From Villain to Hero

July 7, 2011, Posted by Ali.Masterman

From Villain to Hero

The poker world perked its ears up last night. Rumour had it that a certain Poker Brat was on the verge of silencing all of his critics. Seven players stood between Phil Hellmuth Jnr and the most prestigious title in poker. Seven players, some No-Limit Hold'em, and a dream.

Hellmuth’s path has been well documented and the knives were out for him at this year’s World Series of Poker; terms such as ‘one trick pony’, ‘predictable’ and ‘outclassed’ were banded about liberally. An old withering shark, Hellmuth had found himself thrust into an ocean of smarter, stronger and more calculated creatures, and he was bleeding.

The dramatic implications for online poker suggested that this year’s WSOP was destined to be a no-frills affair. Poker’s most infamous poster boy didn’t have a mask to hide behind; his gaudy publicity stunts and PR bandwagon would have to make way for just playing cards. And boy did he play some cards.  

Hellmuth got the railbirds chirping with a 2nd place finish to John Juanda in the $10,000 2-7 Lowball Championship back in early June. The anguish was palpable that a record 12th bracelet had slipped Hellmuth by, but remarkably he remained calm. There were no outbursts and the brat had seemingly accepted defeat with a slice of humility.

It was only a week later that he got another chance, this time in the $ 10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Championship. Once more he couldn’t get over the finish line, coming second to Eric Rodawig. Knowing Phil Hellmuth as we do, we all expected a classic blow-up, an irrational temper tantrum fuelled by his disbelief at coming second, but it never came. While his disappointment was clearly evident, there were no histrionics to follow. A shrug of the shoulders as if to say ‘what can you do’, a few handshakes, and that was it.

Five days later, Phil was back in the mix, this time in his self professed best game No Limit Hold’em. No final table, but a creditable 36th place in the $5000 6max tournament had put him firmly in the race for WSOP player of the year. Only three days after, Hellmuth was making yet another deep run in a $1000 NL Hold’em event. Finishing 28th out of nearly 3000, his hunger for bracelet number 12 was clear for all to see.

It seemed fitting, perhaps inevitable, that Phil Hellmuth would make a deep run in the most esteemed poker tournament of the year, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. The script was written; Hellmuth sat 3rd in chips at an accomplished final table alongside the likes of mixed game expert Minh Ly, online phenom Brian Rast, and fellow POY contender Ben Lamb. Third time lucky and all that, this was surely his time.

The rail was packed to the rafters; Durrrr looked on expectedly. Antonio Esfandiari orchestrated the cheers for his buddy Brian Rast, but it was apparent that the majority were here to see Phil. However contentious Hellmuth’s character may be, it’s clear that when he plays, people want to watch. He’s a box office hit, and this was no exception.

The final couldn’t have unravelled more smoothly for Hellmuth. He was granted an early double up with a set versus flush draw encounter, and never looked back. Players were falling around him while his stack continued to flourish. After Jason Lester’s departure in 9th place, Hellmuth’s POY rival Ben Lamb was despatched, followed soon after by Scott Seiver, George Lind and Matt Glantz. With Owais Ahmed capitulating in 4th spot, it was left for Hellmuth to pick off Minh Ly with a gutsy call, and he was heads up with Brian Rast for the title and a place in poker folklore.

And so the heads up began. Hellmuth came out all guns blazing; Rast was visibly stunned and had no answer to the pressure suddenly heaped upon him. Hellmuth dragged pot after pot, 3-betting with abundance and even double check-raising Rast. The writing was on the wall as Rast was now facing a 5-1 chip disadvantage. However tournament poker is a beguiling, brutal game and it proved no different tonight.

Phil Hellmuth may be the world’s best at ‘dodging bullets baby’ but he ain’t so hot at hitting flush draws. A heart draw looked like it might have clinched him the title but only doubled up a wounded Rast. Moments later the cards were on their backs again and miraculously Rast was even, if not ahead in chips thanks to fading another Hellmuth flush draw.

Poignantly, it was to be a third and final flush draw which ensured the Poker Brat’s demise. An up and down straight draw with a flush draw must have looked mighty fine to Hellmuth, but it was no match for Brian Rast’s KQ which had flopped the mortal nuts. Hellmuth winced in agony with the poker world as the dealer quietly burned and turned two bricks; second place would have to suffice for the third time.

It’s been an astonishing World Series for Phil Hellmuth. With the Player of the Year title now seemingly locked up, his doubters have been quashed. More importantly, people’s perceptions have been shifted. We’ve seen a humble Hellmuth, a man stripped bare of his ego who’s been philosophical and gracious in defeat. ‘I wanted to prove to myself that I’m a pretty good player’ and 'I’ve been way too cocky in the past’ he quipped. Back in early June I mentioned that there was life in the old dog yet and Hellmuth has proved me right; while a record 12th bracelet hasn’t quite materialised, Phil Hellmuth Jnr has proved that he’s still an almighty force to be reckoned with. 


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2 Comments about From Villain to Hero

Barry Chalmers says:

7th of July 2011

Excellent article, I interviewed Phil last November for a 30 minute in depth chat. I think it really showed a different side to Phil, really humble and a gentleman. You can see it here.

PokerfarmAl says:

7th of July 2011

Thanks Barry - I think we've all seen a different side to PH this WSOP. Hopefully now he's ditched the circus act and shameless publicising we'll just see PH the poker player, without the nonsense. I've been wrong before though :)

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