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Top 10 Stories of 2011: #9, Second Place Goes to — Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth

If you were to tell any poker player in the world that they would amass $1.65 million in tournament prize money next year, they would ask to sign the dotted line — immediately. Well, in 2011, Phil Hellmuth did just that, making it the most profitable year of his career. Still, the self-proclaimed “Poker Brat” would probably trade every penny he’s made this past year for one simple thing.

A win.

Hellmuth painstakingly finished runner-up in three World Series of Poker events this summer, finished third and second in the Epic Poker League Event #2 Pro/Am and the Epic Poker League Event #2 Charity Event respectively, and bubbled the final table of the World Series of Poker Europe €2,500 Six Max tournament. To add insult to injury, Hellmuth finished runner-up in the WSOP Player of the Year race, scoring 145 fewer points than the eventual winner, Ben Lamb.

Close Calls (by date of occurrence)

WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Deuce to Seven Draw Lowball World Championship2nd$226,907
WSOP $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Championship2nd$273,233
WSOP $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship 8-Game2nd$1,063,034
EPL Event 2 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Pro-Am3rd$20,000
EPL Event 2 $200 No-Limit Hold’em Charity Event2nd$1,500
WSOPE €2,500 Six Max No-Limit Hold’em7th$32,305

*Stats provided by the Hendon Mob database

Hellmuth’s first close call was understandable — John Juanda is arguably the best deuce-to-seven player in the world. In fact, fellow pro Daniel Negreanu tweeted during the match that, “Watching Juanda/Hellmuth doesn’t seem like a fair fight. If PH [Phil Hellmuth] wins this I’ll be both uber impressed/shocked.”

Negreanu’s analysis was spot on. Despite entering heads-up play as a 3:1 favorite, Hellmuth crumbled against Juanda, and was denied his 12th WSOP bracelet for the first of three times at the 2011 WSOP.

In the final hand, Hellmuth moved all-in with the button and Juanda called. Juanda drew one card while Hellmuth stood pat with {q-}{10-}{8-}{5-}{2-}. Juanda tabled {j-}{6-}{3-}{2-}, and squeezed out the {8-Spades} for a winning jack-eight low.

phil_hellmuthStrange thing: I finished in 2nd place & Won $270,000, but I feel cmpletly awful + i am unconsolable...Congrats 2 the great @luckboxjuanda

Then Hellmuth tweeted, “Couldn’t sleep, took pajamas off + walked downstairs to “High Roller” bar at Aria Hotel, drinking 4th glass of 25 yr old Macallan Scotch.”

Ten days later, Hellmuth found himself at the final table of the Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Championship event. There, he outlasted the likes of David Benyamine, Ted Forrest, John Racener, Ali Eslami, and Joe Tehan. Hellmuth was again one elimination away from his 12th bracelet, but this time he was out-chipped 7:1 by Eric Rodawig. The two battled for less than an hour, and Hellmuth was never less than a 3:1 dog, despite doubling twice. On the final hand, Hellmuth was all-in with {j-Clubs}{10-Clubs}/{9-Hearts}, but failed to improve his hand. Rodawig made two pair and a low, scooping the pot and the bracelet.

He again took to Twitter:

phil_hellmuthAbsolutely Played my heart out, but fell short of the 12th bracelet one more time: 2nd place again. Not as depressed this time though...

On July 6, Hellmuth reached his third final table of the 2011 WSOP, and it was in the most prestigious event of the summer — the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship. Hellmuth, whose best game is no-limit hold’em, which is the format of the final table, was in the middle of the pack to start the day, but ascended to the top of the ranks after doubling through Brian Rast. Six eliminations later, Hellmuth found himself heads-up with Rast with a slight chip advantage. After winning a massive, 8-million-chip pot, Hellmuth jumped out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 8:1 chip advantage.

But Rast didn’t quit.

On a {10-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{4-Spades} board, Hellmuth moved all-in with {9-Hearts}{6-Hearts} and Rast called with {a-Diamonds}{k-Hearts} for just ace-high. The turn and river bricked {q-Clubs}, {2-Clubs} respectively, and Rast doubled. Three hands later, Rast three-bet shoved all-in with top pair after the flop, and Hellmuth called him with another flush draw. Rast faded clubs this time, and doubled to make the match even. Rast then made a flush (ironic) two hands later, taking the lead by nearly 2 million chips.

On the final hand, Hellmuth had the button and opened. Rast defended, and the flop came down {j-Diamonds}{9-Diamonds}{10-Spades}. Rast led out, Hellmuth moved all-in, and Rast made the call — with the nuts {k-Clubs}{q-Clubs}. Hellmuth was drawing to yet another flush draw, this time with {8-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds}, and again neither the turn, {5-Hearts}, nor the river, {8-Spades}, were any help. Rast was the champion, while Hellmuth would have to settle with a third runner-up finish at the 2011 WSOP.

phil_hellmuthGot heads up vs Brian Rast, had $17 Million to his $2.4...and LOST, sigh. Drinking Macallan 25 and Louis XIII at Aria high limit bar, sigh.

Surprisingly, Hellmuth’s seven-figure cash that night was the first of his career — his largest cash before that was $755,000 for winning the 1989 WSOP Main Event. Hellmuth’s three other close calls were much less epic (no pun intended), because the EPL Pro/Am awarded the top four spots a $20,000 seat in the EPL Main Event, the EPL Charity Event was, well, a charity event, and he didn’t even make the official final table when he finished seventh in the WSOPE short-handed event. Still, the losses hurt, and so did finishing second to Lamb in the WSOP POY race.

Perhaps if Hellmuth didn’t covet the 12th bracelet he’s yet to win so much, these losses would be less painful. However, if he didn’t care as much about winning the gold, then he wouldn’t be the Poker Brat. He wouldn’t be Phil Hellmuth. Every year we look forward to seeing him at the WSOP, because we know that whenever he goes deep, it’s history in the making. You can’t deny that.

Only Hellmuth could be disappointed with a $1.65 million year, but that’s why we love/hate/laugh at/shake our heads at him. And we always will. Good luck next year Phil, we’re sure you’ll make history some how or another.

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