Manahawkin Meat Cutter Captures Colossus III Crown in World Series of Poker

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 28, 2017
Source: Manahawkin resident Tom Pomponio looks over the details of one of his and the competition’s hands during the World Series of Poker’s Colossus III event in Las Vegas earlier in June.

For the past five years, Tom Pomponio literally has had dreams about winning big at a World Series of Poker tournament. He’s envisioned racking up a huge pile of chips and holding the championship bracelet at the end.

“I’ve seen it in my head a bunch of times,” said Pomponio, a 28-year-old from Manahawkin. “I’d be there at the end. I’d won the tournament, holding the bracelet with all my friends around me, and then I’d wake up and say, ‘Damn, that wasn’t real.’ That would always suck, waking up and realizing it was a dream.”

But on June 7, the dream became reality when Pomponio knocked off Taylor Black in heads-up play at The Colossus III event in Las Vegas, capturing his first championship. And, yes, he had friends there with him to celebrate the big victory.

“For as many times as I’d envisioned that situation, it finally happened, so that was surreal,” said Pomponio, who works as a full-time meat cutter for BJ’s Wholesale Club in Toms River. “It was my first time in that position, being super close to winning a major tournament, and my heart was beating out of my chest. I was pretty calm the entire time, until that last hand. But as soon as the cards were flipped, it was exciting. That was my dream and now it was real. It was crazy.”

However, getting to the final table and going heads-up against an experienced player wasn’t an easy road. In fact, Pomponio wouldn’t have gone that far had he not made the decision to skip a friend’s barbecue.

“In most of the big tournaments, you’re allowed to re-enter,” explained Pomponio, who on Twitter goes by the handle @PompYouUp. “This tournament had six flights – A, B, C, D, E and F – and the way it works is, if you lose your chips, you can re-enter as many times as you want until the end of the last flight. So, really, Day 1 of the tournament was three days worth of flights, and once they were done it was on to Day 2.”

On the first day of flight play, Pomponio competed in both Flights A and B, but lost all his chips. Still, he had the option to keep re-entering during the next two days, and he was prepared to re-enter five or six times. With the option of going to the barbecue on the second day of flight play, he decided to get back into the tournament. He skipped Flight C and dropped another $565 to re-enter at Flight D. That third time was the charm – Pomponio made it through the flight with chips, qualifying him for Day 2.

After starting with some 9,000 players and going through 18,053 entries, the tourney was whittled down to 634 players by the start of Day 2. After 10 more hours of poker, the field was reduced to 41 heading into Day 3. Pomponio was still standing.

“At that point, there were only 40 people between me and a million bucks,” said Pomponio, an avid baseball fan who’s visited 24 of the 30 Major League ballparks to date. “I’ve played in some tournaments and finished 300th or something, and came away pretty good with some cash. But this was getting real, and I felt pretty good about what was happening.”

During the first four hours of Day 3, the tournament field was cut down to 10. Three hours later, the last player was dropped and the final table of nine players, Pomponio being one of them, was set for Day 4.

“Within the first half-hour of Day 3, I increased my stack of chips a lot and others were being knocked out at a really high rate,” he said. “I ended up with the sixth-highest chip count for the final table. At the start of Day 4, I was guaranteed about 73 grand. Within the first hour, a few players got knocked out and I was guaranteed about 180 grand. And then I knocked out the fifth- and third-place guys, and it was on to heads-up play.”

Interestingly, while the World Series of Poker guaranteed a $1-million purse for the winner and $545,000 to the runner-up, it’s a common practice in the poker world to “chop” the prize pool based on who has the most chips heading into the final round of play. Black was ahead in chips by nearly a 2:1 ratio, and he and Pomponio decided to chop the winnings accordingly.

“It’s common in poker that, if you have more chips, you should get more of the prize pool,” he said. “But the World Series of Poker doesn’t facilitate that. So we came up with an agreement, used what’s called an ICM chop – and there’s a certain way to calculate how to chop the prize pool based on what you have – and we worked out a deal that he would get 805 grand and I would get 695 grand, and then we’d play for an additional 45 grand and the bracelet, which went to whoever won.”

So with $45,000 and the championship bracelet on the line, the heads-up round was on. Just a few hands into play, Pomponio erased the chip deficit and took control of the match when his ace-king combination took out Black’s ace-10 combo in an all-in pre-flop collision.

“I had to avoid the 10 and hit the king, and I hit the king,” said Pomponio, a 2007 Southern Regional High School graduate. “At that point, I jumped to about 70 million in chips and then it took another 20 hands before it was over. That’s where I took control.”

Using a semi-aggressive approach and working Black down to very little with a pair of queens sitting on the table, Pomponio’s hand of ace-6 held up against Black’s jack-8 tandem, and the celebration began. Pomponio posed and gathered with friends for some photo ops, did his post-match interviews with and others, and headed for home with $740,000 more in the bank. In 2015, he entered the inaugural Colossus tournament and placed 1,609th.

“Keeping calm during that last hand was hard,” he said. “I wasn’t smiling or anything. I wasn’t giving off any clues about my hand. But I was excited on the inside. There are 60 or 70 big events per year, and there are so many great players throughout the world playing in them, it’s really hard to get to that last position, when there are only two of you left playing for the bracelet. And there I was, so close to that dream. My heart was pounding.”

What had started at age 15 – when he first started playing with family and friends just for fun – Pomponio has finally reached the point in which he can start thinking that, maybe, a pro career is on the horizon. But first, he has some other plans.

“My girlfriend and I want to build a house,” said Pomponio, who plans to remain in Manahawkin. “I’m going to keep cutting meat for the time being, and I’ll see where I’m at in a year. There may be some opportunities for sponsorship coming up as well. I might try one of the summer tournaments at Borgata. I have options. But, for now, I’m just going to enjoy this, relax a bit and keep playing online. That’s all. Nothing too serious.”

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