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Bonomo Breaks Through: "I Was on the Brink of Tears While Playing"
After years of coming up just short poker vet Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo finally took down his first WSOP gold bracelet after a thrilling match against Mike Sowers on Wednesday.
“Literally, I had told myself, ‘Just give up on the bracelet,’ focus on the other things, three days ago!” Justin Bonomo said. “To be here, just three days later and win a 1,600 player tournament doesn’t feel like real life. It’s incredible.”
On his fourth heads-up match for a WSOP bracelet, Justin Bonomo finally struck gold after defeating a field of 1,587 players in the $1,500 NLHE Six-Max.
The last player that stood in Bonomo’s way was Mike Sowers, who eliminated the majority of the players at the final table and started the heads-up match with a nearly 3.5-to-1 chip lead. It was the second time Bonomo was heads-up for a bracelet this week and the fourth time of his career.
“I was ecstatic that we got from 10 to 2 in two hours. Like, we were guaranteed $40K going into the day and all of the sudden I just sit back, play like no hands, I didn’t knock anyone out,” Bonomo said.
“And all of the sudden instead of being guaranteed $40K I’m guaranteed $280K. What more can I possibly ask for, Sowers just knocked out everyone out for me.”
Bonomo Survives Huge Swings Against Sowers
But that ecstasy of $280,000 was quickly replaced by bracelet hopes that Bonomo had so recently given up on.
Bonomo overcame the chip deficit and then nearly eliminated Sowers after hitting a straight on the river when Sowers had two pair.
That hand left Sowers with a handful of chips and Bonomo with a rush of emotions.
“This [was] one million X the most emotional heads-up match I’ve ever played in my life. Nothing will ever come close to this,” Bonomo said. “I just, you know, caught the miracle card on the river, had the win locked up and then it slipped away just as quickly as I hit that miracle card.”
Sowers then started to rebuild his stack after doubling up six times.
“The emotional swings I went through in those 20 minutes were just insane,” Bonomo said. “I probably aged 10 years from the stress of just 10 minutes.
“The thoughts going through my head were so incredibly pessimistic. I can’t tell you… I thought it was gonna be the worst story ever, about how someone gets four second places without ever getting a first. I was literally on the brink of tears while we were still playing.”
But that wouldn’t be Bonomo’s story today. In the last hand of the tournament, Bonomo and Sowers got it in on a 4♥ 8♥ 7♥ flop. Bonomo had a flush with 10♥ 3♥ while Sowers was hoping for a fourth heart with Q♥ 10♣.
The turn was a 9♦ and then an 8♣ came to end the tournament. Bonomo finally had his bracelet.
Bonomo: "I Got Incredibly Lucky"
“I’m super happy with how I played the tournament, a lot of people will go on a hot streak and say, ‘this is by far the best poker I’ve ever played in my life,” Bonomo said.
“But you know what, I got lucky. That’s what it comes down to. That 4 on the river versus Sowers was incredibly lucky and to attribute this to anything other than luck would just be super conceited of me.”
Bonomo’s luck has also put him in first place for WSOP player of the year. While Bonomo would enjoy taking that title, he’s not going to make it a priority.
“I was kind of debating, you know, should I work my butt off for WSOP player of the year? And you know, I’m at a point in my life where I’m happy with my poker career,” Bonomo said.
“My happiness is not going to come down to whether I win WSOP player of the year. [...] I’m sure that’s what people are wondering and no, I’m not aiming for that. If I win it, great. I’ll certainly try but that’s not, you know, priority number one or anything.
For now, Bonomo’s priority is to soak in his victory and relax a bit.
“Fortunately I have a great group of friends here that will hopefully help me relax, my heart’s still beating a million miles an hour,” Bonomo said. “I still can’t even talk straight at this point.”
One thing has settled in for Bonomo though, and that’s to always remember that it isn’t over until it’s over.
“When Sowers had four chips I started thinking, ‘I deserve this’ and then I lost five pots in a row..so...I’m not a superstitious person, but never think you deserve anything,” Bonomo said. “You know, work for it, never assume it’s going to come. Until it’s finally over, you don’t have it.”