Jonathan Hilton stands on top of the tens of thousands of players who entered events during the 2013 WSOP Circuit season as the winner of the National Championship. The invitation-only event changed locations in 2013 from Las Vegas to New Orleans and attracted a field of 127 of the 200 players eligible to enter. Hilton earned an at-large bid into the event after an eight-cash, five-final table and one-win effort throughout the 2012-13 season. He earned under $90,000 grinding the Circuit during his first year of full-time action and his success rewarded him handsomely with $355,599, the second-largest tournament score of his career.
According to the WSOP, Hilton defeated Max Steinberg heads-up for the title to earn the bracelet that barely eluded him during the 2012 WSOP when he finished second to Dominik Nitsche in Event 59.
"This means a lot more to me now because I got second in a bracelet event last year. It was right there in front of me and I really thought I was going to win, but didn't," said the 23-year-old after his victory. "I think now it feels better than had I won it the first time, because I've been thinking about this all year. It's really hard to get heads-up for a bracelet again, so it's pretty amazing I have the second place finish at one of the last tourneys last season and a win here as the first one this year. Pretty amazing."
Hilton entered the final table fourth in chips, trailing bracelet winners Brock Parker and Steinberg and 2012 October Niner Jeremy Ausmus. Coming off strong performances earlier this year at the WSOP-APAC and a recent Venetian Deep Stacks main event, Ausmus was ousted first at the final table as he failed to hit his draw after moving all-in holding 6-6 against Robert Panitch's J-J on a 4-5-7 flop. Parker eliminated Nicolas Vaca-Rondon in seventh and WPT champion Joe Tehan went out in sixth.
After a big three-way pot six-handed, Steinberg momentarily had the chip lead. Hilton got paid off after hitting a river flush, then eliminated Tim Bowman in fifth to move into the chip lead with four players remaining. Both Steinberg and Hilton began to separate their stacks from Parker's and Panitch's and in the span of a level or two, it quickly became a two-horse race. Steinberg eliminated Parker (A-8 over A-4), then Hilton knocked out Panitch (A-9 over 8-7) to force heads-up play began with Steinberg holding a slight edge.
It first appeared that Steinberg would be coasting to a second bracelet, but Hilton turned things around after getting down over 3-to-1 in chips. Hilton made a bold call for his tournament life with middle pair (10-8) on a K-10-4 flop and needed to fade a number of outs with Steinberg holding J-9. The turn and river ran clean and Hilton had completed the comeback.
Steinberg wouldn't go away and it really was a battle. With stacks nearly even, Hilton opened, Steinberg three-bet and Hilton called. The flop came K-10-8, a dream for Hilton who held top two (K-10). Steinberg bet with his open-ended straight draw (J-9) and Hilton, hiding his strength, made the call. The turn ace promped an all-in from Steinberg and a quick call from Hilton, who had his read and went with it. Another ace fell on the river and Hilton had become the National Champion.
After his victory, Steinberg celebrated momentarily, then headed outside where his wife and daughter waited patiently for the results.
"Even if I did not win this tournament I would still be the most blessed man out there," he said.
The National Championship awarded 100 seats based on play during the WSOP Circuit season and allowed the top 100 in the WSOP player rankings to buy into the event for $10,000. In 2012, 57 of the eligible players bought in compared to the 27 during the third installment of the National Championship. Only three players, Charles Moore, Kyle Cartwright, and Kurt Jewell, have qualified in each of the past three seasons.
Below are the complete results of the 2013 WSOP National Championship:
WSOP National Championship
Prize pool: $1,270,000
Players in the money: 16
1. Jonathan Hilton ($355,599)
2. Max Steinberg ($219,799)
3. Robert Panitch ($156,743)
4. Brock Parker ($114,008)
5. Tim Bowman ($84,544)
6. Joe Tehan ($63,894)
7. Nicolas Vaca-Rondon ($49,187)
8. Jeremy Ausmus ($38,570)
9. Austin Apicella ($30,785)
10. Pavlin Karakikov ($30,785)
11. Rex Clinkscales ($25,006)
12. Ashly Butler ($25,006)
13. Jarod Ludemann ($20,663)
14. Jim Willerson ($20,663)
15. Andrew Robinson ($17,374)
16. Sam Panzica ($17,374)