While most of the poker world was anxiously sweating the 2018 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event – which played down to the nine-handed final table on July 11 – Phil Hellmuth was putting on a show of his own.
The self-styled “Poker Brat” extended his record count of gold bracelets at the WSOP, winning #15 in dramatic fashion as the Series comes to a close.
The historic win came in Event #71: $5,000 No-Limit holdem (30-Minute Levels), one of the last tournaments on the docket across the WSOP’s 78-event schedule. As a turbo tournament of sorts, the blind levels lasted only 30 minutes each, rather than the standard 1-hour format.
One might think the faster pace of play wouldn’t agree with Hellmuth – who is notorious for playing a patient game premised on “small-ball” poker – but as he has proven time and time again, the WSOP stage is where the superstar shines brightest.
Hellmuth’s Path to Bracelet #15
The festivities began on July 10, when 452 entries were recorded to generate a total prize pool of $2,101,800. After 20 levels of frenetic turbo Texas holdem action on Day 1, the field was whittled down to just 39 survivors.
The final 68 finishers each secured a minimum payout of $7,453, but everyone who made Day 2 – Hellmuth included – had their sights set on the $485,082 top prize, along with the coveted gold bracelet.
Entering the second and final day of play, Hellmuth found himself sitting on a stack of 468,000 chips – good enough for 8th position out of the 39 remaining players. The chip leader at that point was Jonathan Abdellatif, a Belgian pro who bagged up a big stack of 754,000.
The field was stacked with an abundance of top-tier poker talent, including two-time bracelet winners Chance Kornuth (622,000) and Steven Wolansky (498,000), bracelet winner Liv Boeree (534,000), and respected high-stakes pros like Matt Glantz (473,000), Griffin Benger (270,000), Grayson Ramage (255,000), KorayAldemir (230,000), and Jeremy Ausmus (160,000).
The chip lead didn’t hold for Abdellatif, who wound up bowing out in 20th place for $13,110. From there, Kornuth (18th for $15,726), Ramage (17th for $15,726), Benger (15th for $19,280) and Ausmus (12th for $24,147) each hit the rail just short of reaching the final table.
When the official final table of eight began, Hellmuth had worked his chip stack up to 1,925,000, putting him in second position behind only Alan Sternberg. Glantz (1,400,000) and Wolansky (530,000) were the most well-known names standing between Hellmuth and history.
Through the early stages of the final table, Hellmuth had been playing with his typically patient approach, content to let his shorter opponents duke it out. But on Hand #16, with blinds set at 30,000/60,000 (10,000 ante), he opened to 140,000 with 6-7 of diamonds and saw a J-9-6 flop three-ways against Ken Fishman and Wolansky.
After check-calling a small bet of 75,000 from Fishman, a wager which forced Wolansky’s hand into the muck, Hellmuth watched a third 6 fall on fourth street. Hellmuth tapped the table for a check once again, inducing a second barrel of 135,000 from Fishman.
With his man set up perfectly, Hellmuth fired out a hefty check-raise to 550,000, forcing Fishman deep into the think tank. After several agonizing minutes, Fishman finally released his cards into the muck, asking Hellmuth what he had as he folded.
Hellmuth replied that the cards would be exposed in 30 minutes, as the tournament was being live streamed on a half-hour delay. Sure enough, when 30 minutes had passed, Fishman found out he had made a good laydown with his beaten K-J for top pair.
Fishman tumbled to 7/8 on the leaderboard with just 795,000, but Hellmuth used the big pot to propel himself into the lead at 2,400,000.
True to form, Hellmuth didn’t let his newly won stack affect his playing style. As the final table progressed, he simply bobbed and weaved, winning small- to medium-sized pots, but avoiding the all-in confrontations that involve so much variance.
When Hand #58 of the final table arrived, Hellmuth held the button and woke up with Ace-5 offsuit. He made the easy shove for his last 1,700,000 or so, only to see Sternberg call out of the small blind. Wolansky folded his big blind, with Sternberg tabling pocket Kings to put Hellmuth in a world of hurt.
