LAS VEGAS -- Winning any one of the three biggest high-roller poker tournaments of the year would be a standout accomplishment for any player. Two such titles would be borderline unthinkable coming into this year.
On Tuesday night, Justin Bonomo sealed the best year of high-roller results that any tournament poker player has ever had by winning the World Series of Poker's $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop and its $10 million first-place prize.
"Disbelief. Happiness. All over the place," Bonomo said of his emotional state following the victory. "The adrenaline has been going through me like crazy."
With that payday, in addition to his Super High Roller Bowl wins in China in March and Las Vegas earlier this summer, Bonomo pushed his winnings for the year to just shy of $25 million, which moved him past Daniel Negreanu for the top spot on the all-time poker tournament money list with $42.98 million.
Though the total gross isn't quite an accurate tally of actual dollars pocketed, it is an indicator of how well Bonomo has played and how fortunate he has been to this point. His success earlier in the year allowed him to take a bigger piece of his own action, rather than relying on others to invest a bigger stake in his buy-in. With this victory, Bonomo was able to repay the confidence of those willing to take a chance in staking him.
"Because of the wins this year, I absolutely do get to take bigger pieces of myself," said Bonomo. "This was a million-dollar buy-in, so I was not able to put up anywhere close to even half the money myself. It honestly made this even more special; I get to share this win with literally hundreds of people, because I sold action on the internet, as well. Also, some of my closest friends in the world who helped me prepare for this tournament [had pieces], and I'm so happy to give back to them."
Bonomo entered the final day of the tournament holding the chip lead, but it wasn't a smooth path to the title. Even after eliminating Dan Smith in third place, Bonomo was on the brink of losing the title early on in his heads-up match with eventual runner-up Fedor Holz -- only for his As-8h to beat pocket fours when an ace landed on the turn. From there, the heads-up match was on.
The match truly swung when Bonomo turned two pair with 8d-4d and called an all-in bluff from Holz to take a commanding heads-up lead. Holz doubled up twice, but with a third chance for Bonomo to knock Holz out of the tournament, Bonomo's As-Jd held against Holz's Ac-4s as the board ran out Ks-8s-3s-2c-Qd.
Two players knocked out on same hand of $1M buy-in tourney
At the final table of The Big One for One Drop, with a $1 million buy-in, Fedor Holz knocks out two players by hitting a set of 10s on the river.
Despite all his success this year, with the ESPN cameras running and so much on the line, Bonomo said he was feeling the nerves as the tournament wound down. Even so, he was well-prepared for this life-changing moment.
"It's more money than I ever played for in my life, so I buckled down," Bonomo said. "I studied. I took the day off the day before and just studied all day. Meditation every single day. I took this as seriously as I possibly could."
Holz earned $6 million in the Big One for One Drop, and he now sits fourth on the all-time tournament money list.
Before anyone could get paid at this final table, though, one player was going to walk away empty-handed after two-plus days of poker. Even with such a large buy-in, a $2 million bubble is no joke by any stretch.
Hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who poker fans will remember from his deep run in the 2006 WSOP main event and the inaugural edition of the Big One for One Drop in 2012 (he finished third), was the odd man out in sixth place. The last of his chips went all-in with As-Qh on a 7c-5c-5h flop, and Bonomo's 7d-4h held.
Just two hands later, the field dropped from five players down to three, after one of the most dramatic hands you're likely to see on TV this year -- because of the stakes and the way the hand played out. Byron Kaverman went all-in for 8.025 million preflop. Holz called. Rick Salomon reraised all-in for 26.9 million, and Holz thought it over.
As Holz thought about the decision, Salomon accidentally exposed the Ah. After using up all of his time extension chips and two full minutes, Holz called. Salomon and Holz were virtually even in chips, with the winner taking the chip lead and the loser either out or virtually out.
The Ad-Ks-2c flop put Salomon well out in front, but the Qc turn turned everything on its head. Kaverman could hit a flush, which would split the chips multiple ways, and Holz could win the whole pot outright with a non-club jack or a ten. After a short pause, the dealer burned and put out the river.
It was the Td, giving Holz a set, the pot and the chip lead. Kaverman was eliminated in fifth place, earning $2 million, and Salomon was out in fourth for $2.84 million.
The Big One for One Drop drew 27 total players. Each player's $1 million buy-in directly benefits the One Drop Foundation's global efforts for clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. There's no rake or fees taken from that $1 million; instead, $80,000 from each buy-in is set aside as a donation to the foundation.