Back in the Saddle: Ben Hamnett Returns to Poker and Scores Day 2 Chip Lead at WPT Five Diamond

Dec 17, 2021

Ben Hamnett is in position to potentially add his name to the Mike Sexton Champion Cup for the second time after a strong Day 2 at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. (Joe Giron photo)
Ben Hamnett is in position to potentially add his name to the Mike Sexton Champion Cup for the second time after a strong Day 2 at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. (Joe Giron photo)

By Sean Chaffin

A familiar face topped the chip counts at the end of Day 2 at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic. Champions Club member Ben Hamnett finished the day with 800,000 chips and entered the field after some time away from not only the WPT but also the American tournament poker scene.

“It’s pretty exciting, I had no idea,” he said after learning he returned for Day 3 as chip leader. “I didn’t play very well, but I had the nuts every hand so it was great. Every time I made the nuts I just got minimum value. I think a better player would have done better, but I think I played better in the last level.”

Hamnett added his name to the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup in 2012 after winning the Borgata Poker Open for $818,847. Hamnett is now married and living in China and that has limited his opportunities to play. Some immigration issues in getting his family to the U.S. have kept him living in Zhuhai on the mainland and across from the Chinese gambling mecca of Macau.

“We’ve been three months away from moving back here for five years,” he says.

While the immigration issues can be frustrating, Zhuhai has been a nice spot for Hamnett and his family as he awaits a change in their immigration status.

“The 50 million people who made China rich are in the four cities that surround where I live,” he says. “It’s just like a tropical paradise for families. We’re just there by accident, not by any foresight. We’re just there to be next to Macau to gamble. It’s a crazy story.”

The island of Macau is the only part of China that allows casinos. Some of the properties host high stakes games featuring wealthy businessmen and occasionally major American high rollers like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan. The island’s proximity allows Hamnett to hit the tables, but lately he’s played less and spent more time with his family.

This year, Hamnett returned to the U.S. for some poker. He played in the World Series of Poker Main Event and grabbed a min-cash. He’s now back to the WPT at Bellagio as well with hopes to recapture some of that action from Season XI. There’s also another reason for his trip to Las Vegas.

“I’m trying to figure out which city we’re going to move to when we get back and what I’m going to do with my life,” he says. “My mom was like, ‘You’re just going to be gambling the whole time, you’ve got to explore schools and houses and neighborhoods.’ I tried that before and I didn’t figure anything out. But I just whine about my life at the poker table. You have this big cross-section of perspectives at the poker tables with everyone from every city telling you what’s going on. After the pandemic, in some cities it’s over and in some it’s not.”

Some of his future home possibilities include Los Angeles, Las Vegas, his hometown of Pittsburgh, and maybe others. He’s still not quite sure, and not even sure if he’ll remain in poker.

“I’ve been trying to quit for 15 years,” he says. “But it’s just a good gig. You meet the best diver in world and they don’t make any money. You meet the best bull rider and he made $200,000. And I’m like the 100,000th best poker player in the world and I’m making a lot of money.

“What industry am I going to get into? I would rather do something else with my life, but now I have a family and it’s always one more year, one more year. But poker is a good industry to pivot out of too.”

For the last year, Hamnett has been mostly a full-time father. Looking back on his WPT title, Hamnett believes it is more of an anomaly on his poker record. While he now has $1.4 million in live tournament winnings, cash games are more of his focus. There is about a five year span on his poker record where he didn’t play many major events at all.

“I wasn’t really much of a tournament player,” he says. “But there was one year where I was trying to do it.”

That paid off with the big win at Borgata. When not playing poker, selling options also occupies Hamnett’s time. He has a unique strategy on how he runs this side business.

“My hobby?” he says. “I read fake news and try to make sense of it. Why are people saying this stuff? Then whatever the craziest thing I’m seeing for the week, whatever people are hysterical about and why people think the world is ending this week, I try to sell options to those people.”

His options trading may be reminiscent of an episode on Seinfeld where George does the opposite of his natural inclinations. Hamnett takes a similar approach to his options transactions. He’s now hoping to collect more chips on Day 3 at the Five Diamond and is happy to be back in the field and back in the U.S. playing poker.

“It’s been great,” he says. “This event is amazing. I wish they had more dealers, but with this labor shortage you just have to deal with whatever’s happening. I’m just grateful to get out of the house and see some people.

“And everybody’s been so gracious, everybody’s been so nice. The dealers used to yell at people all the time. High stakes used to be a little different, they’d listen to people. But now it’s become like that at all stakes, which is really nice. People are very nice to each other and everybody’s just very cordial.”

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer based in New Mexico and Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.

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