The flop rained down A-4-3, however, providing Hellmuth with one of the suckouts he despises when the shoe is on the other foot. The turn and river brought no further miracles, and with that, Hellmuth doubled his way back into contention.
A short while later, Sternberg went bust when his Jack-9 suited failed to run down Wolansky’s Ace-Queen.
The big pot pushed Wolansky to 8,600,000, which was well ahead of Hellmuth’s 2,700,000 stack.
But on the very first hand of heads-up play, with his record-extending 15th bracelet so close at hand, Hellmuth watched Wolansky shove to force an all-in decision. After squeezing his first card and finding the Ace of spades, Hellmuth announced a call, turning over a pretty King of spades along with it.
The suited big slick was way out in front of Wolansky’s Queen-10 offsuit, but the two-time WSOP champion still had right around a 40 percent chance to find a favorable board.
Fortunately for Hellmuth – and poker fans watching around the world via the Twitch live stream – the board ran out clean to secure the Poker Brat’s double. He now held 5,000,000 to Wolansky’s 6,300,000, and the game was officially on.
Over the next 30 or so hands, however, Hellmuth’s small-ball style saw him losing most of the pots, as Wolansky ramped up the pressure. By the time Hand #115 rolled around, Wolansky had rebuilt his lead back to 8,700,000 against Hellmuth’s 2,600,000. The big blind had escalated to 240,000 by this point in the tournament, meaning Hellmuth’s bracelet dreams were on life support.
On the 126th hand of the final table, Hellmuth shoved on the button holding King-10 of diamonds, only to see Wolansky make the quick call with King-Jack offsuit. He was utterly dominated by the Jack kicker, but with his last 3,700,000 at risk, Hellmuth watched a nice Q-7-5 flop with two diamonds hit the felt. He could now hit any diamond or any 10 to take the pot, but the turn brought a brick with the Queen of clubs.
With his back turned to the table, Hellmuth talked things through with his wife and a few friends, taking the moment in stride.
And that’s when the river brought the 10 of clubs onboard, reviving Hellmuth’s tournament life in an instant. Now sitting on 8,300,000 to Wolansky’s 3,000,000, bracelet #15 was closer than ever.
Seven hands later, Hellmuth called a Wolansky shove with pocket 3s, which were racing against the Ace-9 offsuit. When the dealer spread the flop, the world saw a 9 appear right in the window, seemingly dashing Hellmuth’s hopes of winning the flip.
But a 3 followed right behind it to give him a set, and by the turn, Wolansky was drawing dead.
When the meaningless river card was dealt, Hellmuth shook hands with his defeated rival, before turning to celebrate with his friends and family on the rail.
With the poker media gathered around in the winner’s circle, Hellmuth told outlets like PokerNews and Card Player Magazine what the historic moment meant to him:
Thirteen in Europe was really humbling for me. And so is fourteen, and so is fifteen.”
I haven’t had a very good summer, but I’ve kept myself positive. Every night I come back to the room, saying, ‘Life is good, relax. Life is good, relax.’
Before this tournament, I called my wife and said, ‘Honey, I’m not sure I want to play this event. She said, ‘Get in there in play.’”
Hellmuth was also quick to praise his heads-up opponent, pointing out that Wolansky – who won gold bracelets in 2014 and 2016 – is an experienced pro who knows his way around the final table:
I was down after I made a call, where I felt a little bit silly afterwards. I said let’s not give up; these things can turn. When is the next time you’re going to have an opportunity where you’re heads-up for a bracelet? You just need to hang in there and stay strong and I stayed strong. And then, luckily, I hit some cards.”
Finally, the famed Poker Brat took a moment to reflect on how writing his new book “Positivity: You Are Always In The Right Place At The Right Time” helped to lend a newfound perspective on poker:
Number two, I’m trying to spread positivity to the world. I want to be remembered in two ways: one, having 24 bracelets and number two, starting the positivity movement and having a lot of influence on people lives.
