Thirty-two year old quantum physicist Michael Binger has moved his theories to poker and it’s working out rather well for him. He is dominating the tournament circuit with eight cashes in last year’s WSOP, a win in the $1500 LAPC event, then 2nd in the Foxwoods $2000 event and another big win at the Bellagio World Championship in the $5000 NLH event.
KL: How do you go from theoretical physics to poker?
Michael: Well it wasn't a smooth, clean transition. I started playing poker seriously early in graduate school in 2001-2002 and balanced poker and my research for several years before finally finishing my degree. I took 15 months off grad school from summer 2002- fall 2003 and played poker full time (mostly limit hold ‘em at first then later NL and tournaments). After returning to grad school in the fall of 2003, I found it challenging to strike the right balance. I would go weeks playing a lot of poker and getting no physics done, and vice versa. In the fall of 2005, I realized that I needed to focus entirely on physics for a while to finish my PhD that year.
I worked relentlessly on physics without playing hardly any poker for six months. In that time I did more good research than I had done in the preceding six years of grad school. After defending my dissertation in April of 2006, I knew I wanted to pursue poker with the same single-minded dedication, at least for a while. So I immediately started reading and re-reading some of my poker books, playing a lot more, and focusing on the upcoming WSOP. It was gratifying to do so well.
KL: Does any of your college education apply and assist you with your poker game?
Michael: I've always been analytical and that certainly helped me in learning poker. The probabilistic and statistical aspects of the game came naturally to me given my background in math and physics. However, you don't need a college education to learn to play poker well... Perhaps my years in grad school spending all day working on arcane math and physics problems helped hone my patience and mental discipline... both of which are essential to playing winning poker.
KL: You have sick records already - WSOP cashes, prelim wins, Main Event final table. What is your biggest poker goal?
Michael: Just like most people, I want to win all the big events, win lots of bracelets, WPT titles, POTY, etc. I am just really focused now on playing my A+ game every tournament and hopefully good things will follow. So far, I haven't had much success in main events (except 2006 WSOP). I hope to make some big, main event final tables this year and perhaps take one down.
KL: You were pretty new to poker when you made the Main Event final table - tell us about that. What was it like? What were you thinking?
Michael: Well, I was certainly unknown to the tournament poker community and the poker media but I had been playing professionally full time or part time since early 2002. It was exciting when I did my first interview (I think after the day we finished with five tables left and I was one of the chip leaders) but I was so focused and in the zone that I tried to not let the building media circus get to me.
KL: What was Jamie Gold like, playing against him?
Michael: I didn't play against him until the final table, where he was obviously an overwhelming chip leader. He kept the pressure on the short stacks and ran good also.
KL: If you could, would you change anything about the way you played at that final table?
Michael: Yes, two hands. First, immediately after doubling up through Allen (when I hit my double gutter with A-10), the next hand I was in BB and called Paul's button all-in with A-9. Paul had A-J and I lost back what I had just made. I should have known Paul was not getting out of line there. Also, when we were 3 or 4 handed, there was a hand where I folded 3rd pair to Jamie when he bet the river (and after he flashed me the ). I was thinking to myself "I have to call" but then suddenly mucked my cards, I think due to fatigue. Jamie showed a bluff.
KL: You took 2nd a couple months ago in a Foxwoods prelim event. Tell us a little bit about that tournament leading up to the final table.
Michael: The $2000 buy-in event was a great tournament for me from the beginning. I ran better than I ever have, and subsequently had a massive chip lead for most of the tournament. For much of the event, I had almost double the chips of the next biggest stack! What pure poker joy! Anyway, I made the final table as chip leader, but doubled-up Hevad Khan with 7 people left when I made a play that went wrong. This left me crippled with about 160k, but I moved and grooved my way back into some more chips.
KL: What is your favorite thing about poker?
Michael: The freedom the lifestyle grants and the fascinating nature of the game. You can always learn more and improve your game.
KL: What are you upcoming poker plans?
Michael: Getting ready for the WSOP!!!