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Where Are They Now: Don Zewin, the Man Who Finished Third to Hellmuth & Chan in 1989

Don Zewin

The 2012 World Series of Poker was filled with some memorable moments, but early on the big story was Phil Hellmuth capturing his 12th WSOP gold bracelet; what’s more, he did it in Event #18 $2,500 Razz, his first non-hold’em bracelet. It had been 24 years since the “Poker Brat” first captured gold, and, coincidentally, Don Zewin was there for the first and the latest.

Back in the 1989 WSOP $10,000 Main Event, Hellmuth stopped the legendary Johnny Chan from capturing his third Main Event title in a row, thus launching his own record-setting career. It was one of the most iconic moments in poker history, but somewhere along the way, Zewin, who finished in third place, was forgotten.

Over the next two decades, Zewin continued to grind cash games in Las Vegas while adding to his tournament résumé. In that time, Zewin amassed $1,171,019 in career tournament earnings, which include 19 WSOP cashes totaling $532,047. One of those cashes happened last summer when Zewin made his name known to modern poker fans as he made a deep run in Event #18: $2,500 Razz alongside Hellmuth.

Eventually both men made the final table along with Michael Chow, Barry Greenstein, Brendan Taylor, Scott Fishman and Brandon Cantu. Hellmuth played a very active role at the final table, while Zewin practiced more patient and tight play. Eventually, both men made it to heads-up action with Hellmuth looking to capture his record 12th bracelet, while Zewin sought his long-overdue first. Unfortunately for the latter, his long-time foe held a significant chip lead and never relinquished it.

In what would be the last hand of the tournament, Zewin brought it in with a {6-} and was called by Hellmuth, who was showing a {2-}. The 11-time bracelet winner then led out on the turn and Zewin said, "Alright, let's do it," before raising. He had 5,000 back so Hellmuth three-bet and the tournament was on the line.

Zewin{3-}{9-} / {6-}{K-}{J-}{3-} / {x-}
Hellmuth{A-}{4-} / {A-}{2-}{J-}{4-} / {10-}

Zewin was drawing live as he headed to seventh and slowly squeezed out the last card. He seemed to know what this tournament meant to Hellmuth, and he said, "Go ahead. you got it." His last card was a {9-}.

PokerNews had the opportunity to talk with Zewin about poker, his move to Las Vegas, and the famed 1989 WSOP Main Event final table.

Razz has a reputation as being a torturous game. Do you enjoy playing the game?

It’s the most frustrating poker game ever created, I’d definitely agree with that.

You have results in pretty much every game imaginable. What’s your favorite variation of poker?

Don Zewin takes on Phil Hellmuth in 2012 WSOP Event #18 $2,500 Razz.
Don Zewin takes on Phil Hellmuth in 2012 WSOP Event #18 $2,500 Razz.

For tournaments or cash games?

Let’s go with tournaments.

Tournaments, it would probably be either limit or no-limit hold’em.

What about for cash games?

I like to play mixed games, the more the better. We used to play a lot of H.O.R.S.E., so the more the better in cash games.

Where do you play cash games?

I’m from Niagara Falls, but I’ve lived in Vegas since 1979. Playing cash games is all I do. I like playing at the Bellagio. I started playing the WSOP in either ’80 or ’81, I think it was the latter.

In 1989 you took third to Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan in the Main Event. Their heads-up battle has become one of the most iconic moments in poker history. Any fond memories from that final table?

It was exciting, but when the end result isn’t first place, it’s just a huge letdown. Everybody was aware Johnny Chan was going for his third title in a row, but I was really tuned in that year, and I wasn’t intimidated at all. When you get that deep in that particular tournament, you’re just tuned in and nothing is really going to rile you.

Was Phil Hellmuth as brash back then as he is today?

That part is hard to remember, but I would say it was nothing like what went on in the year’s after that. He was probably a little cocky back then. Winning that championship, I’m sure, kicked that off for him.

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