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WSOP Colossus II winner collects $1 million top prize

8 Jun 2016

Benjamin Keeline

Benjamin Keeline (photo by WSOP)

Meet the latest WSOP gold bracelet champion
Name: Benjamin Keeline
Birthplace: St. Louis, MO
Age: 30
Current Residence: Boulder, CO
Profession: Poker Player (part-time Uber driver)
Number of WSOP Cashes: 4
Number of WSOP Final Table Appearances: 1
Number of WSOP Gold Bracelet Victories (with this tournament): 1
Best Previous WSOP Finish: 145th (2015)
Total WSOP Earnings: $1,036,758
Personal Facts: 1 of 5 children, devoted to family, struggled in Circuit for past three
years before victory

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 action.

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 All-Suite Hotel & Casino 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… 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 a 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:

Second Place: 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.

Third Place: 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.

Fourth Place: 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 Carr.

Fifth Place: 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.

Seventh Place: 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 table appearance.

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.

Ninth Place: 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.

Other notable in-the money finishers:
Amir Lehavot, a gold bracelet winner perhaps best known as the third-place finisher in the 2013 WSOP Main Event, took 36th place.

Ylon Schwartz, a gold bracelet winner perhaps best known as the fourth-place finisher in the 2008 WSOP Main Event, took 46th place.

Other gold bracelet winners who cracked the top 100 included Marco Johnson and David "ODB" Baker.

Fun facts:
This was the second-largest live poker tournament in history. With 21,613 entrants, only last year's debut of Colossus had more players, with 22,374.

More players were paid out in this tournament than any other live poker event in history. A total of 3,245 players collected prize money.

The $1,000,000 top payout amounts to 1,770 times the amount of the buy-in.

The number of unique (one-time) entrants amounts to 11,713 – which represented 54 percent of the field. That meant 9,900 players entered more than one flight.

The field was 94 percent male and 6 percent female.

The average age of entrants was 41.3 years.

The age range among participants was 21 up to 92. The oldest player in the field was Norman Spivock, from Santa Rosa, CA. He played in this same event last year, as well and was the oldest player. Hence, he broke his own record as the eldest player ever to play Colossus.

There were players from 89 nations who participated.

The top 10 countries with participants included:
1. United States (18,704 entries)
2. Canada (801 entries)
3. United Kingdom (408 entries)
4. Germany (182 entries)
5. Australia (143 entries)
6. France (133 entries)
7. Brazil (102 entries)
8. Russia (90 entries)
9. Ireland (75 entries)
10. Austria (63)

The tournament included three days and six starting flights. The breakdown was as follows:
1A: 3,249
1B: 2,153
1C: 3,770
1D: 3,099
1E: 4,855
1F: 4,487

There were 846 players which started Day Two.

All players started the tournament with 5,000 in chips. At the end, the winner ended up with 108,806,500 in chips.

There were 956 dealers used in this tournament. A total of 4,398 decks of cards were put into play.

(Article courtesy of World Series of Poker)
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