Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo is a 26 year old Poker Professional from Virginia, USA. Bonomo, a former highly ranked “Magic: The Gathering” player started playing poker around 10 years ago as a teenage student playing 50c/$1 games with his friends. He soon found his way online and quickly found his feet at Limit Hold’Em and online tournaments. Justin has proven to be a fearsome tournament player and is equally at home in a live situation as he is online and has amassed $5.5 million in live tournament winnings over the past seven years including a recent $2.16 million score at the EPT Grand Final Super High Roller Event in Monte Carlo. Since his early Limit days Justin has progressed to the high stakes NLHE tables where he can be frequently found playing the best in the world heads up for huge stakes.
With two cashes already under his belt at this years WSOP we caught up with ZeeJustin to find out what makes him tick.
Interview with ZeeJustin
You have been active within the high stakes community over the past few years playing the biggest NLHE games. Could you please explain how you started and have risen through the ranks to become where you are today?
- It was a slow progression. I had some failed attempts early on in my career at NL cash games despite having won at limit cash games and NL tournaments and sit-n-goes. I started really winning around the time I became a Bodog pro, and I largely have to attribute that to becoming friends with Isaac Haxton. He taught me quite a bit and it didn't take me long to grind from $3/$6 and work my way up to nosebleeds.
Did you start playing cash games or sit-n-goes, and on what sites?
- I started playing $0.50/$1 limit hold’em on Paradise Poker just like everyone else that played back in 2002. My first deposit was thanks to my EverQuest character that I sold via PayPal for $500.
Why have you decided to focus solely on NLHE when most of the big action for the past couple of years or more has transitioned to PLO?
- I play all the games, not just NLHE. HU is my favorite form of poker because you get to play more hands, and it just so happens that HUNL has a lot more action than mixed games.
Will you be playing other games such as 2-7 triple draw or the mixed games in the near future?
- I've played those for years. I've played the $50k HORSE at the WSOP every year since I've been 21. Funny that you mentioned 2-7 triple draw specifically as I got 2nd in that event at the WSOP last year.
What do you think of the bumhunting situation and what should be done in future to solve the problem?
- There are many possible solutions to the problem: get rid of PTR (Stars has done this), punish people for grimming or make it impossible, and make sitting in the lobby a right that you can't keep if you say no to 99/100 players that come and sit you. For some sites allowing name changes might be part of the solution as well. Poker sites need to get more creative and proactive in general; maybe some kind of rakeback increase/decrease based on the amount of bumhunting you do.
Do you prefer heads-up or 6-max, and will you play anyone at NLHE?
- I prefer HU. I have a list of players I won't play, but the list is fairly small.
Who are the toughest opponents that you've faced?
- I think Isaac Haxton is the best, although everyone thinks their friends are better than everyone else’s, so I'm certainly biased here. Ben "Sauce123" Sulsky is number two in my honest opinion.
How about Isildur1? You were one of just a few players who would play him at HUNL on Full Tilt. Would you play him in the Showdown and what do you think of his NLHE game?
- Isildur1 is very good. He's almost certainly a top 10 HUNL player. I have played him in the past and will probably play him more in the future. Game selection is important for HU players. I always try to play the weakest player willing to play me at any given time which means Isildur won't get any action from me until I have no other options.
Do you enjoy playing live cash games and if so, where do you play and what stakes/games?
- No. Live cash is boring. 25 hands an hour is just torture to me, and without the "big lights and prestige" of tournaments, cash games don't offer much. Last Summer I played a good amount of mixed games in Ivey's Room and have to admit that was pretty enjoyable. Having new games in the mix (which last year meant Badacey and Badeucey) makes it more entertaining.
Have you considered playing the cash games such in Macau as they are predominantly NLHE which should suit you?
- Yes. The games in Macau are very tempting, but the good ones are largely private and I'm nowhere near the level of fame that would make Chinese businessmen want to play with me.
What was your parents’ reaction when you decided to play poker?
- It took my mom a while to understand I wasn't gambling against the house and you can actually win at poker. Since figuring that out, she has become my biggest fan. My dad has always had faith in my intelligence and knew I would be successful at it before anyone else. They both thought I was making a mistake when I dropped out of college but supported my right to make that decision and knew I would be ok. I definitely was blessed with two loving and supportive parents. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized growing up in a drama free, eternally loving environment is a rare thing.
Have you had any major downswings during your career which you wouldn't mind discussing?
- I had a very big downswing in late 2009. My confidence was at a high after rising through the HUNL stakes super quickly. I was playing the best players in the world and ran over a million below all-in EV. It was humbling going from $10/$20 to $200/$400, and then at $50/$100 losing to some of the very same players that I had recently built my bankroll off of. I had become complacent with my game while theirs’ were evolving to beat mine. That was a huge mistake on my part compounded by the run bad.
Who are your poker friends that you discuss strategy with?
- Over the years I've discussed strategy with dozens of guys. I would be terrible if it wasn't for them. Recently I have confided in fewer players. When you have access to Isaac Haxton's brain, why bother talking to anyone else? ;p
Do you have a lot of money stuck on Full Tilt and what do you think of the scandal?
- If FTP repays, my net worth instantly doubles, so yes, I have quite a bit on there. There's not much to think of the scandal. Ray Bitar ran a billion dollar company into the ground by being irresponsible and having too much pride. What else is there to say?
How has Black Friday affected you in terms of lifestyle and where you live?
- I moved to Malta after Black Friday and then Toronto. It pretty much flipped my world upside down. Leaving my loved ones behind was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
You have a phenomenal tournament record and just recently won the Super High Roller Event in Monte Carlo for over $2 million. Will you be focusing more on tournaments in the future or will you mainly play the main and high roller events?
- Well right now it's WSOP time which always means 25+ tournaments for me. The EPT schedule has gotten much better over the past few years, so they'll probably draw me in. They have really perfected the challenge of having a tempting high buy-in tournament every single day. For example, having the 10k turbo events on the same day as the main event final tables makes it so I'll never want to book a flight home early after busting the main. It was a brilliant idea to add 1 day turbos on the day before everyone flies home.
Will you be playing the big cash games in Vegas this summer and is a bracelet more important to you than the money nowadays?
- I don't plan on playing too many cash games. I want a bracelet, not because I think it will be particularly great to have one, but more that I feel like it sucks not having one. I wish I didn't care about bracelets as it's a silly artificial measure that has no correlation with skill, but for some silly reason, I do care. I'm approaching the top 10 list of players with most cashes without a bracelet which is a distinction I never want to have.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and the future?
- For now I'm just focusing on the WSOP. In Autumn I might do a two month tour of the European tournaments, but after that... who knows?
Read more of our chats with high stakes poker regulars in HighstakesDB's player interviews.