Ok picture yourself as a poker fan. You are in Las Vegas and you want to check out this World Series of Poker thing for yourself. You take the shuttle or the cab ride out to the Rio, and you head into the Pavilion room. You see a huge crowd gather around the stage, and you look up to see who’s at the final table, and you see Phil Hellmuth! The Poker Brat himself is going for bracelet #12!
Then you hear whispers of another Phil that you’ve heard of. Mr Phil Ivey. You hear that he too is at a final table, and he’s going for bracelet #9! You think, this can’t be true. Well yes, if you were a lucky poker fan in Las Vegas last night, this dream happened. Arguably the two biggest names in poker were fighting it out simultaneously for yet another piece of poker history. Now this is obviously a big deal in it’s own right, but when you consider the year’s they had in 2011, it’s something that’s straight out of a Hollywood movie.
Phil Ivey was at the top of his game when the 2011 WSOP arrived. He had secured bracelets in two straight years, and it seem inevitable that he would put another notch on his belt last year. But the first event came around, the $25,000 Heads Up, an event practically made for him, and he wasn’t there. Everyone was left scratching their heads, confused by his noticeable absence. And then the bombshell hit. Ivey, who’s name had been tied to Full Tilt Poker since it’s beginning, was boycotting the whole World Series because he felt it was wrong for him to be able to play in events when everyone at the Rio had money stuck on Full Tilt.
It was a noble move by Ivey, who is in the prime of his career chasing history at the WSOP. To take a year off was unheard of, but I have to be the one to ask. Was it worth it? Here we are a year later, and nothing has changed. US players still aren’t paid from FTP, and there’s still no reliable light at the end of the tunnel we are in after Black Friday. I’m of course stoked to see Ivey here, but it’s still kind of a weird situation.
Then, you have the Poker Brat. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue a few things. Hellmuth has a giant heart that plays in two ways: he’s a huge competitor, and he puts everything he has into his poker. No one shows that they want a bracelet more then Hellmuth. Also, despite his brash personality on TV, Hellmuth is one of the most upstanding individuals in poker, always making time for photos and autographs with his fans.
Last year, Hellmuth experienced the gut wrenching feeling of being so close, yet oh so far. First, he finished runner up to John Juanda in the 10k No Limit 2-7 tournament, a heads up where he was outclassed by what many consider to be the best 2-7 player in the world in Juanda. Then, just 9 days later, he finished second again, this time in the 10k Stud Hi-lo event. Finally, he was ready to fight those demons off, as he built a huge chip lead up in the most prestigious event there is: the $50k players championship. However, after missing not 1, not 2, but 3 flush draws, Hellmuth was left stunned and speechless. Yet another 2nd place finish.
The stage was set for history to be made. Both players were chip leaders heads up, and both were looking to take the spot light. But then, a bump in the road. Phil Ivey loses a massive pot, where….wait… did he just make a mistake? Ivey checked behind when Andy Frankeberger held just king high, and Ivey couldn’t beat it. Just like that, he lost the chip lead. Then, after being widdled down, he gets it in with a straight draw, but Andy has him beat with top pair. He can’t make it, and in a flash, the night turns from “the greatest night in poker history” to potentially “the most disappointing night”
Almost exactly as Ivey walked off the stage after his loss, Hellmuth, who had held the dominating chip lead throughout the heads up battle, lost a big pot that shrunk his lead down. As Daniel Negreanu so perfectly put it: “Ugly finish for Ivey and Zewin wins a big pot at the same time to claw back into it. Being a poker fan tonight.” That’s how we all felt. Everyone wanted to see some kind of history being made.
As it played out, Hellmuth grinded it out, and eventually shipped the bracelet, his first in a non-hold’em game. Let’s give credit where credit is due. For years now, Hellmuth has been saying he’s one of the best mixed game players in the world, but he’s never had the results to back it up. With three 2nds in non holdem games last year, and this bracelet in razz, he is showing that he’s vastly improved in these games.
The stars nearly aligned for the perfect night at the WSOP. But in a game like poker, where so often things can go wrong for you when they are supposed to go right, it almost seems fitting that only one of them could rise to the top. Does anyone want to bet against Ivey being back in that chair later in this series, and losing it again? I certainly don’t. Thank you to the Phil’s, for one of the best nights of poker I’ve ever seen. I won’t forget this anytime soon.