Sitting in second place on the all-time money list for live tournament winnings, Justin Bonomo is a poker phenomenon. At one point and at his busiest, it looked like he couldn’t lose. But who is Bonomo and how did he become such an incredible poker player?
We look back at the life and times of a bona fide poker idol – Justin Bonomo.
The Fateful Game
Justin Bonomo was always playing games as a kid and similarly to Bryn Kenney, who we also profiled in our Poker Idols series, went from playing Magic the Gathering to poker. That transition happened when Bonomo cold an online character of his in Everquest for $500, depositing the fund on Paradise Poker. Once online, Bonomo quickly ran up a $10,000 bankroll and was inspired by television broadcasts of World Poker Tour shows.
Unable to play in America due to his age, at the age of just 19, Bonomo was on the move, traveling to Aruba, Europe and further flung areas of the globe. Success was across the Atlantic, but arriving in France to play at EPT Deauville, he had no idea that he was about to break a record.
Building a Reputation
Bonomo arrived in France an unknown, but after a 4th placed finish in the EPT Deauville event, the Virginian became the youngest player to appear on a televised final table. Further success would quickly follow, with Bonomo cashing in PCA, Five Diaamond and WPT Events. Over the following years, Bonomowould win millions playing poker live, and while he didn’t enjoy the same success online, his live presence was enough to convince him to focus on the felt he could sit down at for real.
To date, Bonomo has won an astonishing 25 ranking tournament titles, with $49.1 million in winnings, the second largest total in poker history, behind only Bryn Kenney. With three WSOP bracelets, Bonomo’s many headlines have been dominated by his achievements at the World Series, but he has also made three WPT final tables and an EPT final table, though oddly has never won either of those tournaments’ Main Events.
The Superb High Roller
Bonomo had won big in tournaments for years, but in the past five years, he has completely changed the perception of super high roller events. No long for the pure elite, Bonomo’s profit in them has convinced players of excellent reputation to challenge themselves by playing against the very best and in doing so to such a complete extent himself, Bonomo has surely grown the game at this level.
Every elite player can aspire to ‘do a Bonomo’ in dominating a period of time, and there’s no doubt that he can handle the pressure. In total, 14 of his biggest 15 cashes have come in tournaments with a $50,000 or higher buy-in, with his victory in the $300,000-entry Super High Roller Bowl in 2018 leading many to christen it ‘The Year of Bonomo’.
All in all, Justin Bonomo cashed for over $25 million in the calendar year, an achievement which is both unprecedented and has never been repeated. Even in this day and age of super high rollers, it is unlikely to ever be repeated.
Winning ‘The Big One’
It was in 2018 that Justin Bonomo won the biggest title of his career, the Big One for One Drop, million-dollar entry event. Winning $10 million for taking the title in the 27-man event, what was even more impressive was the standard that Bonomo triumphed against at the final table. Byron Kaverman came 5th, Rick Salomon 4th, but in third place, Bonomo got the better of Dan Smith before completing the end boss challenge of toppling the ‘other’ phenom of the same poker period, Fedor Holz, heads-up.
In defeating Holz, Bonomo propelled himself past Daniel Negreanu to the top of the all-time money list, and while Bryn Kenney has edged past him in that list for now, Bonomo’s phenomenal record of cashing in poker tournaments in 2018 and 2019 suggests that in 2021, should live poker be back for real, he could still be one of the men to beat.
Justin Bonomo remains something of an enigma in his personal life, with many rumours around his lifestyle floating around like railbirds held back from the action by velvet rope. That, however, is where we’ll leave hearsay and circumstance. Bonomo the poker player is an idol to millions of players… a rightly so.