Las Vegas, NV
Phil Hellmuth attempted to win his 12th bracelet, but John Juanda stopped him dead in his tracks. Hellmuth is stuck on 11 for an indefinite amount of time.
Hellmuth (a.k.a. God) dressed all in black with a PH-logo hockey jersey and a black hat with his sponsor Aria. He also left the holographic sticker on the bill -- like all the cats in the hood wear their hats. The Man in Black walked into the Rio on Saturday with one thing on his mind -- winning a 12th WSOP bracelet.
Hellmuth's previous 11 bracelets were all awarded in hold'em events. When Hellmuth boasted he was the best hold'em player in the world, he had the credentials to back up his assertion -- that is if you based "best" on the player who had the most bracelets. Unfortunately, it's how the media superficially ranks players. Then again, if no one was counting how many times you won a WSOP bracelet, I think a lot fewer pros would show up.
For some poker players, it's all about the Benjamins, while for others, it's all about the bling.
Hellmuth's run in the NL 2-7 Lowball Championship was rather impressive considering the self-proclaimed "best hold'em player in the world" held his own against a stacked and juiced up field of 126 blood-thirsty, bracelet coveting card players. The usual suspects participated, but the numbers were boosted by a neo-generation of lowball players, many of whom accelerated the learning curve courtesy of the internet. One of the major drawbacks to Black Friday is that you can't learn how to play a new game quickly online anymore. Young pros grinded out thousands and thousands of hands to catch up legendary lowball aficionados, like Doyle Brunson and Billy Baxter, from anywhere to a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
A couple of the new kids on the lowball block advanced to the final table -- Nick Schulman, Joe Cassidy, Steve Sung, and defending champion David "Bakes" Baker. Bakes was seeking his second bracelet and if he won, he was going to use his winnings to buy a Taco Bell franchise. BJ and I tried to persuade him to open up a Waffle House on the Strip.
Nine players returned for Day 3 of the 2-7 Lowball Championship. The final table was seven-handed, so action was four- and five-handed at the onset. Greg "fossilman" Raymer busted out in 9th place and the final eight players consolidated to the pseudo-final table inside the Mothership.
Before cards went in the air, the announcer issued a stern announcement reminding spectators about the no food and beverage rule inside the Mothership. Security was vigilant and wouldn't let anyone inside with contraband. It didn't bother me much because I ate a bunch of pharmies before I came to work, so I was already floating 16 inches above terra forma.
Much like the TSA, the security check at the Mothership was just theatre. It's absurd how any mook could walk off the street and enter the Mothership with a Glock or a kilo of cocaine, but security will insta-toss you into a make-shift gulag in the parking lot if you attempted to sneak in a bottle of water. I heard ugly stories about soccer fans in Argentina who piss into condoms and hurl them at opposing players, the refs, and even each other. It's not like anyone was doing anything that disgusting inside the Mothership.
I felt bad for an unfortunate media rep overpaid $2.50 for a banana in the Poker Kitchen, only to be told bananas were prohibited. Ah, the elusive forbidden fruit. We're all professionals in the press and we're not going to throw banana peels at Hellmuth -- at least not until the Main Event when he rides an elephant down the hallway.
Instead of sitting on the media perch, I opted to hide my press badge and I sat in the audience of the Mothership in my first undercover assignment of the WSOP. Yep, embedded with railirds once again. I snapped this photo with my CrackBerry...
The fun police were out in force with signs were everywhere reminding spectators about the fragility of the $1,000,000 set. Protecting their production company's investment was the utmost priority, while getting snookered in Sin City was considered a crime punishable by getting trampled by 1,000 donkeys. Alas, the crowd was very subdued, almost as if they were al crocked on Valium, because of the production crew's staunch policing of the Mothership. At times the final table sounded like a library. It was so quiet, I spotted three people sleeping -- an old guy in a Hawaiian shirt and two Japanese guys with their luggage (they apparently needed a spot to crash before they went home).
Single draw lowball is as exciting as clipping my toenails. The majority of the spectators, even the hardcore Hellmuth-heads, were not paying attention to anything. More than half the crowd had their crooked necks looking down at their smartphones, a fat guy in a golf shirt picked his nose with a fervent motion (my man was engaged in some serious deepwater horizon drilling for boogers), one young Asian woman read a book on her Nook, while the guy next to me was dicking around on Facebook.
