Las Vegas, NV
"We will, we will, Rast you! Rast you!"
The chant originated from a corner of the Mothership around 2am inside the Mothership at the final table of the $50,000 Players' Championship. Brian Rast's friends boisterously cheered on their hero by switching up the lyrics to Queen's "We Will Rock You", which has become a anthem for sports teams all around America. Rast's crew cleverly replaced "rock" with "Rast."
If Rast's name sounds familiar, it should be because he had already won a bracelet earlier in the year in an event he wasn't even considering. He got talked into it at the last moment by Antonio Esfiandari -- who offered to put him in on a virtual freeroll. Rast shipped that bracelet, much to the delight of Esfiandari.
Flash forward a couple of weeks later and Rast found himself heads-up for his second bracelet. If he won, he'd become the first multiple bracelet winner this series. If he lost, then Phil Hellmuth would win his 12th bracelet. The heads-up battle between Rast and Hellmuth represented Hellmuth's third opportunity to win a bracelet this summer. On the previous two instances, the Poker Brat failed in his pursuit for #12 against Eric Rodawig (Event #33 Stud 8 Championship) and John Juanda (Event #16 2-7 No-Limit Draw).
Hellmuth had two disappointing runner-up finishes to remain on 11 career bracelets, but the third time is the charm, right? Surely this had to be Hellmuth's night, right?
When Hellmuth busted Minh Ly in third place, he found himself with a 5-1 lead over Rast. It appeared as though this was going to be Hellmuth shining moment. The Mothership was rather quiet and subdued compared to previous final tables when binge-drunking Brits and joyous Brazilians filled the stands inside the Mothership, which gave it the vibe of World Cup soccer match with constant, overzealous chants for their objects of their affection. But the Hellmuth-Rast match up failed to live up to the grotesquerie that previously freaked out Poker PROductions, who feared their million dollar set would be drenched in beer, feces, urine, and blood.
The Hellmuth fans were so quiet it was hard to spot them (or hear them). Maybe they were the "silent majority" that former President Richard Nixon suggested hated the hippies protesting in the streets and were in favor of the escalated war in Vietnam and subsequent carpet bombing of Cambodia. At the Mothership, Hellmuth's wife and Hollywood Dave were the only two visible people cheering for Hellmuth. Maybe a few hundred spectators were secretly rooting for Hellmuth but were afraid to verbalize their enthusiasm for fear of getting pelted with rotten tomatoes from the vast legion of Hellmuth-haters. Instead, the silent majority sat on their hands while Brian Rast's "We Will Rast You" chant got louder and louder as the night progressed.
How could Hellmuth blow a 5-1 lead?
Whiffing on three consecutive flush draws. That's how.
On the first one, Hellmuth went for the obvious knockout blow with a 16.6M to 2.6M lead. Hellmuth held 9h-6h and got it all-in on a flop of 10h-4h-4s. Rast held Ad-Kh, and didn't have any redraws but held the best hand with just Ace-high. Rast faded the heart draw and doubled up. His crew exploded with the"We Will Rast You!" chant even though he was still trailing 14M to 5.2M. Rast needed help if he wanted to mount a comeback, but at least he gave himself the slightest of breathing room.
It didn't take too long before Hellmuth and Rast were all-in again. Hellmuth held another flush draw against Rast's top pair. The board was Kc-Jc-4d and Rast's Ks-7d was rather vulnerable against Hellmuth's 10c-8c flush draw. The Kd fell on the turn, giving Rast trips. His fans went berserk and begged the dealer for a 7c, which would've filled in a boat for Rast. The 6h spiked on the river. Rast faded another flush draw and pandemonium broke loose inside the Mothership. Rast had pulled even in chips with 9.6M apiece.
"We will, we will RAST you!"
Hellmuth whiffed on a second draw, but didn't seem tilted by any of it all. He had turned his back on the crowd and leaned over the rail to look at his wife. When he learned about his losing hand, Hellmuth slid back into his chair. Hellmuth wore a black hockey jersey with the number 99 on the back.
"Is he a Gretzky fan?" I asked Hollywood Dave.
"No, I'm pretty sure it's the hand he held when he won the Main Event in 1989," explained Hollywood Dave.
That was when Hellmuth won his very first bracelet. Little did he or any of the poker world would know that 22 years later, the Poker Brat would have more bracelets than anyone else at the WSOP.
The final table of the 8-Game Mix Players' Championship was converted to exclusively NL, which is a game more palatable for TV audiences, even though the final stretch of the Championship avoids the entire mixed game concept to determine the premier player in all forms of poker (well, at least 8 games -- maybe they will alter it to 10-games next year). I'm a purist when it comes to poker principles -- if you start out 8-game -- you gotta finish it out that way. Alas, poker tournaments become TV specials sometimes and that's when the producers call the shots because NL is more commercial than 8-game mix. Money is the bottom line and advertisers won't be wooed by lackadaisical ratings because a few inbred viewers will change the channel when Stud 8 is played out. Yes, it sucks when poker gets turned into a made for TV event. But that's the sole reason why the million dollar Mothership was created -- as a massive TV set to beam no-limit hold'em out to the masses.
With Rast holding a slight edge over Hellmuth, the two got it all-in again on the flop. For a third time in a row, an audacious Hellmuth shoved with a flush draw. He held 8d-2d on a board of Jd-10s-9d. Rast flopped the joint with Kc-Qd. If Hellmuth turned a diamond, Rast could re-draw to a better flush.
"One more fade! One more fade! One more fade!" Rasts crew screamed from the far corner.
The dealer dropped the 5h on the felt. A couple of "ooooohs" were let out from the crowd, while Rast's friends screamed "One more time! One more fade!"
The 8s fell on the turn. Hellmuth failed to fill in his flush and was eliminated in second place. Rast shipped his second bracelet and won $1,720,328. Meanwhile Hellmuth collected a little over $1 million, but more importantly, he re-gained the Player of the Year race. He needed a second or first place finish to kick Ben Lamb out of the top spot (especially after Lamb busted in 8th in the same event). Who knows if Hellmuth can retain the POY lead with the Main Event and WSOP-Europe counting towards the new point system devised by Bluff Magazine.
Hellmuth shook Rast's hand. The kinder, gentler poker brat acted like a consummate professional. No kicking over chairs. No verbal abuse. Just a simple hand shake and a wave of his right hand to the crowd. The spectators gave Hellmuth a warm, but short send off,while the TV crew cleared up the final table area for Rast's winner's photo.
Three runner-ups for Hellmuth? He really wanted to win a bracelet this year, so much so, that he diligently worked on his mixed games. It's obvious Hellmuth dedicated the off-season to improving his weaker games. His homework paid off with his third final table in a non-holdem event this summer.
My buddy Ryan said it best, "It's official: Susan Lucci is the Phil Hellmuth of daytime television."
By the way, the Main Event starts Thursday! Follow @taopauly for Twitter updates throughout the day.
Also, help support indie writers and buy my books: Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers and the World Series of Poker, and my recently released novel, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Both are also available for Kindles and iPads.