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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Russ Hamilton

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

A lot of the poker players in our “Where Are They Now?” series started gambling at a young age. Russ Hamilton makes the others seem like old men, considering he initially became interested in gambling at just five years old. At an age where boys are usually interested in G.I. Joes, toy trucks, and silly putty, Hamilton was already beginning to figure out the intricacies of poker. As is the case in most households, Hamilton’s father first introduced him to the game, playing for pennies on the kitchen table. It wouldn’t be too long before Hamilton started playing for a lot more than copper coins.

Throughout his early school years Hamilton continued to play poker with classmates, while also becoming involved in other forms of gambling. In high school he was a virtual bookie, taking action on sporting events, and running football pools right in the halls of his school. Despite the love for gambling, Hamilton felt it was the appropriate thing to get a proper education, so he maintained good grades, and pursued other interests, including electrical engineering.

Hamilton headed to college in Michigan, and just like in high school, he was able to keep up his grades. However, Hamilton kept wondering if it would be possible to make more money as a professional gambler then an electrical engineer. He was doing really well in the underground poker rooms in Detroit, and honestly felt that he might enjoy that lifestyle more than having a typical job. In an unlikely turn of events Hamilton’s thoughts were given justification when one of his electrical engineer teachers asked him to come to his office one day. Most of the time you would see this conversation revolving around Hamilton focusing on gambling too much, and that he should cut it out so he can get a real education. Not the case here. The professor told Hamilton that he should quit going to school because he has a much better chance of making more money as a gambler than an electrical engineer. It seemed his professor had a good knack of odds, himself. Hamilton walked out of the professor’s office, went to the local underground casino, and never turned back.

As often is the case in underground and illegal casino operations, when one player gets too good for them, the action starts to dry up. It was time for Hamilton to find a place where the action never dries. It’s also been said that Hamilton was no longer a fan of the cold Detroit weather, so making a move for a warmer, juicier climate seemed just what the doctor ordered. For about a dozen years Hamilton had been making a fine living in Detroit as a gambler, but at age 36 it was time to make the jump to the big time, Las Vegas.

Hamilton arrived in Vegas in 1986 with one goal in mind. He wanted to win enough money in poker so he could buy a bar and then play poker and other forms of gambling occasionally, just as a hobby. Perhaps because he was nervous about being in Vegas solely as a professional gambler, he opened a burglar alarm system store.

The store would be a short term business, because on top of being a good poker player, it seemed Hamilton also had a knack for betting sports, particularly basketball. It’s impossible to gauge how much he made in sports betting in his early years there, but we do know that if you need a burglar alarm system Hamilton isn’t the man to ask.

Before the poker success started, Hamilton was asked to join a blackjack team, a team that featured John Ferguson, A.K.A. Stanford Wong. Wong is famous for creating the first commercially used Blackjack Analyzer, which basically was the first system to prove that with proper study and dedication, blackjack could be beaten.

For about five years Hamilton and the rest of the gang went around the world participating in blackjack tournaments and playing at other casinos. However, because of their alarming win rate, they were quickly banned from playing blackjack at nearly every casino in the world. So, in turn, Hamilton made a return to poker. Hamilton, of course, never stayed to far away from blackjack, as he is the creator of the popular “Ultimate Blackjack Tour.”

Hamilton started to focus primarily on poker starting in the early 90’s. In 1992 he won a prize of $2,800 for finishing 7th in a Pot Limit Omaha event. Just a few short years later he would be playing for a lot more.

A lot of poker players who’ve won the World Series of Poker Main Event have described it as a surreal, or out of body experience. For Hamilton, his story may top them all. Hamilton had been close to his parents for most of his adult life, and they had supported his decision to be a professional gambler. In 1992 Hamilton’s mom died, and it left a void in his life. He continued to play poker, but he has said it just didn’t feel right. Heading into the 1994 WSOP, Hamilton had not been feeling well, he had a flu that he just couldn’t kick. It even caused him to strike a deal at the $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha Event with four left. Hamilton probably had a fair chance to win the event, but at the moment he didn’t care about the money or the bracelet, he just wanted to relax. With four left he went all in with nothing, and left Binions Horseshoe for a few days.

Hamilton had lived in Vegas for almost 10 years, and had never seen a shooting star. In a course of three nights, he saw four, while relaxing in a hot tub. After the third one he felt it was a sign from his mother, so he said to himself, if I see a fourth one, I know it’s from her. Sure enough, he saw a fourth one. He was now ready to go try to win a WSOP Main Event Bracelet.

Throughout the tournament there was an old poker playing buddy he hadn’t seen in years who would give him some coins and tell him to tip the waitress the coins when you order a drink. Hamilton did as he was told, still feeling superstitious of everything going on. Hamilton reached the final table near the bottom of the pack, feeling his chances were slipping. The poker playing buddy came up to him, like usual, with a few coins, but this time he had a note. The man told him not to read the note until he ordered a drink.

Anxious to read the note, he quickly ordered a water, gave the waitress the coins, and read the note. The note read, “When you get the two queens, the tournament will be over.” Shocked, he put the note down, but was able to battle back, and make it heads up with Hugh Vincent.

Vincent was a slight chip leader and when Hamilton looked down, believe it or not, he saw queens, his first queens of the final table. Hamilton thought to himself that there is no way this will be the hand that wins it for me. Sure enough, the flop gave Hamilton a set of queens. Vincent, who had an open ended straight draw would go all in. Hamilton called, and took a commanding lead. He would win the tournament on the next hand, but the queen hand was the one that gave him the victory. After the game ended Hamilton was ready to give his old friend a very hefty tip, but he couldn’t find him. In fact, he never saw him again. Hamilton can’t help but think that was his mom’s way of saying she was still there with him.

The WSOP also initiated an unusual prize for the Main Event winner the year that Hamilton won. Hamilton won the bracelet along with his weight in silver. At the time, Hamilton was quite portly, and it isn’t known exactly how much he weighed or the value of the additional prize.

Hamilton obviously had enough for a bar now, but had decided to keep making a go of it with just poker. It’s been said that since Hamilton won the WSOP Main Event bracelet he has very little interest in winning more. Hamilton is known for also trying to make deals at final tables that see him finish with more money, as others continue to play for the bracelet. Hamilton feels he won the bracelet, nothing else could ever compare.

*Editor’s Note: Russ Hamilton has been in the mix of controversy involving a cheating scandal and Ultimate Bet. Check PokerWorks for the most recent updates.*

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