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$50k Players Championship Final Table
07 July 2011

One Last Close Encounter

The final nine Poker Players Championship contenders gathered for the last time in "The Mothership," the aptly-nicknamed and impressively vast ESPN poker arena. The introductions began before two of the players even arrived. Scott Seiver showed up just before he was introduced. George Lind sat down just before the cards were dealt.

And Phil Hellmuth sat there motionless throughout. Headphones and shades on, face in hands, until all the preliminaries were over and he was forced to remove his headphones according to house rules. Hard to tell if it was just an act, or if he was seriously trying to focus and/or meditate and/or calm his nerves and/or distance himself from the other players. It was a classic Hellmuthian moment of total self-absorption.

Phil snapped out of it, and 8-game play continued from where it had stopped early that morning. Jason Lester, a stalwart of the poker scene, busted in 9th place. You've seen him before. He finished 4th in the 2003 WSOP Main Event, he won the 2006 WSOP $5K PLH event, and he's appeared in the poker-related drama "Lucky You" (2007.)

Rast, Lind, Hellmuth, Ahmed, Seiver, Ly, Lamb, Lester, and Glantz

Jason Lester makes his exit

Back to No-Limit Hold'em

We grudgingly admit that the WSOP management's reasoning is sound. Ratings are vastly higher for no-limit Hold'em than they are for Razz, Stud, or even Omaha. And ratings are everything in TV. The mixed games just don't draw the same audience share that NLH does.

Also, as we saw on day 4, making 7 of the 8 games in the mix limit games can cause bustouts to be few and far between. Time is money in TV production, and keeping the crew on set until sunrise simply costs more. We hung around until 10am for the conclusion of the marathon 2009 50k HORSE event and it wasn't a very pleasant 19 hour experience.

What was pleasant, however, was seeing Scott Seiver continue his fantastic year. At the start of play he wore a "PH" Phil Hellmuth hat and mimicked Phil's signature fists-on-cheeks pose when the two were heads-up in a pot. He played with confidence, as always, and showed that he's an all-around player and not just a Hold'em whiz. Seiver finished an incredible 7th, coming off his nearly perfect victory at the WPT Championship. There can be no doubt that he is one of the great current and future stars of the game.

Scott Seiver managed to keep things light while playing extremely tough. He finished a strong 7th.

No Bad Beats

We've seen final tables with one cooler after another. Where cold decks seemed to have been pulled from industrial freezers to deliver gruesome beats to hapless victims of the poker gods' wrath. But not here. We don't recall any serious suckouts at this particular final table, and that's a good thing.

Brian Rast bets out

Phil Hellmuth strikes his signature pose

Phil congratulates Minh Ly on his 3rd place finish

On the Verge

The prize money was brought in and neatly piled on the table after Ly's exit in 3rd place. It was still anybody's game, stack-wise, but Phil was poised to make all kinds of history. His 12th WSOP bracelet was within reach. And he had already taken the lead in the 2011 WSOP Player of the Year race thanks to his 2nd place finishes in two previous events.

But there is one intangible prize that Phil must have wanted above all others. Respect. That rarest form of respect bestowed on the winner of the Poker Players Championship. You're not just winning a bracelet. You're winning poker immortality. Your name is etched onto the perpetual base of the David "Chip" Reese Trophy for all time. Future generations of poker players will see it and remember the legend that was you, long after you're gone.

When someone bets at you this strongly, you fold. Phil folded.

Phil betting big on one of his fatal flush draws

Sea Change

Phil won hand after hand for an hour straight. He ran over Brian relentlessly. Phil happily smooth-called with full houses. He played his big hands the way he played his small hands, making it impossible to read his hand strength. He let Brian know that he was ready and willing to play his trademark trapping game. At one point he had Brian on the ropes, down roughly 5:1 in chips, and visibly shaken. Slowly chipping away, gradually snuffing the life out of his opponent, never risking more than absolutely necessary.

But then something happened. Yes, the blinds were ramping up. Yes, Brian simply refused to give up and let Phil win. But no, there was no need for Phil to start gambling. He had the lead, time was on his side, and he could have kept grinding Brian down to nothing. But gamble he did, and it cost him dearly.

He called one of Brian's all-ins with a flush draw. And missed. He had 7H-6H vs. Brian's AD-KH on a two-heart flop that both players had missed. Nobody improved, ace-high was good, and Brian doubled up. Brian still trailed badly but he was out of danger in terms of stack size vs. blinds.

Phil shrugged it off and kept fighting. No tantrum, no profanity, no drama queenishness. And Brian calmly stayed on his game. He won pot after pot, chipping up the way Phil had done earlier. Then he got it all-in again, this time with KS-7D for top pair on the JC-4D-KC flop. Phil had another flush draw, holding 10C-8C. And he missed again. Brian had pulled back to dead even in chips, and we all feared the dreaded poker-till-dawn scenario of years past.

The Nuts

Brian continued to take pots from Phil. Right up to the last hand, when Phil gambled again on a flush draw vs. Brian's flopped nut straight. Brian held KC-QC, the flop was JD-9D-TS. Phil showed 8D-2D for yet another flush draw. Which, of course, missed.

It's a mystery to me why Phil chose to gamble like that. He says, probably correctly, that if he had hit any one of those three flush draws at the end, he would have won. But it seems unlike him to risk so much on draws. Especially considering how much was at stake, and how long he had worked to get heads-up.

Brian consoles Phil. He took it very well.

Entry fee: $50k.       First place prize: $1.7 million.       Interview with Kara Scott: Priceless.

Finally, a smile from the new champion with his new bracelet. And lots of cash.

Gracious in Defeat, Humble in Victory

It's a tremendous relief to see that Phil Hellmuth is capable of taking defeat in stride. Especially as he was so close to making an indelible mark on the history of poker. As it is, he will likely win the WSOP Player of the Year award. His face will look down on the thousands of WSOP hopefuls from 2012 on as they flock to their shot at greatness. A huge black and white mural of his likeness will grace the corridors of whatever venues host the WSOP from now on. He could have had that plus his 12th WSOP bracelet plus the coveted trophy. It could have all been his.

But Brian Rast is as tough as they get. He's proven it over and over again with deep runs at WPT events and he has now won two bracelets, both in this year's WSOP. He too is having a breakthrough year. The kind of year that launches legendary careers. We'll be looking forward to seeing him accumulate more wins and bracelets.

Next: 2011 WSOP Main Event Day 6...

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