With $1M On Full Tilt, Blair Hinkle Rebuilds At WSOP
Poker Pro Upbeat, Optimistic While Making Deep Runs This Summer
Despite being a victim of the alleged Full Tilt Poker heist, poker pro Blair Hinkle is staying positive and churning out excellent results at the 2012 WSOP. In February 2011, Hinkle finished second in a tournament on the site for more than $1 million. That money is still frozen as a number in cyberspace.
Full Tilt’s American-facing business was shutdown on April 15, 2011, after the government unsealed a sweeping indictment that also nailed PokerStars and Absolute Poker. Hinkle’s funds represent less than one percent of the total owed to Full Tilt’s former U.S. customers.
The soft-spoken Hinkle, one of poker’s nicest guys, said receiving his money would be “life changing.” Fortunately for the Kansas City native, he made a final table in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event three days ago. He said the score was a big boost.
With a short chip stack near the end of the event, Hinkle said he expected to finish ninth or tenth, however he wound up exiting in fourth. He was gunning for his second career bracelet, but didn’t complain about the $192,734.
Thanks to an unorthodox playing style and an ability to find max value from hands, Hinkle long ago established himself as one of the best no-limit hold’em tournament players. He outlasted 1,344 for his bracelet in 2008, and beat out 14,479 on Full Tilt for the seven-figure score.
Card Player previously interviewed Hinkle in September 2011, and reconnected with him during a break in Monday’s $1,000 no-limit hold’em (Event No. 44). At around 9:30 p.m. local time, Hinkle had one of the larger stacks with about 40 left out of the 2,949-player starting field. He has another solid shot at a second WSOP win.
Brian Pempus: What are your thoughts on the reports stating that PokerStars is thinking about buying Full Tilt Poker and cashing out players?
Blair Hinkle: I’m holding out hope for it. It would be huge if it happened. Nobody seems to know for sure what is going to happen. I just hope everyone gets paid and can stop sweating it. The fourth place helped a lot because I need to have a good Series or be paid by Full Tilt. Fortunately, I am having a good summer.
BP: How did you feel on the day when it was announced that the Groupe Bernard Tapie deal fell through, and PokerStars was now in the mix?
BH: I was excited because I thought the Tapie deal didn’t sound like a good one, and then when the details came out, it really looked like they weren’t going to have repaid [U.S.] players. It was being said that they were just going to pay people who had under $100 in their account. That was just ridiculous, but that was how they were selling it to the Department of Justice — that they were going to ‘refund 95 percent of accounts.’ It would be great if PokerStars does it. It makes sense to me both ways, if PokerStars does it or they don’t.
BP: After all this time, do you still frequently think about the money you have stuck?
BH: It gets brought up a decent amount at the tables here [at the WSOP], but not as much as last year. I think about it once a week pretty seriously, asking, ‘When is this [deal] going to happen?’ But it’s not something that gets to me or makes me upset. I’ve had a few pretty bad nights where I was really upset about it, but that was last year when it seemed like nobody was going to buy them. I have hope now.
BP: Are people at the tables offering any sort of support?
BH: Yeah. Everyone is pretty friendly about it, but it’s an unintentional needle. They say, ‘Oh man, that really sucks. I have a couple thousand on [Full Tilt], but I don’t know what I’d do if I was you.’ That’s not something that makes me feel better. However, I’ve heard it a lot, so I’m used to it.
BP: What has the process of rebuilding a bankroll been like?
BH: I got dropped by my backer, so I had to sell action this year for the Series, which was a new experience for me. After the Series I am going to have to write checks to like 25 different people who bought like one percent of me. Getting the score recently is going to obviously help my bankroll. It also gave me confidence coming into [today’s $1,000 no-limit hold’em], because I feel good about my play, and I’m not going to be sweating money for the rest of the Series. It helps not having the feeling in the back of your head that you need to win one.
BP: This all has changed the way you finance buy-ins?
BH: Yeah. If I had the money I’d buy myself in, not selling any action. This has affected the poker economy a lot. People are dropping their horses. It seemed kind of inevitable without online poker for people to grind. A lot of live backing deals are ending, so people are trying to find ways to get into these events. They are still good events, but it’s a lot of money if you come out here for the summer.
BP: Now, Phil Ivey is back this year and doing well, and people like Erick Lindgren and Layne Flack have been around. How do you feel when you see those guys playing? In February 2012, a lawyer for Groupe Bernard Tapie came out with a statement that a handful of former site pros borrowed millions and never repaid the debt.
BH: I didn’t realize that about Layne Flack. I think it’s all pretty bad. I think they should pay it back, whether there’s a [PokerStars] deal or not. Ivey has final tabled five things. I think he can maybe afford to do it. I don’t know. I don’t want to get into it too much because I’m sure they have legal counsel to tell them how to handle it. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t tell them what to do with their money. But I feel like if you owe somebody money you should pay them back.
BP: With regards to prominent guys who once promoted Full Tilt — Andy Bloch, for example, won a bracelet recently — being quiet or saying nothing of substance, how does them just being here make you feel?
BH: I don’t have a problem with the pros who were getting paid by Full Tilt to go out there and endorse the company. The people I have a problem with are [Chris] Ferguson, [Howard] Lederer, and Ray Bitar, who is probably the worst one. I haven’t seen those guys here for obvious reasons. I think they are in different countries.
BP: Other members of the poker community who I’ve talked to are basically withholding judgment on others associated with Full Tilt until the whole saga ends or more information comes out. Is this where you’re at?
BH: Yeah. I want to see what happens with the [PokerStars] deal. Either way, I’d like them to say, ‘Alright here is the money we owed the company.’ Hopefully it can be thrown in toward players’ bankrolls being refunded. It seems like the fairest way to do it.
BP: You have no anger or malice?
BH: No. I don’t get too angry at people. I am pretty even keel most of the time. I try to stay positive. I don’t want to hate anybody.
BP: What gives you this ability to be so patient and relaxed, when it’s such a huge sum of money that was stolen from you?
BH: My dad is a really even-keel guy, and my mom is super positive all the time. So, I feel like the combination of those two things helps me tell myself, ‘Just don’t let it get to you.’ Keeping those thoughts in my head helps not to let it affect me in the rest of my life. Because there’s nothing I can do about it. I guess that’s how I do it — I get it from my parents.
Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus
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