Las Vegas, NV
"I can't fucking believe I'm going to write about Phil Hellmuth. Again."
I said that out loud to no one in particular. One of my colleagues snarked back, "Why? It's a non-story."
"That's the point," I said. "That out there in America, the masses are more interested in non-stories than the actual truth. That's why Miley Cyrus gets more hits on CNN than the oil spill."
"Out there? I thought we're in America?" muttered one of my Canadian colleagues.
"No," I said matter of factly. "This is Las Vegas. Home of the 99 cent shrimp cocktail and dial-a-hooker."
"So we're not in America?"
"Precisely. We're in an alternative universe. McCarran Airport is the wormhle."
It's not easy being Phil Hellmuth. How do you wake up every day and try to out do a legend such as yourself? Yet somehow, Hellmuth finds the inner strength to motivate himself. He digs deep into his soul, peeks into the heart of darkness, and unravels the mystery of why he's here at this time in place...
... to be the best.
If you judge a person by their jewelry, then Hellmuth is the best. If you rank individuals on accolades, then Hellmuth is the best. If you measure yourself by height, then Hellmuth is definitely up there.
Seriously, how many pros are taller than Hellmuth? Phil Gordon, Huck Seed, and Ed de Haas (Dutch pro that The G once backed into the Main Event) for sure. How about FBT Mueller? Lederer? Chau Giang?
Hellmuth wakes up every morning with the mindset that he's the best of the best. He also knows that he'll spend the rest of his waking hours chasing two entities; his own ghost and Phil Ivey. He's madly in love with one, yet fears the other.
Hellmuth made his mark with 11 WSOP bracelets over a two-decade career where he first made a splash as the youngest Main Event winner (at a time when not too many twenty-somethings played poker) in the early 1980s to becoming a media darling in the 21st century. He's done what he can to shape and mold his legacy into a Giant Sphinx. However, even that epic monument to himself will falter someday. All you have to do is visit the ruins of Europe and see firsthand how the modern cities are built on top or next to the rubble from the former glorious empire.
For now, Hellmuth clutches onto his record-number of bracelets. Every time that Ivey wins a bracelet, he senses his own immortality and knows that his reign as supreme leader is slowly coming to an end -- unless he can keep pace with Ivey. But for how long can he keep that up? Not only is Ivey a better mixed games player, he also has millions of dollars in incentives driving him to seize as many bracelets as he can in the next few years. Can Ivey's footsteps push Hellmuth to another level?
And even if Ivey gets bogged down in a slump (very unlikely, but in poker we're all variance's whipping post from time to time), Hellmuth still has to worry about the overlooked Erik Seidel. And if Seidel doesn't catch him by the end of this decade, then some new phenom will. Perhaps that Durrrr kid? Or maybe the first ever 20 bracelet winner is still in high school in a small town in Scandinavia and just opened up his first ever online poker account?
Until Ivey passes him (2015 is a good over/under year), Hellmuth is still the biggest dog and can bark all he wants. After all, he earned it. At the same time, when Ivey passes Hellmuth, I just can't see him walking down the hallway of the Rio dressed as Julius Caesar. Could you see Ivey riding around London on a double-decker bus with his image plastered on the side and fourteen models at his side?
The bracelet race gives everyone something to talk about. As a member of the media, I emphasize a significant amount of weight behind a bracelet, which is why I hope that the WSOP caps the number of bracelets in the future. If it was up to me, I'd only give out 40 bracelets a year (36 in the US and 4 international).
But what is a WSOP bracelet really worth these days? Is a bracelet from 1978 worth more than one in 2009? Some would say that winning a bracelet in the 1970s was as easy as winning a three-table SNG, whereas others would argue that they're practically giving away bracelets in 2010 with seven open events at a discounted price of $1,000.
In 1978, the WSOP at the Horseshoe consisted of 13 events, seven of which had buy-ins of $1,000 or less:
$500 Ace to Five DrawNote that Seven-Card Stud Split is mentioned twice in 1978's WSOP. That's not a typo. The game was so popular back then (it was the rage -- all the cool kids were playing it), that it was included twice! Sounds like a modern day donkament. A few other things to note... the Ladies event was only $100 and the format was Stud. And funnily enough, Razz was an event that had a $5,000 event and a discounted $500 buy-in event.
