Justin Bonomo: Killing It In High Rollers Or Just Killing Them Altogether?

Martin Derbyshire July 20, 2018 2247 Reads
Justin Bonomo

Poker pro Justin Bonomo is having the kind of year that could render him responsible for the demise of big buy-in high roller events altogether. Unless the ego of those losing millions playing in the events won’t let them give up the dream that they could be next.

He got a win in the $300,000 buy-in 2018 Super High Roller Bowl as the 2018 World Series of Poker kicked off. Then another in the $1 million buy-in The Big One for One Drop as the 2018 WSOP came to a close.

In fact, Bonomo has earned an unprecedented $24,945,435 playing poker tournaments in 2018 so far. He’s now poker’s all-time leading money winner with $42,979,591 in career tournament earnings.

Bonomo won $15 million in the prestigious Super High Roller Bowl and Big One for One Drop tournaments alone. His other seven-figure scores this year include:

  • $1,077,800 for finishing second in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 buy-in Super High Roller
  • $4,823,077 for winning the HKD $2 million buy-in Super High Roller Bowl China in Macau

Plus, among his many six-figure scores this year are final table finishes or wins in another dozen events with buy-ins of $25,000 or more.

Killing it in high rollers

It’s no exaggeration to say Bonomo is killing it in high rollers. But is he actually killing high rollers? Has he had so much success that other players have decided they have no chance to compete?

Entry numbers are certainly down.

The WSOP claimed 30 players were confirmed to play in the $1 million buy-in The Big One for One Drop this year. However, only 27 showed up. In comparison, the first ever Big One for One Drop drew 48 entries in 2012. The event was held again in 2014 and drew 42 players.

That January PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $100,000 Super High Roller event he finished second in drew 48 entries, down from 58 in 2016.

To be fair, German high roller phenom Fedor Holz is probably more responsible for the downward trend. It’s no coincidence he finished runner-up to Bonomo in The Big One for One Drop this year.

In 2016, Holz cashed for $16.4 million in tournaments, the majority of which were of the high roller variety. Holz has a stable of other German pros he reportedly swaps with. They were so dominant in high roller events, they forced the rest of the high roller community to rethink their strategy. For some, that obviously meant dropping out of the scene compeletely.

Being even bigger, the year Bonomo is having could very well have a similar effect.

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A zero-sum game

The fact is, poker is more or less a zero-sum game. That means all $24,945,435 won by Bonomo this year has been lost by other players.

Can the high roller scene really sustain itself if just one or two players are winning all the money? Logic would dictate it can’t. In fact, it would dictate most losing players will ultimately drop out of the scene if current trends continue.

Fewer players will mean smaller prize pools. Eventually, even players like Bonomo and Holz will realize the amount of money risked isn’t worth the reward.

However, just as it did in the wake of Holz’ magnificent 2016, logic may prove to have very little do with what high-stakes tournament players are doing. Most are driven by ego instead.

Even though their money may still be there, the number of entries coming in high rollers from people outside of pro poker circles has plummeted since 2016. However, there’s still a group of professional players throwing good money after bad trying to match what Fedor pulled off.

Now that Bonomo has done him one better, will the ego of the average high roller allow them to give up the dream that they could be next?

Lead image courtesy of Tomas Stacha/PokerStars

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