- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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The past month has been filled with good times for Blair Hinkle. First, after waiting more than two years, the wheels are finally in motion for him to reclaim his seven figures stuck on Full Tilt since Black Friday. The Garden City Group, the organization that is assisting the asset forfeiture unit of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the asset forfeiture and money laundering section of the United States Department of Justice, will start accepting petitions for remission on Sept. 16. At the time of his repayment, Hinkle would become a millionaire once again.
The only problem was that Hinkle didn't want to wait any longer to fill his bank account and, conveniently, one of the largest main events ever was about to kick off the new poker season.
The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship boasted a guarantee that is essentially unheard of these days: $10 million. Now, there are only a handful of events that get close to that number throughout the year, and putting it in August right after the WSOP seemed like a real challenge. With a $5,300 buy-in ($300 in fees), event organizers needed to hit the magic number of 2,000. With re-entries, it seemed possible to achieve, and with growing buzz surrounding the event for months, the players came through and all expectations were exceeded. A total of 2,384 entries created an $11.9 million prize pool, and it was Hinkle who outlasted them all to earn $1.7 million, his first career seven-figure live score.
According to the Seminole Hard Rock, the final table began with four eliminations in the first 58 hands. Greg Lehn (sixth), Samuel Bernabeau Guilabert (fifth), Ray Qartomy (fourth) and Mukul Pahuja (third) each turned their investments into at least $378,138, and once Pahuja was sent home, Hinkle and Justin Bonomo would settle in for a five-hour, 165-hand heads-up battle with a total of $2.9 million still up for grabs.
Hinkle began the match with a few million-chip edge, but given that the two had played extensively against each other in the past, that advantage was far from comforting. Once the cards were back in the air it was all Bonomo. He earned the lead quickly and peaked near a 5:1 edge. From that point, it seemed like a rinse and repeat. Hinkle would chip away to nearly even through smart, timely aggression and just when he was about to seize control, Bonomo would put the hammer down and take the lead once again.
Each time around it seemed that Bonomo's lead was simply insurmountable … but Hinkle never gave up. He earned his first double up with A-A against Q-9 to get back into it after 120 hands, but once again Bonomo was relentless and moved closer and closer to victory. After 200 hands, Hinkle's turning point finally arrived and at the perfect time with the blinds creeping higher. Down 3:1, Hinkle's 6-6 held all-in against Bonomo's 2-2 and just hands later, he had the lead. After a few hours of Bonomo's aggression rewarding him, Hinkle began to add pressure postflop to win some big pots and earn a little bit of breathing room. A 3:2 lead became a 6:1 lead in eight hands and Hinkle would score the win on the 223rd hand of the night as Bonomo moved all-in with Q-8 on a Q-9-5-J board and was drawing dead against Hinkle's K-10.
"It's a grind, especially with Justin being so good," Hinkle said of the heads-up match to the Seminole Hard Rock. "He just kept on putting pressure on me, and I kept waiting, and eventually the cards turned my way."
Hinkle, a bracelet winner in 2008, was supported by his friends and family, who continue to be amazed by his accomplishments.
"I am so proud of Blair for his win at SHRPO, but moreso for the character he's shown the last few years while dealing with a tough situation that was out of his control. He's shown nothing but class and has battled back without taking any shortcuts," said Blair's brother and bracelet winner Grant Hinkle to ESPN via Twitter. "The win was just the icing on the cake and validation of all the work he's put into the game of poker."
Bonomo, who initially wasn't planning on playing this event, just the $100,000 Alpha8, earned $1,163,500 to give him $7.1 million in career tournament earnings. "TY so much tweeps!! This is the biggest score of my poker career!," Bonomo tweeted as his timeline was flooded with messages of congratulations.
Here are the final table results from the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship Event:
1. Blair Hinkle ($1,745,245)
2. Justin Bonomo ($1,163,500)
3. Mukul Pahuja ($872,625)
4. Ray Qartomy ($639,925)
5. Samuel Bernabeau Guilabert ($494,490)
6. Greg Lehn ($378,138)
Small blinds: November Niners offered a strong performance at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open. In the $5,300 event, Amir Lehavot finished 16th for $69,810 and in the $100,000 World Poker Tour Alpha8 debut, JC Tran finished second to Steven Silverman for $526,890. Silverman topped the 21-entry field for $891,660. Jeff Gross and Matt Glantz finished third and fourth. … Poker legend Bobby "The Wizard" Hoff died Sunday at age 73. "So sad to hear about Bobby Hoff. He was a true NL artist + always such a pleasure to see at + away from the tables. #RIPwizard," Erik Seidel said on Twitter. … The poker room at Maryland Live casino is buzzing after opening. … Real money online poker is coming to Delaware in October. … Promotion for Runner Runner has begun, and the AGA is hoping to use the movie as a motivator for legalizing the online game. … The World Championship of Online Poker begins on Sept. 8. … And finally... sorry Carter Gill, but you have replaced Mike McClain as the new face of WSOP agony.