Every day, people tweet I read your book, it changed my life. That’s what I want; the spotlight that I have becomes a responsibility. Once I realized I could inspire people – yes, I’m still the poker brat – I took that seriously.”
Every poker fan knows that Hellmuth has a knack for table talk – and he’s even better at promoting himself – so if you’d like to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, check out this interview with PokerNews conducted right after the big win.
And for a full look at the final table results, complete with places and payouts, see the table below:
Official Final Table Results
|1||Phil Hellmuth||United States||$485,082|
|2||Steven Wolansky||United States||$299,807|
|3||Alan Sternberg||United States||$204,789|
|5||Ken Fishman||United States||$100,956|
|6||Matt Glantz||United States||$72,911|
|8||Ralph Wong||United States||$40,309|
|9||Eric Hicks||United States||$30,881|
The Poker Brat Experiences His “Swingiest Week” Ever
Winning a gold bracelet at the WSOP is the pinnacle for poker players everywhere, so making it an even 15 on the career is an astounding achievement in any case.
But what makes Hellmuth’s most recent victory even more compelling is the roller coaster ride of emotions he endured in the week preceding it.
While playing on Day 2C of the WSOP Main Event – a tournament Hellmuth once took down back in 1989 to claim his first gold bracelet – Hellmuth found himself being outplayed by an amateur by the name of James Campbell. While he does play his fair share of poker for fun, “Campy” as he’s known to his poker pals earns his living as a firefighter.
Despite the skill gap between the two, Campbell managed to make Hellmuth’s day a disaster – all while the world watched on the PokerGo live stream. Whenever he tried to enter the pot with a small-ball raise, Campbell pushed back with a three-bet shove. When Hellmuth tried to bluff, Campbell called him down.
As his frustration grew, Hellmuth focused his infamous temper on Campbell, making it clear he wasn’t happy with the typical tirades and table talk. The spat culminated in a particularly interesting hand, with Hellmuth holding pocket 7s against Campbell’s A-9 of diamonds, and Alex Kuzmin with K-2 of diamonds.
Of course, the flop came down 10-3-4 with two diamonds, and after Hellmuth raised Kuzmin’s continuation bet, Campbell check-raise shoved his nut flush draw. The action moved back to Kuzmin, but while he pondered his options with Hellmuth still left to act behind him, the Poker Brat persona raised its ugly head.
Even with clearly written rules prohibiting players from speaking, or in any way influencing the action, during a multiway pot, Hellmuth decided to berate Campbell for shoving all in. He dropped a few F-bombs along the way, referencing Campbell’s constant play back whenever Hellmuth was in a pot.
Of course, that speech suggested to Kuzmin that Hellmuth wouldn’t be continuing in the hand, which made his decision to call with the King-high flush draw much easier. Had Hellmuth simply stayed silent, as the rules and poker ethics require, Kuzmin would’ve had a much more difficult choice on his hands.
But having watched Hellmuth explode, he knew the call would likely produce a heads-up pot. Kuzmin did indeed make the call, Hellmuth folded, and Campbell watched his Main Event end when a 2 dropped on the turn.
You can watch the controversial hand play out here to see the sorry spectacle for yourself.
Afterward, Campbell took to Twitter to call on the WSOP to penalize Hellmuth, citing the Series’ rulebook and common sense. Several high-profile pros agreed, and after a night of reflection, Hellmuth apologized and offered to pay for Campbell’s $10,000 buy in for the 2019 Main Event:
When I went to bed that night, I looked at social media and realized I may have affected his tournament. I was going to bed but instead, I went to the couch and spend two hours on social media. I couldn’t sleep, I felt so bad. I didn’t know how to handle it. The fact is: when I busted out from the Main Event and the poker room was cheering, I was crushed. I was like ‘oh my god, what did I do? Everyone is against me. It felt like such a low point for me in my career.
Then I said: the only thing I can do is buy him into the Main Event and that’s gonna make me feel better. So I bought him in and I went from 400 negative tweets to 600 positive tweets in one day. It’s the swingiest week in my life; from people cheering because I busted to – I think – a lot of people cheering that I won.”
