ZeeJustin dishes on WSOP, Internet play

Justin Bonomo
ZeeJustin takes his play live.

Since turning 21, former online phenom Justin "ZeeJustin" Bonomo has made 12 major final tables and taken home over $1,162,000 in tournament winnings. Among those players who haven't won a major live tournament, he's certainly one of the most consistent high finishers on the tournament circuit today.

PokerListings spoke with Bonomo by phone this week about making the switch from online to live tournaments, the WSOP, and the best young players we'll be seeing this year.

Making the transition

Bonomo says that the transition to the live game from online has been an easy one. "It's the same game," he says. "I think online is a much better teaching tool in terms of the fundamentals and math, because you see so many more hands per hour. You have a larger sample size and you just learn so much quicker.

"There is also the psychological side of playing live, things like tells and not getting nervous. For me, I've been playing competitive Magic since I was 12 or 13, so a lot of my skills carry over from that."

But do all successful online players find the shift to live poker, the slower cousin of the online game, as effortless as Bonomo has?

"I think any of the most successful online players will find it just as easy, especially cash-game players," he says. "Some tournament players might run into problems just because they're used to playing with shorter stack sizes, and that situation doesn't come up as much live.

"Basically, anyone that plays a variety of games online and especially cash games will transfer over really well."

Who's next?

The last three years have seen the "youngest bracelet winner" mantle change hands annually, with Eric Froehlich, Jeff Madsen, and Bonomo's 2007 WSOP housemate Steve "MrSmokey1" Billirakis all taking their turns at the top. Billirakis' record might not be broken this year, given that he was only 21 years and 11 days old at the time of his win, but Bonomo says he wouldn't be surprised to see a few new players sporting some bling.

Tom Dwan
Rising stars include Tom "durrrr" Dwan.

"As far as 21-year-olds go, I think Tom 'durrrr' Dwan has a really good shot at winning a bracelet. He's a very strong player and he knows more than just Hold'em.

"David Benefield has also had some success on the tournament circuit, and he's due for a big win," says Bonomo.

Toward the end of the year, Bonomo says, there's one more player everyone should keep their eyes on. "Another guy who was living at our house (at last year's WSOP) who I have to predict a lot of success [for] is Ozzy 87," he says. "He won't actually be 21 until October, though, so he won't be playing at the WSOP."

Speaking of the WSOP…

"I don't think anyone's strong enough to say they're a favorite to win a bracelet, but I think I'm up there in terms of most likely players to win one," Bonomo says of this year's WSOP. "That's [by] far and away my No. 1 goal."

The path to that goal begins with playing 25 events, requiring a high level of dedication. So how does Bonomo plan to maximize his bracelet EV?

"One thing for me is that I play terribly if I get no sleep, so that's No. 1 for me, to try to get eight hours a night if possible," he says. "Eating healthy helps me maintain focus. Just trying to be happy - not having major life problems to focus on makes playing poker so much easier."

As far as the actual game itself is concerned, Bonomo says the cornerstone of his WSOP efforts will be constant analysis of his plays. "I'm very big on analyzing every single play, both when I'm at the table and when I'm done playing.

"I just want to make sure that if I'm making mistakes that I'm learning from every single one of them, and that I won't commit them in the future. That way I'm always learning and improving my game."

Bonomo hopes his new status as a Bodog Poker-sponsored pro will lead some of his opponents to making mistakes of their own.

"There's always the 'bust a pro' factor," he says. "That's one of the reasons Phil Hellmuth has a lot of success, because people see him on TV and just want to bust him. So I'm hoping I'll get some of that."

He says he's already experienced that to some degree at Bodog's Justin Bonomo cash table, where his status works to his advantage. "Whenever I play there, there's always people just going out of their way, throwing money at me and trying to take all my chips."

Besides the spending money from overzealous online opponents, there's one other big advantage his new sponsor gives Bonomo this summer.

"Team Bodog is superaccommodating to anything I need - whatever I need I just call them," he concludes. "They treat me like a superstar. I love the experience of being on the team so far."

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