A month into the 42nd annual World Series of Poker, the Rio has already hosted a year's worth of outlandish drama, can't-be-real story lines, and of course, some epic poker. The names that deserve top billing in this year's poker musical are starting to emerge, and they're all pretty familiar. Here is a look at the poker stars who have cast themselves in big roles this summer.
ElkY Earns Man Jewelry
The rhinestone-loving Billy Idol of poker, Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, has won everything in poker, it seems, but somehow he still didn't have a bracelet — until last week. The Elkman picked up $331,639 and the coveted WSOP gold in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship. Of course, in ElkY style, he had to make the victory as dramatic as his hair. Grospellier fought back from a 24:1 deficit to win a four-hour heads-up battle with Steven Landfish. ElkY is now the second person in this series (and the fourth person ever) to earn poker's triple crown. Jake Cody earned his third leg of the honors with a win the $25,000 Heads-Up Championship to start the Series.
Hellmuth Bracelet Watch Part II
One of poker's biggest names, and biggest heads, is confusing us by playing like he actually deserves a leading role on the WSOP stage. Phil Hellmuth has demanded top billing this summer, and not just by wearing some "wasn't-hugged-enough-as-a-child" get-up for his late entrance. Hellmuth came within arm's reach of bracelet #12 again last week in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split Championship but, started heads-up play very extra short and couldn't make an ElkY-like comeback. Maybe next time, buddy. For now, though, Hellmuth can milk his run at Player of the Year for all the publicity it's worth.
WPT Invading the WSOP
Sure, poker is one big show, but the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker are different genres. Broadway's greatest straight plays rarely compete with blockbuster musicals for the same accolades even if they're chopping up the same pool of box-office receipts. But this year WPT stars are making their presence felt big time at the Rio and showing they can hang with larger fields, more shallow structures, and some of those silly non-hold'em games.
Andy Frankenberger took his share of criticism when he appeared out of nowhere to win WPT Player of the Year honors this year, but with a WPT win, another final table, and now a WSOP bracelet in a massive no-limit event, it's difficulty to deny that he's the real deal. Sam Stein, another WPT and EPT frequent final tabler, followed Frankenberger to the World Series jewelry store, wising the $3,000 PLO event. And Mike Sexton, the face and voice of the WPT, represented for the old guard, finishing second in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo tournament.
Mercier on a Heater
Jason Mercier is a diehard Miami Heat fan, but basketball bets might be all he doesn't win. Man, that kid is good. He made his second final table of the Series last week, picking up his second lifetime bracelet while making it look easy. Mercier added a victory in the WSOP's first ever six-handed PLO event to his 2009 full-ring PLO bracelet.
We would have been very disappointed if Tom Dwan didn't make a final table this year and get to battle it out in an arena so easily renamed for him. But the durrrr show was kind of a letdown after last year. He came into the final table of last week's $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship as chip leader and poised to win a bracelet and scoop those extravagant bracelet bets. But they're a bit less extravagant this year, and his biggest anti-sweaters of the past (Howard Lederer and Phil Ivey) are nowhere to be found at the Rio. Last year it seemed like the high-stakes online world might collapse if Dwan won. This year, we've kind of addressed that already. So when durrrr finished fifth and his prop-betting opponents let out sighs of relief, they far from shook the Thundurrrrdome.
Poker needs a villain, and with Hellmuth actually playing cards and the "everyone-wearing-an-FTP-patch-is-evil" bit losing steam, we were starting to worry. Thank you, Men the Master. Men Nguyen is one of the easiest people in poker, perhaps anywhere, to dislike. He's got a shady past, plenty of cheating allegations, and a penchant for abusing dealers. And this time, he's found a new line to cross. He got into an argument with Vanessa Selbst on Day 1 of the $10,000 PLO Championship and made the brilliant, drinky decision to say that she wasn't a woman. Many pros have jumped into the fray demanding that Nguyen receive some form of punishment. In his defense, he is the one who wears heels at the table everyday.
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