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WSOP Profile: Grant Hinkle is no fish5 June 2008
Even as he sat there decked out in Bodog attire with more than $800,000 cash in front of him and a World Series of Poker bracelet dangling from his right wrist, Grant Hinkle didn't look the part of a WSOP champion.
But, as the 27-year-old Kansas native told Casino City after he stunned the poker world and won WSOP Event #2 in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, not looking the part was all part of the master plan.
"I kind of look like a fish at the poker table," Hinkle said coyly about his fresh-faced appearance. "I'm sure everybody thought I was a tight player that didn't have a lot of experience. So I made sure to use that to my advantage."
The scheme worked. Hinkle outlasted a record field of 3,929 players over the course of three days and an astounding 40 hours at the table to win the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em tournament and the $831,462 first-place prize. Adding to the Hollywood-script dramatics, Hinkle hit quad-10s on the final hand to secure the bracelet and set off a wild celebration among the small contingent of fellow Kansas natives that flew out to watch him.
"It was a pretty wild scene," he said of the celebration that he'll be able to relive when the event is televised July 29 on ESPN. "I'm a University of Kansas grad so I guess this is the year of the Jayhawk. The football team won the Orange Bowl, the basketball team won the national championship and now I've got a World Series bracelet."
But while Hinkle has made headlines across the country as a Cinderella story, a deeper look into the background of this once-unknown poker player shows that this might not have been that big an upset.
Hinkle is an extremely skilled player with an impressive online track record and some serious poker bloodlines. It's safe to assume that the players Hinkle knocked off during the grueling tournament – a group that included Chris "Jesus" Ferguson at the final table – had no idea that he is a former FTOPS champion.
Hinkle, who plays online under the screen name "drossXYU" (a combination of the names of a pair of songs by The Smashing Pumpkins, his favorite band), won the Limit Hold'em Event 2 at FTOPS I, a $200 buy-in tournament that paid him $145,200.
In addition, his younger brother Blair turned pro this year after cashing at last year's WSOP Main Event. The 22-year-old Blair made the final table of the WSOP Circuit Main Event 13 in May, winning $80,495 and, overall, has earned more than $160,000 in his rookie season as a pro. Blair was coaching his big brother for the entire three days and was the driving force behind Grant's strategy to present himself like a small fish swimming in the proverbial big pond.
The two brothers decided that it would be best if Grant dressed in "business-casual" and appeared to be an unassuming, inexperienced kid from the Midwest looking to catch lightning in a bottle at the World Series. And making that appearance wasn't exactly a stretch for Grant.
"It really did work because anytime I faced off against someone it seemed like they would fold because they figured if I was actually raising, I must have something good," explained Hinkle, who termed himself a medium-stakes, cash player who, in addition to $40 to $50 buy-in home games, usually plays 20 hours a week online at Full Tilt and PokerStars. "I think when they looked at me they just saw an Average Joe."
After Day 1, which lasted 11 hours, Hinkle was in the Top 10 on the leader board and it was then that he began to think he could really make a run at the final table. The 16-hour Day 2 came to an end on Monday morning at 5 a.m. with Hinkle as one of 18 players still standing. He had to call his boss at Archer Technology back in Overland Park, Kansas to say that he wouldn't be into work for at least the beginning of the week. Overall, he had to switch his returning flight to Kansas five times over the course of the three days.
"They were very supportive," Hinkle said of his company. "I told them before I left that there was a slight chance I might still be alive at the beginning of the week and, sure enough, I was."
Heading into Day 3, Hinkle was one of the short stacks, holding 281,000 chips while the average was 650,000. The night before action got back underway, Blair told his brother that he needed to "start raising early and often." The strategy was effective. Within two orbits around the table, Grant had his chip stack up to nearly one million.
"It couldn't have worked any better because I think I was forced to show what I had maybe twice and both times I had strong hands," he said. "Other than that, nobody knew if I was bluffing and that just helped me more and more as the tournament went along."
Hinkle suffered a few setbacks after that, but still managed to make his way to the final table. Once again, however, he was one of the short stacks, sitting in ninth place out of 10 players. But he used the same strategy at the final table. He came out of the gates raising like there was no tomorrow and, once again, he caught everyone at the table off guard.
"They really didn't know what to make of me," laughed Hinkle, who signed an endorsement deal with Bodog just before action at the final table began.
In heads-up play, Hinkle squared off against London's James Akenhead, who was also gunning for his first WSOP bracelet. Hinkle was holding a 2-to-1 chip lead when he pushed all in pre-flop with 10-4. Akenhead called with A-K.
"I was extremely pleased to see him flip over Ace-King," Hinkle said. "He didn't waste any time calling me, so I was expecting a high pair, which would have made me a huge underdog. But going up against Ace-King, I knew I had a more than good chance to win it."
The "miracle flop," as Hinkle referred to it, was 10-10-4. Adding salt to Akenhead's wound, the turn brought another 10, giving Hinkle quads.
"I couldn't believe it," said Hinkle, who, heading into Thursday's action, was on top of the 2008 WSOP money leaderboard and ranks 277th in the all-time WSOP Power Ranking. "It was a feeling I've never experienced before. But I hope to feel it again someday soon."
He'll get his chance when the Main Event begins in July. Hinkle wasn't planning on playing in this year's Main Event, but with close to $1 million in tow as he flew back to Kansas, he expects to buy in.
"I'm going to invest a lot of it and my wife and I have been looking to buy a new house and this will go a long way in helping us with that," he said. "But I'll definitely be putting aside $10,000 for the Main Event."
As for his day job, Hinkle isn't ready quite yet to pack it in, especially considering the support his co-workers gave him the past few days.
"It's a small company with probably about 100 people or so," he said of the technology firm where he serves as a marketing communications specialist. "A few of the guys I work with flew out to watch the final table. And from what I heard, everybody was glued to their computer screens watching the updates of the tournament. Everyone is real happy for me and I appreciate all of their support."
But with more than $1 million in poker winnings, Hinkle admitted that the lure of playing professionally is beginning to seem more and more appealing to him.
"Poker is a passion for me so to play for a living would really be exciting," said Hinkle, who played every card game imaginable with his brother and grandmother as he grew up in Topeka. "It's definitely a possibility. But for right now I want to enjoy this and then see how I fare in the Main Event. After that, anything is possible."
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