Justin Bonomo: Young pro, old games

Justin Bonomo
Justin Bonomo busted out of Event 48 on Day 1.

"Don't do it; your mom is watching," warns a chatterbox at the end of a table in Friday's $1,000 Deuce-to-Seven Triple-Draw Lowball w/Rebuys tournament. He is speaking to Justin Bonomo, who mulls over a call before mucking his cards.

Bonomo's mom is watching, her chair pulled to the rail to keep an eye on her son's game and lend him some words of encouragement at breaks.

If Mrs. Bonomo stands out, it's likely because she is younger than most of people competing in the event. While other barely legal Internet pros are sticking to the No-Limit Hold'em games, her 21-year-old son is quite possibly the youngest entrant in the outmoded event.

The same was true of this year's $50,000 H.O.R.S.E., where Bonomo was among - if not the - youngest entrants in the event. For those critics of Internet start-ups (ahem, T.J. Cloutier and Jennifer Harman before busting out on Day 3.

But he's not entirely shying from his roots: Bonomo's best finish this Series was fourth in the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em early in the series.

The Deuce-to-Seven event on Friday is a different story though. Despite sitting second in chips following the dinner break, Bonomo is hugging his mom goodnight barely more than a level later.

"I don't even know how to play that game," he admits minutes later. As he walks out of Amazon Room before discussing his run so far at his first-ever World Series of Poker, Bonomo reveals that he received just 30 minutes of instruction in Deuce-to-Seven prior to registering for the event.

So what happened there?

Yeah, I played the same hand 10 times. I started off drawing either two or three, caught a good card or two on the first draw so I was drawing one for both the second draw and the third draw and then I was something like one for 18 on that third draw and just never made a hand.

You said you're a newcomer to the game.

It's a pretty intuitive game though. I feel as though I was playing at least reasonably well.

I read on your blog that you like to play mixed games. Is this something you're trying to concentrate on to stay away from the No-Limit Hold'em?

At this point in the World Series most of the good mixed game events are over. But it's definitely something I was looking forward to for the World Series and it's definitely something I'm really going to work towards for next year.

I noticed you played your first live H.O.R.S.E. event in April. How did you have the confidence to play the $50,000 WSOP event?

Well, my first live H.O.R.S.E. tournament was the $3,000 tournament at Caesars and I chopped it heads-up. So obviously it's a tournament, so maybe I got lucky, but I feel like I'm a good player and it kind of gave me some confidence, I guess.

I spent some time discussing hands with my friends who are really good mixed game players and I learned a lot from them and I just feel like I'm a pretty good H.O.R.S.E. player.

Do you find many other young players who are so varied in their games?

No. Almost all the young players focus on No-Limit. Basically, all the fish play No-Limit, so if you want to play eight tables online it has to be No-Limit; all the other games, they're just not as popular. So I think it's the one area left where the old guys actually have the advantage. These are games that used to be spread 20 years ago. They used to be the most popular games. But I think it's just a matter of time before there are more Internet players who get good at these games.

Are you seeing more interest from Internet players in mixed games?

A little bit. It's a slow process though. I'd imagine that within a few years they will be a lot more popular.

Are you getting burnt out from all these games?

Yeah, I think today was my 23rd event; I could be off by one or two. Honestly, generally after a day I'm just looking forward to the next day. I really enjoy tournaments.

I heard you called the floor on Hellmuth the other day. What's the story?

Let me think how I want to answer that. (Bonomo pauses for a few seconds.) A lot of it was just for fun, to be honest. But he definitely was out of line. He said, "Fucking amateurs, raising every hand." And the thing that made it really bad was he wasn't in the hand. He didn't want me to steal the blinds. He wanted someone to play back at me. And I think that's wrong. He actually apologized to me later. He's definitely a very nice guy and we made up afterwards.

It was fun. I definitely would have enjoyed tilting him. I would have loved to see him receive a 10 minute penalty. But he's Phil Hellmuth. The floor people love him; he'd never get a penalty.

So you're sponsored by Bodog now. How did that come about?

I went into the final table of the $2,000 No-Limit with a third of the chips in play and more than double the guy in second. And my friend Chris Vaughn works for Bluff and he introduced me to some Bodog guys and they hooked me up.

How do you think you fit in with the Bodog image?

I don't know. What is the Bodog image?

The young bachelor, Calvin Ayre party-boy lifestyle, I guess.

I live two completely different lives. When I'm in L.A., I go out and party a lot; I love the nightlife scene there. But when I'm in Vegas or traveling to any tournament I'm super boring. I never drink. I never stay up late. I'm always super focused and I'm kind of a nit when it comes to getting enough sleep. I've got kind of a dual life going on there.

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His more than $700,000 in career tournament winnings suggest the system is working. Given his self-discipline, eagerness to learn, youthful energy and knack with a deck of cards and a stack of chips, Bonomo might be able to teach even the most weathered mixed game player some new tricks.

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