Event #16 is over here just shortly after the midnight hour in Las Vegas. John Juanda has just been handed a WSOP gold bracelet for the fifth time in his career, overcoming a big heads-up chip disadvantage to claim the title in what is arguably the most entertaining event of the Series.
Some would say it was meant to be Phil Hellmuth's 12th bracelet party today, four years to the day after he snagged number eleven. Doubters flocked to the rail from the start of play, but Hellmuth stood tall as seven players fell by the wayside. His play was mostly stellar through the first half of the day, and he amassed a huge chip lead as the players dropped one by one. Among them were the 2009 and 2010 champions of this event, Nick Schulman and David Baker, exiting in fifth and sixth places, respectively. The 2004 champion of the whole WSOP, Greg Raymer made it to this final day too, but he would fall in ninth place before the last eight players were relocated to the main stage.
Today's story truly was a memorable one, and you'd do well to read back through the blog if you missed any of the action. At the dinner break, Hellmuth had more than 2.6 million of the 3.8 in play with three players left. Juanda knocked Richard Ashby out in third place shortly after they returned, though, and he had his sights fixed firmly on Hellmuth's stack.
When heads-up play began, Hellmuth still had about a 3:1 chip lead, but Juanda's edge in skill soon began to show through. He picked away at Hellmuth's stack with methodical precision, and the two locked horns in an hours-long tug of war. Many in the poker world consider Juanda to be one of the best 2-7 no-limit players in the world, and he proved that reasoning valid tonight, pressing Hellmuth into a corner as the levels wore on.
It was more than three hours of heads-up play before the final series of hands began to unravel. Hellmuth was showing signs of increasing frustration over the last hour or so, and Juanda thrived on the opportunity to quietly get under his opponent's skin. After fighting with such a strong pose for so long, Hellmuth began to look a bit downtrodden and unpleasant, sinking in his chair and mumbling under his breath. In the final hand, he got his money in pat with a queen, and Juanda drew live to his jack to lock up the bracelet. Hellmuth was sincere in his congratulations, it appeared, admitting he was scared of Juanda's heads-up game.
John Juanda finished in fourth place the last two years in this event, and he began this final day dangerously short on chips at the bottom of the heap. Apparently the third time's the charm. Nine hours later, he sits alone at the table with all 3.78 million chips in play. And a shiny new bracelet. It's number five in his career, and it comes with the extra bragging rights of denying number twelve for Mr. Hellmuth.
We hope you've enjoyed the spectacle from the Rio tonight. For now, this night stands alone as the marquee scene thus far in the 2011 World Series of Poker. But there are still another 40 events to be played, and we can nearly promise more moments like tonight.
Until tomorrow, then, all that's left is goodnight! Oh, and a huge congratulations to our new champion, John Juanda!