At 19 years old, Blandino Gines had just come to America. He picked grapes for a living in California. He moved to Alaska and canned salmon. He taught himself to weld and moved to Seattle for another job.
Now, he is unemployed, a victim of layoffs and the tough economy. By the end of this weekend, Gines will have faced off against the best poker players in the world for a chance at half a million bucks in the NBC Heads Up Championship.
Blines qualified for his seat through a series of freerolls on PokerStars. When it was over, he was happy to have won the $1,000 travel money. He wasn't exactly clear on the implications of his success.
"I didn't think it was real when they first called me," Gines said. "I thought I just won $1,000. I didn't know that they were going to send me to Vegas to play in NBC Heads-Up. This is unbelievable. I am still in shock."
Originally from the Philippines, the father of three now spends a lot of time playing poker.
"I fell in love with the game," he said. "It's challenging. Later I learned some skills, then I started to play online and won some tournaments. I now have my chance to play in this tournament. I'm so excited."
In early February, Gines entered PokerStars' National Heads-Up Poker Championship promotion and survived 590,000 players through three rounds to win his seat. Gines first started playing poker two and a half years ago after watching poker on TV. He immediately created an account on PokerStars, and has been playing online ever since.
"I can't believe I might have the chance to play against Daniel Negreanu and Greg Raymer," Gines said.
He has that chance. The $20,000 buy-in will host Team PokerStars Pros Barry Greenstein, Gavin Griffin, Bertrand Grospellier, Joe Hachem, Dario Minieri, Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Negreanu, Greg Raymer, and Vanessa Rousso. Friend of PokerStars Orel Hershiser will also be among the runners.
Tonight, the Team Pros, Hershiser, and Gines will attend the draw party at the Pure nightclub and learn who they will face in the first round on Friday.
Keep it here for all the news on how they do.