The ultimate bubble boy


"The 2008 World Series of Poker's main event final table is set. … After plenty of grueling poker competition, our November Nine are finally ready to be introduced … one of them will be $9.1 million richer come November 9th," proclaimed Ali Nejad for ESPN.com.

After nearly three hours of play among the final 10 on July 15, the crowd erupted as the 10th-place finisher was eliminated. The first-ever November Nine finally gained names and faces. These soon-to-be-famous players, each of them instantly at least $900,670 richer, would now plan to take 117 days off before reuniting at the 2008 WSOP main event final table.

For Dean Hamrick, that 10th-place finisher, the moment was perhaps more bitter than sweet. A professional online player from East Lansing, Mich., he graciously shook everyone's hand, leaving the 2008 WSOP main event final table for good. Now he was left to wonder "What if?"

Heading into the final table, he was comfortably fifth in chips, holding almost $12.5 million and had been playing well. No one would have placed bets on him to be the "Final Table Bubble Boy." However, he suffered a horrendous beat 90 minutes into the action when his Qd-Qc fell to Craig Marquis' As-Qh on a runner-runner heart flush. Hamrick definitely had no regrets about that particular hand.

"I'd take that situation every time," he said. "I'd definitely do it again."

After that blow, Hamrick didn't panic.

"It is part of the game," he said. "That's the game we play. The tournament was different now, but I still had 20 times the big blind."

Although he remained composed, 90 minutes later Hamrick would see his tournament come to an abrupt end. Holding As-Jc, Hamrick succumbed to his archnemesis once again; this time Marquis held the pocket queens. When the board provided no additional help, Hamrick's amazing ride at the main event came to an end.

After a gentlemanly departure from the main stage, he quickly left the Amazon Room.

"My time was up and I had to go," Hamrick stated. "It's just a game. Even though losing in a poker tournament stinks, I still made lots of money [$591,869, to be exact]. In the end, it will not define me. I am 25 years old, and I still have plenty of more poker to play in the future."

Throughout the roller-coaster ride of that final table, everyone was struck by this young man's wisdom, perspective and mental composure. Hamrick holds a stalwart upbeat outlook, not only on his finish in this famous tournament, but also on his entire life. His personal story of physical and emotional challenges starting at birth helps us understand the impressive psychological toughness we witnessed in this 10th-place finisher.

Hamrick was one of twin boys, born in June 1983. His twin brother, Yale, came out with a clean bill of health, but Dean wasn't so fortunate. Doctors told his family that he had caught his foot on his mother's ribs while growing in utero. As a result of this unlucky positioning, he was born with dislocated hips and a disjointed right knee, as well as with club feet.

"I had a bad beat from an early age," Hamrick joked.

During the first nine years of his life, Hamrick underwent 13 surgeries to stabilize his lower body. To this day, he still walks with crutches.

To his great credit, and likely to his parents' as well, he did not let these physical disabilities stunt his competitive nature. While Hamrick watched his twin brother compete in high school varsity sports, he searched for his own competitive outlets. Although he made his own attempts to compete in sports (he swam in high school), it was the movie "Rounders" that allowed him to discover poker. Here, Hamrick found an excellent outlet for his talents.

Unlike most young Internet players of today, Hamrick began learning how to play poker live. Just like Phil Ivey, Hamrick recalls sneaking into casinos to play live cash games. "We'd drive a couple hours with only $60 in our pockets, just hoping to get a couple of hands in."

After his 21st birthday, he began playing in tournaments and found some reasonable success. Over time, he turned to the convenience of online poker to make his current living.

Nevertheless, Hamrick returns to his live poker roots by entering the WSOP every summer. In 2007, he finished 599th in the WSOP main event, earning $20,320.

"The 2007 WSOP definitely helped me with the 2008 tournament," Hamrick said. During this year's deep run, he drew on his previous experience, especially near the bubble. He made a huge laydown near the bubble, allowing him to survive and make his memorable finish in this year's WSOP main event.

Of course, he understandably feels the occasional twinge of envy toward the final nine players.

"I have never been the guy to complain about my finish," Hamrick said. "I still won a lot of money, but it sometimes does bother me a little when I see on TV or the Internet something about the November Nine."

Most players would be devastated by just missing out on the November Nine. Some might not be able to move on psychologically from the possibility of losing out on the fame and endorsements.

Even though Hamrick ended up the 2008 WSOP final table bubble boy, he undoubtedly will persevere, as he has throughout his life.

After overcoming significant childhood physical challenges, he has an unwavering attitude which will allow him to rise above any disappointment with his 10th-place finish. Hamrick has clearly proven himself to be a huge winner in the fickle game of poker and, more importantly, in the game of life.

Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and author of "The Final Table, Volume I." He also hosts a weekly poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Rounders Radio and in Boston on 1510 AM. The show can be heard from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday and is repeated throughout the week. For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.