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My beloved friend John Bonetti passes

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Jun 28, '08

Posted: June 28, 2008 05:00 PM

My beloved friend and Poker Legend John Bonetti passes

On June 28, at 2:15 am in Houston, Texas Poker legend, and my dear friend John "Bono" Bonetti died. It was not unexpected. About two months ago I was told that he had 2-3 months to live. In Bono's case, I had heard that line before! At least two other times in the last 25 years, Bono was told that he had months to live, the last time being in about 1998. Bono always beat the odds! He had an old rivalry with poker legend T. J. Cloutier that had Cloutier-he also loved Bono-shaking his head. Cloutier used to say, "Phil, that John Bonetti is the luckiest poker player on the planet!" Of course, in their last showdown for a WSOP bracelet, Cloutier won the coin flip hand for the WSOP title in about 2005, when Cloutier's A-K beat Bono's Q-Q when they were three handed-Cloutier went on to win that bracelet. Bono won dozens of poker tournaments, all at the age of 58 or higher! He was a late comer to poker, but a great late comer at that.

At the age of 73, and seemingly washed up, Bono had three firsts at the Taj Mahal's big poker tournament, including one of the main events, the seven card stud. As if that wasn't enough, he had Daniel Negreanu all in in the $10,000 buy in main event after a 10s-7s-2d flop. Negreanu had Qs-9s, and Bono had Ac-10c.

When the turn card was the Ad, Negreanu needed one of nine spades to win the pot, or Bono would have had four first place finishes in one tournament, a feat that I have never heard of before, not too mention that he would have won both main events! Alas, the river was the 8s. Still, what a tournament for Bono at age 73! Think age matters? Ask 73 Doyle Brunson, who is leading the $50,000 buy in HORSE tournament right now (Saturday morning)! FYI - on Friday I finished about 33rd in the Stud eight or better for another cash, but no final table.

Like most poker players (and me), Bono swore a little but too much. Also, like most poker players, he had a big heart. Bono's fire at the table in poker tournaments was legendary! He wanted to win more than you did, period. Bono's wife Jean put up with Bono for years, much like my wife puts up with me! I must have had at least 150 private dinners with Bono over the years, and he was truly one of my best friends. I introduced him to Sushi in about 1998, and he insisted that we went out for Sushi the last 100 times we ate together! As far as paying my respects, I do not know what to do. I know that Bono would tell me, "Phil, stay up there in Vegas and focus on poker. Take care of business and bust some of those guys for me!" On the other hand, he would love it if I went down to Houston to pay my respects. I think I'll play the no limit Hold'em event at noon on Saturday, and see how it goes. If I do well, then the decision is easy: I will dedicate my victory to John Bonetti. If I do poorly, then I'll play the $10,000 buy in pot limit Omaha on Sunday, and hopefully dedicate that victory to Bono. I will have to wait to find out what day the funeral is, and then decide what to do. However, I put a wedding before a WSOP event (the first event), and I will probably have to put a funeral ahead of a WSOP event as well. One year in about 1998 when he was sick with cancer, we talked on the phone almost every day! I was told him that he was a champion, and that champions beat sickness and cancer just like they beat other players at the poker table.

On Thursday they put a phone to Bono's ear and I told him, "Bono, I respect the way that you handled your granddaughter Natasha. [Bono really looked out after her and talked about her constantly.] I respect the fierceness and fieriness that you had at the poker table. I respect the way that you handle your family. John I love you. Don't worry about a thing, I'll send Jean a check every month."

Even though Bono couldn't talk, I could hear him mumble something, and it sounded like, "I love you too Phil." I will miss my great friend John Bonetti…

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