The year 2011 was bittersweet for Phil Hellmuth, who made three World Series of Poker final tables, recorded his first million-dollar score, and broke a personal record for most money ($1,652,251) earned in a single year. But he would have traded everything for bracelet No. 12.
Hellmuth finished runner-up three times at the 2011 WSOP, and finished runner-up to Ben Lamb in the Player of the Year race. The Poker Brat’s propensity to finish second landed him second in our Top 10 Stories of 2011, and, ironically, he finished runner-up in this year’s edition of the series.
We’re quite certain he won’t mind, though, because in 2012 he smashed all the monetary records he set in 2011 and won two more gold bracelets.
Hellmuth had been stuck in neutral since 2007 when he won bracelet No. 11 in Event #15: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em. At the start of the 2012 WSOP, it had been 1,814 days since he had tasted the sweetness of victory. Nearly 300 bracelets had been awarded during that time, three to Phil Ivey, who was hot on Hellmuth’s heels.
It was only fitting that during the wee hours of the morning on June 11th, 2012 — exactly five years since Hellmuth won No. 11 — both Phils were heads-up for a bracelet. In the Amazon Room, Ivey was battling Andy Frankenberger in front of a packed crowd under the bright lights of the Mothership in Event #17: $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em. Over in the Pavilion Room, with less than 20 people watching, including our PokerNews Live Reporting Team and the tournament director, Hellmuth was butting heads with Don Zewin in Event #18: $2,500 Seven Card Razz.
While Ivey couldn’t get anything going against Frankenberger in the Amazon Room, Hellmuth started steamrolling Zewin in the Pavillion Room. The Poker Brat’s 3:1 advantage quickly turned into a 5:1 advantage, and Zewin struggled to tread water. At approximately 1:15 a.m., the news broke that Frankenberger had eliminated Ivey. In the final hand, Ivey moved all in with an open-ended straight draw, and Frankenberger held top pair. The turn and river bricked, awarding Frankenberger his second bracelet in as many years. Ivey had to settle for the $275,559 second-place prize.
Minutes later, everyone who had been watching Ivey poured into the Pavilion Room to sweat Hellmuth. Simultaneously, Zewin staged a comeback. After chipping away a bit, Zewin doubled with a 9-7-5-3-2 low against Hellmuth’s 10-8-6-4-2. The Poker Brat was visibly shaken, and later told our own Lynn Gilmartin that thoughts of 2011 entered his head.
“Fear set in a couple of times,” Hellmuth admitted. “[Zewin] made a nice run, and I said ‘oh my God, not again.’ Then I said, ‘just eliminate all negative thoughts and focus on playing great.’”
Soon after, Zewin was forced to fold on seventh street after committing a large portion of his stack and was left with just three big bets. A few hands later, Zewin was all-in on fourth street with a K-9-6-3, and Hellmuth had him at risk with an 4-2-A-A. Hellmuth drew a jack on fifth, paired his four on sixth, and made a jack-ten low on seventh. Zewin still couldn’t best Hellmuth, drawing a jack on fifth, then pairing on both sixth and seventh.
Hellmuth leaped into the air in disbelief, and hugged his good friend Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. He then brought his son Philipp on stage for the bracelet ceremony, during which he popped bottles of champagne with Ty Stewart, executive director of the WSOP.
Hellmuth would make two more final tables during the summer, finishing fourth in Event #32: $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. (where he was joined by Ivey at the final table), and fourth in the $1 Million Big One for One Drop.
In the One Drop, Hellmuth’s bust-out hand was almost a massive double up. With the blinds at 400,000/800,000/100,000, Hellmuth opened to 2.8 million from first position. Sam Trickett three-bet jammed for 33.575 million from the small blind, and Hellmuth called off his stack for 8.025 million total.
Hellmuth made two pair on the flop, but gave Trickett a flush draw, as well. The on the turn didn’t complete the Brit’s hand, but he picked up a gut-shot straight draw. The spiked on the river, giving Trickett Broadway and eliminating Hellmuth in fourth place ($2,645,333).
Hellmuth headed to Cannes, France, at the end of September for the World Series of Poker Europe. He was chasing bracelet No. 13 but at the same time had a puncher’s chance at taking the lead away from Greg Merson in the Player of the Year race. The Poker Brat cashed in three of the first five events, earning over $40,000.
In the Main Event, the seventh and final bracelet event at the WSOP Europe, Hellmuth came out of the blocks fast, finishing Day 2 among the chip leaders. Hellmuth commanded a top-ten stack throughout Day 3, and on Day 4 he rocketed up the charts. He finished the penultimate day as the chip leader, entering into the final table with more than a quarter of the chips in play.
Ukranian Sergii Baranov quickly shot up the charts, grabbing the chip lead from Hellmuth, and the two battled as the eight-handed final table turned to four. At this point in the tournament, Hellmuth took the lead in the WSOP Player of the Year race when Joseph Cheong was eliminated in fourth place. Stephane Albertini then bowed out in third place, and Hellmuth was heads-up with a 3:1 chip lead against Baranov.
In the final hand, Baranov limped in on the button, and Hellmuth put in a raise. Branov moved all in, and Hellmuth snapped it off.
“I’m going to win this right here,” he said, tabling .
Baranov was crushed with , and the board rolled out .
“It’s the best tournament I’ve ever played in my entire life,” Hellmuth told his friends after the hand.
With the win, Hellmuth earned bracelet No. 13 and pushed his 2012 earnings to an astounding $4,394,823. He also had a stranglehold on the WSOP Player of the Year race, but Merson, who had to win the WSOP Main Event to pass Hellmuth, spoiled the party in October.
WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla, a well-respected poker historian, told PokerNews that Hellmuth’s accomplishments this year were not only the best of his career, but the best of 2012:
"Of all Phil Hellmuth's innumerable accomplishments and incredible years in the game, 2012 may have been his greatest personal triumph. Winning not just one, but two gold bracelets in an era when tournament fields are bigger and tougher than ever before stands as a landmark achievement.
"Hellmuth won WSOP titles both in Las Vegas and in Europe — but his win at Cannes eclipses everything. I consider it the year's most memorable moment in poker. Once again, Hellmuth hasn't just raised the bar; he's on a completely different level. I'm not sure anyone will ever surpass his record."
Hellmuth’s personal goal is to win 24 career bracelets, and with his win in Cannes, he’s over halfway home. In 2012, he proved he can win a bracelet outside of No-Limit Hold’em, making him a legitimate threat in every WSOP event he plays. For the next two decades or so, all eyes will be on the Poker Brat as he tries to add to his illustrious trophy case.
Watch out ladies and gentlemen, Phil Hellmuth Jr. is back.
PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2012:
#3, Howard Lederer Breaks Year-Long Silence in the Lederer Files
#4, The Big One for One Drop
#5a, Greg Merson Wins the WSOP Main Event and POY Award
#5b, Dan Smith Dominates
#7, Greg Raymer Wins Four Heartland Poker Tour Titles
#8, Marvin Rettenmaier Wins Back-To-Back WPTs and Much More
#9, Baumann and Hille Bubble WSOP Main Event Final Table
#10, Phil Ivey Returns in a Big Way