As Hellmuth alluded to, he went from being a pariah among his peers in the professional ranks to adding yet another piece to his WSOP legacy in less than a week.
Breaking Down Hellmuth’s 15 Bracelet Wins
With his historic 15th bracelet victory, Hellmuth’s 29-year career on the WSOP stage is truly something special.
Just take a look at his 15 wins at the Series below to get a sense of perspective on what the latest accomplishment really means:
Phil Hellmuth Career WSOP Bracelet Wins
|1989||$10,000 No Limit holdem World Championship||$755,000|
|1992||$5,000 Limit holdem||$168,000|
|1993||$1,500 No Limit holdem||$161,400|
|1993||$2,500 No Limit holdem||$173,000|
|1993||$5,000 Limit holdem||$138,000|
|1997||$3,000 Pot Limit holdem||$204,000|
|2001||$2,000 No Limit holdem||$316,550|
|2003||$2,500 Limit holdem||$171,400|
|2003||$3,000 No Limit holdem||$410,860|
|2006||$1,000 No Limit holdem (with rebuys)||$631,863|
|2007||1,500 No Limit holdem||$637,254|
|2012||$2,500 Seven-Card Razz||$182,793|
|2012||€10,450 No Limit holdem Main Event (Europe)||€1,022,376|
|2015||$10,000 Seven-Card Razz||$271,105|
|2018||$5,000 No Limit holdem (30-minute levels)||$485,082|
Everybody knows that Hellmuth’s main motivation is to wind up as the winningest player in WSOP history. And now that he’s five bracelets clear of his closest competition, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be caught anytime soon.
As you can see in the table below, Hellmuth has put himself well clear of the field when it comes to the all-time WSOP leaderboard:
WSOP All-Time Bracelet List (5 or More)
|15||Phil Hellmuth||1989, 1992, 1993 (3), 1997, 2001, 2003 (2), 2006, 2007, 2012,
2012 [E], 2015, 2018
|10||Doyle Brunson||1976 (2), 1977 (2), 1978, 1979, 1991, 1998, 2003, 2005|
|10||Johnny Chan||1985, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003 (2), 2005|
|10||Phil Ivey||2000, 2002 (3), 2005, 2009 (2), 2010, 2013 [A], 2014|
|9||Johnny Moss||1970, 1971 (2), 1974, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1988|
|8||Erik Seidel||1992, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007|
|7||Billy Baxter||1975, 1978, 1982 (2), 1987, 1993, 2002|
|7||Men Nguyen||1992, 1995 (2), 1996, 2003 (2), 2010|
|6||T. J. Cloutier||1987, 1994 (2), 1998, 2004, 2005|
|6||Chris Ferguson||2000 (2), 2001, 2003 (2), 2017 [E]|
|6||Layne Flack||1999, 2002 (2), 2003 (2), 2008|
|6||Ted Forrest||1993 (3), 2004 (2), 2014|
|6||Jay Heimowitz||1975, 1986, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2001|
|6||Jeff Lisandro||2007, 2009 (3), 2010 [E], 2014 [A]|
|6||Daniel Negreanu||1998, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2013 [A], 2013 [E]|
|5||Daniel Alaei||2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015|
|5||Gary Berland||1977, 1978 (2), 1979 (2)|
|5||David Chiu||1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2013|
|5||Allen Cunningham||2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007|
|5||John Hennigan||2002, 2004, 2014, 2016, 2018|
|5||Berry Johnston||1983, 1986, 1990, 1995, 2001|
|5||John Juanda||2002, 2003 (2) 2008 [E], 2011|
|5||Jason Mercier||2009, 2011, 2015, 2016 (2)|
|5||Scotty Nguyen||1997, 1998, 2001 (2), 2008|
|5||Stu Ungar||1980, 1981 (2), 1983, 1997|
Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan both have 10, but they’re essentially retired from tournament poker.
As it currently stands, the only players with a legitimate chance to chase Hellmuth down are Phil Ivey (10) and Daniel Negreanu (6) – but each has a long way to go for #15.