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The Cinderella of NBC's Heads-Up Poker Championship

Online Qualifer a Stay-at-Home, Unemployed Dad


Blandino Gines will compete for $500,000 this weekend.Times have been tough for Blandino Gines, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see him without a smile on his face this weekend.

The 52-year-old immigrant from the Philippines has been unemployed for the past four years. Due to a declining economy and fewer job opportunities, he has had to accept being a stay-at-home dad in a San Jose, Calif. home that he shares with his sister’s family, while his wife works until 2 a.m. at a nearby auto plant. While his life has been anything but easy, he gets to live his dream this weekend.

Starting today, Gines will compete in NBC’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship as one of six qualifiers in the elite 64-player field. Virtually all of the biggest names in the game (such as Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, and Phil Hellmuth), as well as some of the top tournament players from around the world (like John Phan, David Pham, and Bertrand Grospellier), have come together for this annual event, where the winner will earn $500,000.

“I’m excited and very, very happy,” said Gines. “This is unbelievable.”

Gines has never played poker in a casino before. In fact, he’s only played the game for money for a dollar or two with friends and family. But now, thanks to an improbable run on PokerStars where he beat out nearly 600,000 players over the course of three rounds, he gets to play for free in a tournament where all the top pros put up $20,000 of their own money to compete.

Gines first began playing poker after he lost his 11-year seasonal job as a processor for a salmon canning company in Alaska.

“My boss called me and told me that I couldn’t go that year,” Gines said, remembering the conversation they had a few years ago. “I said, ‘Oh God, what am I going to do?’”

Gines picked up construction jobs where he could, but his limited education and his rough English dimmed his prospect for work. So his wife started working, and he began taking care of things around the house — cooking, cleaning, and driving his wife and child around.

In his free time, he discovered online poker. He wasn’t comfortable playing for real money, so he only competed for play money and in freerolls. When he won the massive NBC Heads-Up freeroll, he had no idea what he had actually earned.

“I thought I had won $1,000, that’s it,” said Gines, speaking of the $1,000 in spending money PokerStars awarded its qualifiers. Of course, when Gines says, “that’s it,” he just meant that he had no idea what was actually in store for him. The $1,000 was a notable asset to his family, and they celebrated his win with a barbecue.
But pretty soon, Gines and his family realized that the $1,000 was just the beginning.

Blandino Gines“After a few days, someone from PokerStars called me,” said Gines. “They told me I won a $20,000 seat to a heads-up tournament.”

His family insisted it was a scam, and Gines believed them, so he hung up the phone.

Luckily for him, PokerStars called him back and convinced him that this was the real deal. Now, Gines is in Las Vegas for four comped nights as he tries to extend his miraculous run just a little bit further.

If Gines can beat just two more opponents, he’ll make the money and earn at least $25,000. If he does the unfathomable and runs the table by beating six straight opponents, he’ll take home half a million dollars. That money would go to a new house and a car for his wife, Gines said.

Of course, the journey to the money would be an unlikely one. He would have to defeat his first round opponent, Barry Greenstein, winner of three WSOP bracelets, and then defeat his second round opponent — either Tom “durrrr” Dwan, one of the best online players in the world, or Gavin Griffin, who has the impressive distinction of winning a WSOP, an EPT, and a WPT event.

But two opponents, no matter how talented they are, may not look as difficult as the nearly 600,000 others he has defeated to get here. So Gines will put on his sunglasses, rub his lucky painted rock that has a picture of his daughter on it, and hope for the best.

“I hope I play well,” said Gines, who believes in himself despite the long odds. “Why can’t I win? Why not me?”



almost 10 years ago

Good Luck! wish you the best!