The World Series of Poker has long been Phil Hellmuth's personal stomping grounds. The "Poker Brat" has set the benchmark for every major milestone the series has to offer. Hellmuth owns the record for most cashes in WSOP history with 101 in-the-money finishes, and his 50 final table appearances put him squarely atop that list as well. Of course, winning is all that matters to Hellmuth, and with 13 WSOP gold bracelets to his credit over an incredibly consistent 25-year career, he has long since pulled away in the race for the hardest earned hardware in poker.
On Sunday, Hellmuth was poised to extend his lead in that regard after weaving his way through a 352-runner field in Event #7: $1,500 Seven-Card Razz, reaching yet another final table. Taking a 2-to-1 chip lead into his heads-up contest against Ted Forrest exactly 25 years after achieving his greatest glory - defeating Johnny Chan in the 1989 WSOP Main Event to dethrone the two-time defending champion - the stars seemed to be aligned for a triumph of truly historic proportions.
Unfortunately for Hellmuth, his opponent was no stranger to WSOP success in his own right, as Forrest had five gold bracelets of his own already tucked away in the trophy case - including a Razz win back in 1993. The pair of poker legends went toe-to-toe for more than four hours with history on the line, trading the chip lead multiple times and putting one another to the test as only all-time greats can. In the end, though, it was Forrest who managed to capture every last chip in play, denying Hellmuth the glory and the gold he so desperately seeks every time he takes a seat in a tournament.
Razz Rules: Before earning his record-extending 12th WSOP bracelet back in 2012, Hellmuth was widely regarded as a one-trick pony of sorts, dominating hold'em tournaments while struggling to break through to the winner's circle in other variants. That's not to say Hellmuth couldn't play every game in the mix — his three runner-up finishes in non-hold'em events in 2011 attest that — but to that point he had never captured gold in a game using more than two hole cards.
All of that changed in 2012, however, when Hellmuth emerged victorious in Event #18: $2,500 Seven Card Razz to get the proverbial monkey off of his back.
Runner-up Run Bad: As mentioned, Hellmuth has experienced the pain of finishing second in a bracelet event before, with three such instances coming in less than a month in 2011. Hellmuth fell in agonizing fashion in Event #16: $10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship No-Limit, Event #33: $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship, and Event #55: $50,000 Poker Player's Championship. All in all, Hellmuth had finished runner-up in WSOP competition an astounding nine times before Sunday's defeat, and losing to Forrest made it an even 10 times he has come tantalizingly close to his one and only goal before coming up just short.
Eyes on the Prize: Doing the math when it comes to Hellmuth's final table experience at the WSOP, it turns out he has made it to heads-up play a total of 23 times in his record-setting 50 final table appearances. That's good for a closing rate of 46 percent. Considering the pressure-packed atmosphere that a WSOP final table represents, and the level of talent which one expects from the final nine of a big buy-in event, Hellmuth's uncanny ability to put himself in position for a bracelet nearly half the time he makes it there is jaw-dropping to say the least.
All in the Family: Despite relentlessly pursuing WSOP bracelets for the past 25 years, Hellmuth rarely hangs on to the hardware once he hunts it down. As the "Poker Brat" proudly noted in a recent interview with PokerNews' very own Rich Ryan, he has given all but two of his bracelets to friends and family, holding on only to his first from the Main Event and his 12th from the aforementioned non-hold'em breakthrough in Razz. Two recipients of Hellmuth's golden gifts were in the house to sweat and support on Sunday, as his wife Katherine and good friend Chamath Palihapitiya both soaked in the scene from the Mothership final table stage.
Razz and Repeat: Hellmuth and Forrest were each attempting to join an exclusive club by winning their second Razz bracelet, a feat by only three other players: Huck Seed, Gary Berland, and Mike Hart. As mentioned above, Hellmuth notched a Razz win in 2012, while Forrest turned the trick in 1993, but it was Forrest who added his name to the short list of dual WSOP Razz bracelet winners.
Grating Yet Gracious: Hellmuth's inimitable antics in the face of adversity are the stuff of legend, and he has more than earned the nickname "Poker Brat" after 25 years of tirades and tantrums. Nonetheless, Hellmuth also respects his fellow pros, and especially longtime friends from poker's halcyon days of old. Forrest fits the bill in both respects, and fittingly Hellmuth took to Twitter just minutes after absorbing a crushing loss to congratulate his old comrade in arms:
Congrats to my old friend Ted Forrest on winning #WSOPRazz tourn. If I had to lose to someone, I'm glad it was Teddy....2nd place for meFollow @phil_hellmuth
Bach-to-Bach: Lost in all of the commotion surrounding the spectacle that is a Phil Hellmuth final table, longtime pro David Bach made his second consecutive run at winning this event. Last summer Bach finished as the runner-up to Bryan Campanello, and on Sunday he registered a 4th place run. An accomplished mixed-game specialist, Bach owns one of the most prestigious bracelets in all of poker after taking down the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship in 2009, and on Sunday he nearly added another to his collection.