Wednesday, June 8, 2016 9:59 AM Local Time
This is an astounding
story about an amazing poker player who somehow became a World Series of
Poker champion in the most unimaginable way possible.
It’s the story of one
man’s dream, his unwavering faith, his burning desire, and little bit of
luck along the way at just the right time. It’s a story that has
everything going for it making the tale not only compelling to follow,
but at times, even unbelievable. This is one of the most remarkable
stories of any tournament victory you will ever read.
Here it is.
Just a few months ago,
Benjamin Keeline was, by his own admission, flat broke. He had bills to
pay and they were stacking up. He had no money. That’s a big problem
not just in life, but especially for any poker player, for money is the
tool of the poker trade. When you’re out of money, you’re out of
Keeline turned to the
usual sources, but the same generous hands that once provided cash were
no longer in a position to make any kind of investment. Wells that once
ran over with trust and faith and support, were dry. It seemed to be
the end of the road. The upcoming 2016 WSOP on the horizon was the
farthest thing from Keeline’s mind. He appeared to be a defeated man,
destined to be one of the game’s burnouts – someone with obvious talent,
but in the end broken and destitute by the overwhelming odds against.
To his great credit,
Keeline made what turned out to be a wide and practical decision. He
buckled down his pride, suspended his poker playing at least
temporarily, and got a job. He began driving for Uber in and around
Boulder, Colorado. He found out the money was pretty good. The hours
provided him the freedom he enjoyed. Best of all, Keeline was able to
continue living a free-spirited independent lifestyle to which he’d
become well accustomed from his days spent as a full-time poker pro.
As for poker, Keeline
could very well have looked back on his tournament resume and taken
great pride. Poker is a tough game and the road can be even more of a
challenge, not just to the bankroll, but to one’s personal
relationships. The poker road can be a lonely one, as any family member
of a poker player knows.
A few years earlier, it
didn’t seem that way. Poker was exciting. Keeline had even earned a
WSOP Circuit gold ring, won at Horseshoe Hammond, near Chicago back in
2011. He’d posted nearly $400,000 in earnings over the past five years,
which sounds pretty good until one considers all those tournament
buy-ins that bore no dividends, the nagging travel expenses, and oh –
those pesky bills to pay back at home. No one, not even Keeline
himself, could have possibly foreseen any scenario where he would be
sitting onstage at the Rio in Las Vegas in what turned out to be the
second-largest poker tournament in history playing for a million
dollars. Those things just don’t happen – not in real life, they
don’t. They only happen in the movies.
But wait. There’s more.
Keeline came into
Colossus II with two bullets loaded and ready to fire. That meant he
could enter a couple of events. If he busted out twice, he’d pretty
much be on the rail, headed back to Uber. His first entry resulted in a
quick crash and burn. Keeline had just one more shot to fire.
When one considers the
vast number of entries in this tournament, a whopping 21,613 players,
the challenge becomes mind-boggling. It’s like playing through an
entire town’s population or outlasting the number of people who attend a
typical major league baseball game. It’s the stuff dreams are made of,
provided no one thinks you’re delusional.
Down to his last breath,
Keeline took a massive bad beat late on the first day of play, which
left him hanging on by a thread. On that wicked hand, he had pocket
kings snapped by pocket aces. Then, one hand later, Keeline was DOWN TO A SINGLE $500 CHIP WITH THE ANTES AT $500 AND THE BLINDS AT $1,500-$3,000.
Let those numbers sink in
for a moment. There were almost 109,000,000 chips in play at the
time. That’s 109 million. To win this tournament, Keeline would have
to gain possession of every single one of those chips, and somehow do
this all starting out with a single $500 chip.
This wasn’t an obstacle the size of a mountain. It was almost a virtual impossibility.
Of course, we know how
this tale ends…..it ends with Keeline’s hands shaking, in tears,
standing upon the glitzy ESPN stage surrounded by friends some five days
later, his girlfriend at his side, and the eyes of the poker world
wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure, a gold bracelet gets won
just about every day at the WSOP, sometimes two. But no one in a very,
very long time came from such a seemingly hopeless situation, in terms
of personal confidence and limited finances, not to mention a staggering
chip disadvantage and was able to dismiss all those disadvantages on
the way to an astounding accomplishment which arguably has no equal.
