Former National Champ Jonathan Hilton Inching Toward November Nine

Jonathan Hilton won the National Championship in 2013 and disappeared from poker. Now he's back and deep in the Main Event.

Jonathan Hilton won the National Championship in 2013 and disappeared from poker. Now he’s back and deep in the Main Event.

Jonathan Hilton was on top of the world a little over two years ago. He won the 2013 National Championship in New Orleans, a WSOP  bracelet and a bankroll-boosting $355,599 – a big deal for a someone that cut his teeth on $300 tournaments.

It should have been the moment that launched him to a different stratosphere. Instead, tragedy struck and changed the path of his career. Hilton only registered a handful of cashes since then. “I haven’t really played since the National Championship. I had some family emergency problems,” he said. “My mom passed away just over a year ago and I was at home taking care of her and family stuff before that.”

Hilton spent a good deal of time at home in Tennessee caring for his mother and then grieving after. Only recently did Hilton return to the game, but it didn’t come easy for him. “I thought I’d be able to pick it (tournament poker) right back up, but I played the Cherokee WSOP Circuit stop back in April and it was my first live tournament (in almost a year).”

“I forgot how long it had been. I thought I could just jump back in because it’s my arena, but I had to adjust because the game’s changed a bit,” Hilton added. “I was playing a couple of cash games back home but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the adjustments I had to make. I had the whole summer to adjust and messed up a couple big spots late in tournaments and I realized, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not 2013.’ I just had to progress with it.”

After a summer of getting back ahead of the curve Hilton is deep in Day 5 of the 2015 WSOP Main Event with nearly 2 million chips. “My morning has been good, we started off really good. I had 1.6 at the beginning, picked up aces and few other small pots and it feels good.”

Hilton has felt the effects of playing the game full time. “I’m loving the grind again, sometimes you have to put your body through some work but it’s rewarding.”

Hilton feels the physical grind of the Main Event wearing on him and fortunately his roommate Sterling Savill is also still in the tournament.  “We’re wiped out after we get up to the room and I can’t keep my eyes open for more than an hour,” said Hilton. “I’ll take a shower and it’s lights out for me. Then I’ll wake up and jump in the shower to wake myself up and get back down here. There’s no time for anything else.”

Hilton is fully aware of the enormity of his position on Day 5. “No matter how deep I finish, it’s a win for me, this is my first Main Event cash,” he said. “The first time I played I made Day 3 and was sure I was going to cash, but then I lost a big pot and was out. Ever since then I would bust on Day 2 or Day 1 and thought to myself, ‘I don’t have it for the Main, it’s just not in the cards for me.'”

The past two years of struggle weren’t lost on Hilton, he’s grown and matured in a way that only tragedy can shape a person. “I just feel blessed to be out here. After everything that happened with my mom, I see things a little differently,” he said. “The money is cool and I’d love to win it all, but I’d really like to make a real deep run – go from National Champion to World Champion.”

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Paul Oresteen

Senior Writer: Paul Oresteen originally joined BLUFF in 2008 as an intern. He covered two World Series of Poker’s before leaving to join After a two year hiatus Oresteen returned to BLUFF in November 2012. Since starting as a poker journalist Oresteen has covered the World Series of Poker, WSOP Circuit, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour. He graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Communications in 2008.
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