Single Draw Lowball? Unlike.
After Joe Cassidy busted in 8th place, the final table was officially set. Every player among the final seven had won at least one bracelet and the final table combined for 19 bracelets (Hellmuth's 11 to the rest's 8). I don't now exact numbers, but Event #16 might be one of the blingiest tables in recent memory.
Neil Channing (witty British pro, sensei, bookmaker, and backer) sat in the last row of the audience, near our media perch. Channing and Benjo were engrossed in heated, yet funny conversation, determining a wager on the eventual winner of the lowball championship. Channing hand-picked Bakes, Nick Schulman, and Richard Ashby, meanwhile Benjo had the field (Hellmuth, Juanda, Steve Sung, and Hasan Habib).
"I'm a sucker," lamented Benjo. "But we're betting in U.S. dollars, it's only toilet paper, so who cares?"
Benjo would get the last laugh when Juanda thumped Hellmuth.
Hassan Habib busted in 7th, which set off a flurry of other eliminations -- Bakes, Schulman, and Sung quickly followed. All of a sudden, three remained: Richard Ashby, Juanda, and Hellmuth. Ashby attempted to win a bracelet in consecutive years in addition to becoming the third Brit to win a bracelet in 2011. Unlike Jake Cody's boisterous rail, only a handful of rather quiet Brits (led by Neil Channing) were around to show their muzzled support. Without booze and a mission to binge drink and chant football fight songs, the Brits, or anyone for that matter, had nothing to cheer about, which didn't really matter though for the Brits because Ashby busted in third place.
Heads-up was set -- Hellmuth vs. Juanda.
Action was paused and Tony, head of security, securely passed off the bracelet in its box. The staff placed the bracelet on the table and it glistened underneath the blazing lights of the Mothership. Talk about intimidating. The shimmering bling was within Hellmuth's immeadiate grasp. Only one person -- John Juanda -- stood in his way.
Ty (WSOP Head Honcho) and Mori (head of Poker Productions) walked onto the set, each clutching a bottle of Miller Light. Ty jumped on the microphone as I was about to flame both of them on Twitter for breaking the no booze rules (how dare they taunt us!), when all of a sudden, Ty announced that prohibition was over... and more importantly... that Mori was buying a round of drinks for everyone.
Kudos to the WSOP and Poker Productions for doing the right thing and understanding how beer and poker is America's second past time. I'm so happy that America got its freedom back, so now, the terrorists won't win! The powers to be reversed their decision after the public's outrage over the final table booze ban. They determined a few rotten apples were not going to spoil the entire orchard. I'm glad all the suits, big wigs, and even Dick Cheney read my rant from the other day -- Banning Booze, World Series of Mormons, and Sweating the Mavs.
Once the pubic heard they could once again drink inside the Mothership, the stands quickly filled up. Coincidence?
Heads-up play lasted three long, arduous, painful hours. Hellmuth began the final table as the chipleader and extended his lead by gobbling up chips like Pacman gobbling up pills while being chased by multi-colored ghosts.
Hellmuth held a 3-1 margin over Juanda at the start of heads-up play. If anything, Hellmuth needed a quick knockout blow, otherwise he'd lose momentum and Juanda was gonna "alligator blood" him all night as night spilled into morning. In a turtle race, Juanda will win every time. I witnessed Juanda's epic victory at the WSOP Europe in London when he won a marathon heads-up battle against RRG (random Russian guy). Juanda proved he had the patience and stamina to wait out an anxious Hellmuth. He did everything possible to slow down the match.
At that juncture, with the entire eyes of the poker world on Hellmuth, the Poker Brat had everything to lose, while Juanda was under no pressure at all. It's not easy to make a final table these days, a thought that must have trickled into Hellmuth's mind's airspace at least once during their three hour ordeal. How many times will Hellmuth get a shot at another bracelet over the remainder of the decade? 5? 10? None?
Juanda chipped away and away and away and eventually snagged the lead. The tedious match was rough on the crowd because there's no flop, turn, or river to sweat. One spectator described the final table as "exciting stuff." He was kidding, of course, and launched into a tirade on how all events at the WSOP should be either five-card stud or seven-card stud. No, he wasn't an incontinent 90-year old man who looked like Edward G. Robinson, but he looked more like an obese truck driver with massive sweat stains under his arm pits.