$500 Seven-Card Razz
$1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split
$1,000 No Limit Hold'em
$100 Women's 7-Card Stud
$1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split
$500 Seven-Card Stud
Oh, and in 1978, only one player cashed in preliminary events... the winner.
When the final table was set of Event #41 PLO/8, Hellmuth secured himself a seat. Everyone knows that Hellmuth is one of the greatest hold'em players in the world, which is to say that his appearance at a non-hold'em final table is a noteworthy achievement because he's never won a non-hold'em bracelet. He's advanced to many non-hold'em final tables at the WSOP, but Hellmuth simply can't close in a non-hold'em event. It's probably in Hellmuth's best interest to shore up his non-hold'em games and play more mixed game since the fields are much smaller in those "fetish" events.
In Event #41, Hellmuth had to fade 847 runners in order to win a bracelet. With nine to go, the veteran could not ask for a better spot, even though he was one of the shortest stacks at the final table. Ryan Karp held the top spot at a final table that also featured Ben Lamb and Mandy "roxy24" Thomas.
Hellmuth, facing a lukewarm crowd (neither majority were rooting for him or against him at the onset), found himself in trouble early and was down to a couple of BBs before he unleashed a valiant comeback and doubled up to avoid elimination. Alas, his comeback was short-lived and he as just postponing the inevitable. Hellmuth fizzled out in 7th place. A few spectators clapped out of sure joy, others gave him a sendoff out of respect.
Hellmuth is still the player with the most bracelets at 11. Will he get #12 before Ivey can get #9? Or will Ivey see #10 before Hellmuth wins another?
Rest assured, if either one makes another deep run this summer, it will become a non-story story... just like on Day 8 when I penned Darth Hellmuth.
Alas, the real story (or the non-non-story) involved Steve Jelinek, who ended up winning the bracelet. The citizen of the United Kingdom secured a fifth bracelet for the Brits in four weeks. Simply amazing. Scary thing is that they can still win one or even two more, not to mention the WSOP-E events later this year.
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 28....
Somewhat slow day with just one final table and four events. Ah, the calm before the stormy weekend...
Event #42 Donkament Day 2: Humberto Brenes was leading the field in the donknament at the start of Day 2. Can a shark faded 2,000 donks? The money bubble burst early on Day 2, and over the course of the afternoon, Mike Sowers jumped out to an impressive lead. When Day 2 ended with three tables to go, Drew Rosskamm was near the top of the pack. Bernard Lee, Humberto, and Sowers were all still alive.
Event #43 10K HORSE Championship Day 2: The HORSE Championship is now a $10,000 buy-in event. Essentially HORSE and 8-Game switched their highest buy-in events. The $50,000 Players' Championship took on the 8-Game format, which meant that the HORSE championship became a $10,000 buy-in event. The field attracted 241 runners with $611K going to the winner.
Russian Sergey Altbregin ended Day 1 as the chipleader, and at this point, you have to respect the Russians in regard to mixed games (especially a Stud or Stud derivative). Most of the spectators in the Amazon Ballroom were sweating Day 2 of HORSE since that had most of the familiar faces (Raymer, Hachem, Lindgren, the Grinder, Jesus, Gobboboy, Annie Duke, and LA Laker owner Jerry Buss). As soon as Hellmuth advanced to the final table, many of those fairweather fans bolted for seats inside the final table stadium.
Isabelle Mercier was playing in this event and that was the first time I spotted the waif-like French-Canadian bombsell at the WSOP. She's currently a blonde, and no longer part of the PokerStars junta. Mercier is sponsored player from BetClic, a French sportsbetting/gambling/poker site. She didn't last very long on Day 2 and were among the early exits.
Le Blonde Isabelle
Late in the evening Brian Townsend took the lead as he and Carlos Mortensen jockeyed back and forth in the top spot. The money bubble loomed at the 3am hour with Scotty Nguyen and Cyndy Violette clinging to life with short stacks, before Violette busted out with a min-cash.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.