“I’ve had a really hard
time lately,” Keeline confided afterward, fighting back the tears. “I’m
elated. I can’t even think about what this means, not just the money,
but the gold bracelet. This is something I could not have imagined
would happen just a few days ago. Sure, I thought it could happen and I
thought I could win if I played well, but to have it go the way it
went, well – that’s more than I express how I feel right now. It’s
going to take some time for this to all sink in.”
Somewhere, the late Jack Straus, the patriarch of the “chip and a chair” mantra, is smiling -- and applauding.
Benjamin Keeline won the
$565 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament, a.k.a. “Colossus II,” which was
played over six days and nights and just concluded on the ESPN main
stage at the Rio in Las Vegas. In what was just his fifth career cash
at the WSOP, Keeline collected $1,000,000 in prize money, making this
the biggest win of his career. It should also be noted that Keeline
posted some impressive results on the WSOP Circuit in recent years,
earning $323,132 in prize money alone in tourneys played on the national
circuit. He also won a gold ring in 2011.
However, this was a
victory of an entirely different magnitude. Keeline won his
odds-shattering victory by defeating a final table which included a mix
of veterans and newcomers to the high-stakes poker scene. The moment of
triumph came when Keeline scooped the final pot of the tournament,
holding pocket jacks against Jiri Horak from the Czech Republic, who
finished as the runner up.
Even the final hand was a
unbelievable conclusion to a Cinderella story. Keeline had pocket
Jacks versus Horak’s A-9. The Czech flopped a 9 and had hope. The turn
was a blank, and then when an ace fell on the river, many of Horak’s
supporters packed along the rail thought he’d caught a miracle survival
card, making two pair – aces and nines. However, upon closer review,
four spades were revealed on the board to match Keeline’s Jack of
spades. The spade flush proved fateful and was the decisive last hand,
one of the most exciting hands of the 2016 WSOP thus far.
This tourney attracted
21,613 entrants which created a prize pool totaling $10,806,500. The
huge turnout created the second-largest live poker tournament in history
in terms of overall attendance, on the heels of last year’s inaugural
Colossus I event, which drew a record 22,374 participants.
Here’s the succession of other top finishers who made the final table:
Jiri Horak, from Troubelice, Czech Republic finished as the runner up.
He is a 28-year-old poker pro who made his second career cash at the
WSOP. This payout turned out to be a whopper, worth $618,000.
Farhad Davoudzadeh, a scientist from Palmdale, CA made quite a splash
in his WSOP debut. He earned a whopping $462,749 in prize money in what
was his first time to cash in a series event.
Richard Carr, from Lake Mary, FL was a former college tennis player.
He volleyed all the way down to a fourth-place finish in this
tournament, netting a $348,462 payout, not bad for participating on the
poker racket. This was only the second career in-the-money finish for
Marek Ohnisko, was one of two finalists from the Czech Republic. He is
an online poker player who used to work as a casino floorman. Like
several others players who went deep in this event, this marked
Ohnisko’s first time to cash at the WSOP. He made his debut count for a
score worth $263,962.
Sixth Place: Christopher
Renaudette, Holyoke, MA cashed for the first time in a WSOP event in
three years with his deep run in this event. Renaudette pocketed
$201,151 in prize money.
Alex Benjamin, from San Jose, CA came into this tournament with two
previous min-cashes over the last few years. He finally earned a huge
score this time around, collecting $154,208 in his first-ever WSOP final
Eighth Place: Jonathan
Borenstein, from Teaneck, NJ cashed in last year’s WSOP Main Event
Championship (507th). He’s also enjoyed a few cashes on the WSOP
Circuit. However, this was his biggest cash win to date, worth $118,937
in prize money.
Xiu Deng, from Las Vegas, NV became the first female player this year
to make it to a final table. This marked her fourth time to cash in a
WSOP event, in addition to three more cashes on the WSOP Circuit. Deng
received $92,291 in prize money.