Luckily the booze killed some of the boredom and quelled a potential spectator mutiny. Whenever Juanda won a pot, a sauced guy in the crowd screamed, "Finish him!"
On the final hand, Hellmuth moved all in for his last 500K in chips and stood pat with Q-10-8-5-2. Juanda tank-called before drawing one with Jack-high. Juanda dramatically waited to peek at his card before he tabled it and exposed one of the outs he needed to make a Jack-low. Juanda dragged the pot, won the tournament, and kicked Phil Hellmuth in the junk.
Hellmuth has a reputation for being a sore loser, but in this rare instance of grace, he calmly shook Juanda's hand before motioning to his wife that he wanted to get the fuck out of Rio before he was ambushed by UB haters.
Juanda won his fifth bracelet and thwarted Hellmuth's attempt at #12. I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll hear from Hellmuth; if he plays a significant volume of events this summer, he's guaranteed to advance to another final table. If not, maybe he'll get another shot next year.
Regardless, the entire Rio (and poker community for that matter) gets enraptured by Hellmuth mania whenever he has a shot at closing in on 12. For the press, it's a big story. For stat geeks, it's a milestone. For friends and fans of Hellmuth, it was their moment of glory. And let's face it, Hellmuth haters were the ones who followed along with the most fervor. The moment Juanda won, the haters relished in Hellmuth's schadenfreude.
Juanda Shows Off His Bling aka Hellmuth Repellent
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Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 12...
I arrived at the Rio later than usual to avoid the Running of the Donks. Saturdays are reserved for Donkaments and 3,157 weekend warriors bought into the weekly slaughterfest. I made my way down the corridor and overheard a guy in a Danny White jersey say, "I hate all poker players except two: Phil Spivey and Unabomber."
Cancer survivor David Diaz was awarded his bracelet and he requested the Honduras national anthem, which was one of the longest I've ever heard since the WSOP started playing anthems at ceremonies. I thought the Allman Brothers Band's 34-minute version of Mountain Jam off of Eat a Peach was long, but the Honduras anthem came close. To quote Slater from Dazed and Confused, "You can't handle that shit on strong acid, maaaaaaan!"
On a lark, I decided to bet on Mucho Macho Man in the Belmont Stakes. My blind loyalty to Randy "Macho Man" Savage encouraged me to wager on that horse. I collected $10 from Benjo and headed to the sportbook with AlCantHang. We ran into Caity along the way and she joined us at the packed sportsbook. We all split a $40 ticket on Mucho Macho Man -- and the horse lost. At least it was a good sweat -- all two minutes worth. Who am I kidding? Horse racing is one of the most degen forms of gambling ever invented. I prefer betting on proper sports because it's a sustained high.
I had a long chat with Tony Dunst about how poker is sports entertainment and not a sport. At times it's really show business and not exactly a test to determine poker prowess.
I watched some of the final table for Event #15 $1,500 PLH. Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler lost heads-up against Brian Rast, who returned from a trip to Brazil a mere three hours before cards went in the air. Antonion Esfiandari persuaded Rast to play and staked him. Good thing Rast played, eh? Chainsaw had a motley crew of supporters on the rail, but even Chainsaw's freak show couldn't help him get over the proverbial hump. Chainsaw was a runner-up once again, As soon as Rast won, he ordered a round of beers for his family, except the Rio did not have any Blue Moon for him to consume. Instead, he got a Miller Light. Bad beer beat.
While watching Chainsaw's final table, one foul-smelling railbird rudely refer to a cocktail waitress as a "servant." It's hard to shock me these days, but hearing that condescending remark confirmed how a small group of poker players are spoiled dickheads. I betcha that tard was a shitty tipper too. I hope he gets rolled by a hooker.
Benjo told me the story of the day (via Neil Channing, who told it to him). During last year's $50,000 Players Championship, all of the players were given a special $100 food comp (compared to a paltry $10 comp for playing in regular events). Ivey was chewing gum and it went stale. He wanted to toss it out but could not find any paper. He pulled out the $100 food comp and tossed his wad of gum in it, rolled up the comp into a ball, and tossed it in the trash.
That's it. Follow @taopauly for Twitter updates throughout the day. Also, help support indie writers and buy my books: Lost Vegas and Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.
Photos courtesy of Flipchip and Benjo.