“You belong, bro, you belong!” Jason Koon chimed in during our interview with Ben Yu, moments before the final table of the $25,000 Poker Masters Event #5 kicked off on PokerGO.

Yu was in the middle of explaining how he’s been longing to belong at the highest stakes when it comes to No Limit Hold’em tournaments, and that his recent four-month string of strong results have helped him not only survive the swings and make money, but it’s also added a layer to his confidence necessary to compete with the world’s best.

Enamored by watching the World Series of Poker on TV, Yu set out to compete in the most revered tournament series in the world, and in 2008 he managed to notch up his first cash in the $1,500 Limit Hold’em shootout. In the years that followed Yu added results, final tables and plenty of close calls to his resume in formats such as H.O.R.S.E., 8-Game, Omaha hi/lo, Seven Card Stud hi/lo along with the occasional No Limit Hold’em result.

Known as a mixed game player, Yu finally made his dream come through of becoming a World Series of Poker champion when he took down the $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship in 2015 for $291,456. In 2017, Yu followed that result up by winning the $10,000 2-7 Triple Draw Championship, but it took until this past July before he made his mark in the eyes of the No Limit Hold’em tournament scene when he beat one of the toughest fields of the summer by taking down the $50,000 No Limit Hold’em High Roller for $1.6 million.

With this marquee win, Yu more than doubled his previous biggest result, outlasting big names such as Nick Petrangelo, Isaac Haxton and Igor Kurganov at the final table. But despite performing consistently for more than a decade in a variety of games and formats, Yu sees the game of poker at the highest limits as a never-ending quest to improve, both mentally and technically, and during the Poker Masters he’s showing off once again that he’s doing very at both crucial aspects of the game.

“No Limit Hold’em high rollers have been a growing thing since about 2012 and back then I didn’t have the tools to be able to play these events. My No Limit and tournament game weren’t good enough, but I really wanted to be there among the best. I still don’t think I’m at their level yet, but I’m very happy to be able to compete against them.”

Internal Poker Mind Games

Through study, practice, and with help from his good friends and renowned high stakes No Limit Hold’em players such as Isaac Haxton and Sam Greenwood, Yu built a strong foundation to be able to mix it up with the best, soaking up both their poker and life advice to expand his horizons.

“I’ve been on the fringes of the high stakes tournament community for a while, and I kept telling myself that I wanted to be there and I kept working hard at it, and now here we are. I still feel like I have a lot of work left to do and a long road ahead of me, but it just makes me happy to be on the precipice of it right now.”

Despite carrying results and confidence, Yu still often takes a step back when he talks about playing at the highest stakes on whether or not he truly sits among the best. Referencing short-term variance, getting lucky and tricking his brain into believing that he’s playing great, Yu’s seemingly still flip-flopping on the thought of belonging.

“I’ve had four months of good results, but I still make a lot of mistakes. I’m not as great as some of these guys are.”

Yu made the final table of Poker Masters Event #3 where he finished in third place for $148,000, but even in reflecting on that result, a big mistake he made stood out as a thorn in his side.

“It’s so easy for your brain to trick yourself in this game into thinking that you’re great. At that final table I made a big mistake, but immediately after I was knocked out I felt great and had a lot of confidence before thinking about what happened and remembering the mistake I made.”

Ben Yu is here to stay at the highest stakes and he’s a strong contender to capture another major title in 2018 as he’s charging up the Poker Masters Purple Jacket standings with his second final table run. But what is it ultimately about for him? It’s not the money, the trophies or the fame, it’s all about competing.

“The money is nice, it’s important to, but a lot of my preparation is making sure that I can play well enough to at least be breakeven. From there, I take it to the next level and treat that next step as a learning experience. At the end of the day, I mostly just want to be there and compete.”

Watch the Poker Masters action on PokerGO with commentary provided by Ali Nejad and Jeremy Ausmus daily through Sunday, September 16. Stay tuned to PokerCentral and PokerGO on Twitter for the latest information on the events, feature interviews, stories, and videos.

Jason Koon, Ben Yu