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WSOP bracelet winner Grant Hinkle turns pro11 August 2008
When Grant Hinkle walked into his boss's office at Archer Technology last month to give him the news that he was resigning so he could become a professional poker player, the response wasn't what you might expect.
"No, there wasn't any tension," Hinkle says with a laugh as he recalls the conversation. "He basically said, 'What took you so long?'"
Of course, the Grant Hinkle story isn't your typical tale of a gambler wanna-be coming up with some grandiose idea that he could make it to the big time by beating the odds for a living. Hinkle has already proven his potential by virtue of his stunning win at the 2008 World Series of Poker this summer and his collective poker earnings of more than $1 million. But even still, this was a carefully planned out decision that the 27-year-old Kansas native made with the full support of his wife, Kim.
"It's something that I've thought about for a while," says Hinkle, whose wife runs a maternity apparel business called To the Nines out of the couple's home in Overland Park, Kansas. "I just never felt it was the right time to make the jump. With my wife being self-employed, I just didn't think we wanted to be put in the situation where we didn't have at least one steady stream of income. But the World Series changed all of that."
Indeed it did. Since his victory in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event on June 4 that earned him $831,462 after outlasting a non-Main Event record field of 3,929 players over the course of a grueling three days and 40 hours of poker, Hinkle has become a semi-celebrity. Following the ESPN broadcast of the event on July 22, Hinkle, a former marketing communications specialist, is being recognized by complete strangers. He attended a Kansas City Royals game last week and several strangers came up to him and asked if he was Grant Hinkle, "the guy who won the poker on ESPN the other night." He's also heard from former classmates from both Washburn Rural High School and the University of Kansas that he hasn't been in contact with for years.
"The whole thing has really been kind of cool," he says. "It's been a lot of fun to hear from people who I haven't talked to in a long, long time. They're all really happy for me."
Hinkle was on vacation with his entire family in Hilton Head, S.C. when the episode aired and they had a big viewing party.
"I was more nervous watching the show than I was when I played at the final table," says Hinkle, who rallied from being one of the short stacks at the final table to beat a group of players that included Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.
"You never know how many hands they're going to show or what they're going to say about you. I also knew that my mother was miked up for the whole thing and I had no idea what she was going to be saying. It was a surreal experience sitting there in front of the TV watching myself."
Hinkle said that while he was playing at the final table he was conscious of the fact that anything he did or said would or could be used against him. And in the end he was happy with how both he and his mother, Lynn, came across.
"I made sure that I didn't show up any of my opponents and I don't think I got real excited until I actually won it," he says. "And my mom kind of stole the show in the telecast. I feel bad because she got more face time that my heads-up opponent [James Akenhead], which is too bad because he played great. My mom's really enjoying this. She's become a mini-celebrity as well and she's also heard from a lot of people she hasn't been in contact with for a while."
Lynn had even more to be proud of 10 days later when Grant's younger brother Blair, who turned pro earlier this year as well, won an event 10 days after Grant, making the Hinkles the first brother combination to win WSOP bracelets in the same year. ESPN taped the Hinkles extensively during the Main Event and plan on producing a feature on them that will air during its Main Event coverage.
"I was trying to keep a low profile because the episode of me winning hadn't been on TV yet and I figured nobody knew what I looked like," Grant says of the Main Event where neither he nor his brother cashed. "But every time I reached for my chips, the cameras would zoom in on me and the boom mike would be hanging over my head. After about an hour, someone at the table finally said, 'Why are they taping you?' and I had to explain that the whole story to everyone."
Hinkle's only disappointment with the ESPN telecast of his bracelet win was that only two hands of the heads up match were shown. And he thought both made it look like he was lucky, particularly the final hand. That's when he pushed all in pre-flop with 10-4 and Akenhead called with A-K only to see Hinkle catch two 10s on the flop and another on the turn to give him miracle quad-10s.
In fact, that's the one hand everybody who saw the telecast wants to hear about when they talk to Hinkle.
"I just tell them that the heads up match lasted 2 ½ hours and it was just going back and forth the whole time and the aggression for both of us kept escalating," he says. "He was betting a lot when he had nothing and I was doing the same. That time, I made what looked like a pretty bad move, but it worked out for me, that's for sure."
With his shining ESPN moment in the past, Hinkle is now concentrating on his new career. His wife's office is in the upstairs of his house so Hinkle has set up the basement as his own personal "man cave" office.
He said that he's making sure he treats his new venture like a real job and he's doing everything he can to get into a routine. He wakes up each day around 10 a.m., fishes through his e-mail and then goes online to start looking for the cash games he wants to jump in and play. Around 4 p.m. he leaves his office and works out and then comes back for nighttime action where he participates in a half dozen or so tournaments, usually with buy-ins between $100 and $250. If he busts out early he goes back to playing cash games.
He also tracks his play closely and goes over hand history with his brother on a regular basis.
Hinkle, who won an event in the original FTOPS that paid him $145,200, plans on playing in as many events as he can in FTOPS IX, which is ongoing, and intends to play in PokerStars' 2008 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) that runs from Sept. 5-22.
As for live action, Hinkle says he hopes to play in some World Poker Tour events here and there. He didn't have time to make plans to play in the World Series of Poker Europe in London, which begins Sept. 19, but would like to play in it next year. Traveling, he said, is one of the main draws of his new profession.
"I've never been out of the United States, so I want to try and play in some events in some locations where it will be fun to travel to," he says while mentioning Australia and Aruba as possible destinations. "If you get knocked out of a tournament early on and you're in the Caribbean, it's not such a bad thing."
Until then, he'll continue to plug away in the online world, looking to take advantage of the cushion his WSOP win has given him.
"So far, I'm enjoying it a lot," Hinkle says. "I'm making sure I'm not stretching myself in terms of playing limits that are super high. I playing games that I know I can beat right now and as I become a better player, I'll play some higher limits.
"It's not stressful for me because I have enough of a bankroll that I know if I lose a couple big hands or have a string of bad days, I'm going to be OK. I don't feel like I'm sitting here playing for my livelihood, and that makes it a lot easier."
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