grinded a short stack most of the tournament and then just crushed the bubble and it was smooth sailing from there.
Bluff: In what is an extremely rare feat, you went wire-to-wire to win the WPT Bellagio Cup. You were actually the chip leader at the end of every day, going to the final table with a massive chip lead of $4.2 million to second place's $1.8 million. We know you have a reputation for building big stacks in online tournaments, and obviously every player wants to have a chip stack like that. Do you feel most comfortable in situations where everyone is looking up and aiming for you?
Saul: I'm comfortable with a huge stack or a short stack, preferably 8-10 BBs [big blinds]. The stack I most hate to play is the mid stack between 15-20 BBs, which is actually pretty common in a lot of online tournaments.
There have actually been three memorable live tournaments where I've had absolutely huge stacks like the one at the Bellagio, usually from aggressive play on the bubbles. I actually find that the other players don't "go after me" but rather avoid me at almost all costs unless they have big hands.
Bluff: Last month, we spoke with Sorel "Imper1um" Mizzi, and he mentioned that his online reputation created some interesting situations for him in live tournaments. Being one of the most recognizable online personalities, do you feel that there are situations in live tournaments where "live pros" might make strange plays at you having heard about your style of play on the Internet?
Saul: I don't think a lot of the live pros recognize the online superstars, but some definitely know who we are. For example, I met Greg Mueller the night before my WPT final table at the Rio, and he didn't know me from John Doe. On the contrary, in the WPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $2,500 no-limit event last January, I made a pretty questionable play in the early levels versus Barry Greenstein when I got all-in with 7-7 vs. his A-A on a 10-6-3 flop and then cracked his aces. The table was kind of shocked at my play, but Barry went on to defend me, saying I was "BeL0WaB0Ve," a great tournament player who knew what he was doing.
In general I have more problems with other young Internet kids knowing who I am but not wanting to reveal their online aliases, leaving me to wonder who they are and how much they know about me. I think the live pros look at young kids at the table and automatically assume they are aggressive and insane, especially when [the kids] are dressed in hooded sweatshirts. I've switched it up a bit and have been wearing collared shirts and dressing nice. I feel like it gets me more respect in the early levels.
Bluff: OK, let's talk a bit about the final table. Going in, you must have felt great. You were the easy favorite to take down a very difficult table. But things didn't go so well, and very early on you found yourself at the bottom of the chip counts after having a big lead. What was going through your head when you were all-in, looking at a potential sixth-place finish?
Saul: I definitely went into the final table way too cocky. It was like I had already won the tournament and the money was waiting in my account. After doubling up Danny Wong, I really pressed to win a pot, and they all played great and wouldn't let me. All I wanted to do was win one pot. Finally I doubled through Shane "shaniac" Schleger on an 8-7-x board with two diamonds, holding the J-10 of diamonds. I was definitely thinking I was about to become the biggest joke in WPT history, and what made me sick was that I knew Shane had nothing, but my jack high couldn't win at showdown. I took a minute before calling, realizing I'd never fold there in an online tourney, so I'm not folding at a WPT final table. If I bust sixth, then so be it, but if I win I would be able to right the ship and be back in contention for the title.
Bluff: So, you are about to make a WPT televised table, and your reputation online is for being very personable and often outspoken, especially with the railbirds, but often with other players too. You had to know Mike Matusow was going to be ready to jab at you a bit. Were you prepared for his remarks, be it about the Internet or whatever? Did you go back at him, or did you decide to stay quiet and take a different approach?
Saul: A definite mistake I took in my approach to the final table was that with Mike at the table I wanted to make it the greatest entertainment TV table ever. After I went from first to last in chips, then doubled back up, I decided I needed to shut up and just focus on playing cards. There was some table banter between all of us, but not as much as I expected going in. Late in Day 2, Mike saw me handle myself very well when a guy cracked my K-K with Q-J off-suit all-in preflop. The guy was relentlessly talking mad shit, but I didn't let it affect me. I'm pretty sure Mike knew he wouldn't be able to talk me off my game so much after that.
Bluff: So you win, and it's obviously very emotional and exciting to win such a big tournament. How did that carry over after? Did you go celebrate?
Saul: That night about a dozen friends and I got a table at Light at Bellagio to celebrate. My mom and step-dad spent Monday in Vegas hanging out before flying home on Tuesday. The whole experience was quite surreal, and I took a whole week off from poker before coming back to make sure I was focused, and also to just enjoy a little break and spend time with some friends.
Bluff: What was the first thing you bought for yourself afterward?
Saul: Actually, the only thing I've bought for myself so far was a ballin' watch so I could try and hang with Jared "TheWacoKidd" Hamby in the "ballin' watch department." It's a Movado and was definitely an impulse buy that I put very little research into.
Bluff: What lies in the immediate future for you? Has your life changed since the win? Do you feel like everything is uphill from here?
Saul: I hope it's all uphill from here. It doesn't really change me much, but it will add some comfort and stability to my life for sure.
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