Winning a $10,000 buy-in world championship event comes with a certain amount of additional prestige. The fields are smaller, but a victory truly means that you beat the best of the best. Russian businessman Alex Bilokur already had the money. What he didn't have was the gold bracelet. He plays in high roller events around the world for the thrill of the game, and over the weekend, he earned the biggest thrill of all with a victory in Event 28, the pot-limit hold 'em world championship.
"It was my dream [to win]," Bilokur said to the WSOP. "It's been my dream for a long time."
Bilokur had his challenges as he faced a final table that included Chino Rheem, Barny Boatman, Todd Brunson, Matt O'Donnell, Alex Venovski, Ismael Bojang, Pratyush Buddiga and Richard Lyndaker. Rheem held the lead to start the final table, but lost it to Bilokur during the second orbit of play. Boatman, Lyndaker and Buddiga fell early, as O'Donnell thrived. Venovski avoided the straight draw of Brunson to reduce the field to five, and Bilokur made it four when he knocked out Bojang, who failed to gain any momentum on the final day.
Looking for his first WSOP win, Rheem's quest ended when his K-Q flopped K-Q-J and he called all-in against O'Donnell's J-J. O'Donnell continued to coast three-handed, and flopped a straight with 10-8 to end Venovski's tournament and set up what looked like a painless heads-up match for the Florida pro.
Down nearly 9:1 in chips, Bilokur's prospects looked bleak. Unfazed by the challenge at hand, he chipped away and was quickly only down 4:1. Then came a double up, then another, then a few more pots and to everyone's shock, Bilokur was in the lead. With the edge, Bilokur put the pressure on and brilliantly caught O'Donnell making a move with 10-high. A few hands later, the chips went in on a 9d-8d-2c flop. O'Donnell held A-Q while Bilokur was drawing very live with Qd-Jd. A 9s on the turn didn't help Bilokur. The 7d on the river did, and the comeback was complete.
"I've never considered myself a professional poker player," said Bilokur. "I just really love this game and I like tough competition."
This was Bilokur's second major tournament win of the year and third six-figure score in 2014. He has $3.3 million in live tournament earnings ... not bad for an "amateur."
Below are the complete results of Event 28 at the 2014 World Series of Poker:
Event 28: Pot-limit hold 'em world championship
Prize pool: $1,504,000
Players in the money: 18
1. Alex Bilokur ($398,567)
2. Matthew O'Donnell ($246,310)
3. Alexander Venovski ($178,434)
4. Chino Rheem ($131,705)
5. Ismael Bojang ($98,978)
6. Todd Brunson ($75,681)
7. Pratyush Buddiga ($58,851)
8. Richard Lyndaker ($46,533)
9. Barny Boatman ($37,389)
10. Dan Shak ($30,516)
11. Erik Seidel ($30,516)
12. Scott Seiver ($30,516)
13. Keith Tilston ($25,327)
14. Humberto Brenes ($25,327)
15. John Juanda ($25,327)
16. Don Nguyen ($21,341)
17. Dani Stern ($21,341)
18. Anthony Ruberto ($21,341)