Justin Bonomo has done almost everything a poker player could dream of. He’s played and won at the highest stakes cash games in the world, earned the respect of the best players in the game and racked up over $7.5 million in live tournament earnings.
A World Series of Poker gold bracelet, however, has found a way to elude the 28-year-old professional poker player. But after three career second place finishes at the WSOP, one of which coming just a few days ago in the $10,000 Deuce to Seven Triple Draw Championship event, Bonomo finally broke through.
Bonomo took home his first bracelet and $449,980 when he topped a field of 1,587 players in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em Six Max event at the 2014 WSOP.
“Literally I had told myself just give up on the bracelet and focus on the other things,” said Bonomo. “Three days ago I said that to myself. To be here this soon winning a 1,600 player tournament it just doesn’t feel like real life. It’s just incredible.”
Bonomo has always been one of the first names tossed around in the “Best Player Without a Bracelet” discussion, but he feels that he’s played his A-game for a while and that in this tournament, it came down to a little bit of luck.
“I got lucky,” said Bonomo. “That’s what it comes down to. That four on the river versus Sowers, that’s incredibly lucky and to attribute this to anything other than luck would be super conceited on my part.”
The day started at 1 pm PST with 10 players left in the hunt for a gold bracelet, but in just 15 minutes, the tournament saw players bust and the final table was set. It didn’t take long for the action to heat up at the final table either, with Taylor Paur and Daniel Strelitz all in and playing a pot for the chip lead just nine hands in.
It was a classic race situation with Paur showing QQ and flipping with Strelitz’s AK. The flop and turn were safe for Paur as the dealer spread a board of TT85, but Strelitz found the K on the river to send Paur home in sixth place and take a slight chip lead over Mike Sowers.
Sowers didn’t take long to get that chip lead back though. After a few orbits without playing a big pot, Niel Mittelman three-bet Sowers preflop and the two saw flop of 754. The two got the rest of Mittelman’s chips into the middle and Sowers was in big trouble. Mittelman tabled QQ and was in great shape against Sowers’ 99. The turn was the A, leaving Sowers with only one out, since the 9 would make Mittelman a flush. The dealer ripped off the 9 on the river though to give the pot to Sowers, who began to open up a sizable chip lead on the rest of the field.
Sowers continued his heater as he eliminated Lance Harris just a few hands later. Harris moved all in with JT and was behind Sowers’ AQ. The board ran out K9937 and Sowers’ ace-high held up to leave the tournament three-handed.
Sowers found himself on the right end of a cold-deck three-handed against Strelitz. Sowers six-bet all in preflop and got called by Strelitz. Sowers showed AA and Strelitz tabled QQ. There wasn’t much of a sweat as the dealer spread a flop of AKK, giving Sowers a full house and leaving Strelitz drawing to running queens. The turn was the 4 and Strelitz was officially drawing dead. Strelitz gathered his belongings as the meaningless 9 fell on the river and that left Sowers heads-up with Bonomo for the bracelet.
It took less than two hours to get from six down to the final two players and at the start of the match, Sowers held a better than three-to-one chip lead over Bonomo.
“Before we got heads-up, I was ecstatic at the fact that we went from 10 [players] to two in two hours,” said Bonomo. “We were guaranteed $40k going into the day and all of a sudden I just sit back, play like no hands, I didn’t knock anyone out and all of a sudden, instead of being guaranteed $40k, I’m guaranteed $280k. What more could I possibly ask for.”
Bonomo slowly chipped away at Sowers, however and trimmed that chip deficit to just over two-to-one without really going to showdown much or playing too many big pots. Soon thereafter, Bonomo found himself with the chip lead after he turned two pair and let Sowers bluff the river with a missed flush draw.
With Bonomo having taken a slight chip lead, the two traded small pots back and forth for a the better part of an hour before Bonomo delivered a big blow. With blinds at 15,000/30,000 with a 5,000 ante, Bonomo raised on the button to 75,000 and called a three-bet from Sowers. They saw a flop of J32 and Sowers bet 260,000 and got called by Bonomo. The turn was the 7 and Sowers bet 510,000. Bonomo called again and the river was the 4. Sowers moved all in and Bonomo snap-called. Bonomo tabled A5, giving him a wheel and took the pot as Sowers showed J2, good for two-pair.
The staff took a few moments to count down the chip stacks and after they verified how much was in each stack, Sowers was left with just 25,000, which was just under one big blind.
Sowers was left with literally a chip and a chair, but that didn’t stop him from trying to mount a comeback. He doubled up a few times and got back up to 100,00. After a few more all ins going his way, he worked his way back up to 600,000. He really started to make some waves after he put a brutal beat on Bonomo.
Sowers moved all in from the button for his last 600,000 and was snap called by Bonomo. Bonomo showed Ad9d and had Sowers’ Jd9h in bad shape. The flop was QQ5 and Bonomo’s ace-high was still in the lead. The turn gave Sowers a few more outs as the 8 peeled off. The crowd gasped as the T fell on the river to fill Sowers’ gutshot and took the pot to move back over 1.2 million.
“The thoughts going through my head were just so incredibly pessimistic,” said Bonomo about the string of double-ups for Sowers. “I thought it was going to be the worst story ever.”
Just four hands after Sowers had everybody thinking this could be a historic comeback, Bonomo found a way to put him away. Bonomo raised to 80,000 on the button and Sowers called. The flop was 874 and Sowers check-raised all in. Bonomo called and the cards were tabled. Bonomo had flopped a flush with his T3 and Sowers was looking to find another heart with his QT.
The turn was the 9, which kept Bonomo in the lead and the river was the 8 to give Bonomo his first career bracelet.
Here are a look at the results:
- Justin Bonomo – $449,980
- Mike Sowers – $278,518
- Daniel Strelitz – $180,587
- Lance Harris – $119,977
- Niel Mittelman – $80,341
- Taylor Paur – $55,703
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