Before the events of Black Friday changed everything in the poker world, there was a group of up-and-coming players that seemed destined for greatness. The only problem was they were so great that they couldn't leave the high-stakes cash games to play the long days at the World Series of Poker.
This past week, two of those online phenoms, Phil Galfond and Brian Hastings, both won the second WSOP bracelets of their careers. Hastings won the $10,000 seven-card stud championship while Galfond won the no-limit 2-7 event.
Hastings’ win harkens back to the pre-Black Friday days for another reason: the prop bet. In the opening days of the summer, Hastings was confident enough to let other players bet against him winning a bracelet this summer.
Looking for 4-1 odds to win a bracelet, want to bet pretty big. Schedule is linked, only these events count: https://t.co/IEdepRMkF9
— Brian Hastings (@brianchastings) May 26, 2015
“I came into this summer with high expectations, obviously. I decided to bet a lot on myself. I worked on my game a lot in the last year,” said Hastings, who also felt having his personal life going well would only lead to good results at the tables. “I also have a great girlfriend who I started dating six months ago and I just thought I was in a really good place where I could come here every day and play my A game.”
Hastings’ win officially earned him $239,518 from the tournament, but he hurt his doubters for more than that on the prop bet. While he wouldn’t give exact details on how much he won or who he won it from, Hastings admitted it was at least as much as first place money.
“I expected to play my best and to live with the results, and I thought at the price I got, I was a favorite,” said Hastings. “That still means most of the time I’m not going to win a bracelet in the summer, but I just felt like if I gave it my best shot it was a good bet.”
For Galfond the motivation was different. It was seven years ago that he last won a WSOP event. With only 77 players in the field, the prize pool was relatively small, but Galfond still recognizes what the bracelet means.
“I’ve played for, in cash games, pots the size of first place and this feels ... a lot bigger. And I think it’s because of the stage and because of the bracelet and it’s more meaningful than the cash games,” said Galfond. “The first one was special because I was young and I was newish to poker and to playing World Series events so that one was a really big one for me. But I mean, this is still awesome.
To get the bracelet Galfond had to make his way through a final table that included eight-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel, the No. 1 ranked tournament player in the world, Dan Smith, and ultimately the player most consider to be the best in the world at this particular game, Nick Schulman.
“I have a ton of respect for all of my opponents. I knew Nick was going to be extremely tough,” said Galfond, who was down 3.5:1 in chips when heads-up play began. “I managed to run really good. I play tournaments to try and do this and it’s been seven years since I won one so I’m pretty happy.”
While the younger generation was celebrating the success of two of its own, the recreational player at home had a story of their own in a big buy-in no-limit hold ’em event.
Jeff Tomlinson, a 51-year-old football coach from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, beat out a final table that had more than a handful of younger stars to win the $5,000 eight-max no-limit hold 'em event. The win earned him $567,724 and praise from the other players at the table.
“I got to the final table today and there was seven really, really good poker players that I was staring at the poker table. I know that,” said Tomlinson. “I’m sure everybody thought ‘this guy’s a football coach, he’s not a pro, he doesn’t play online’, but that’s what’s so great about poker and the World Series – anybody can win.”
Through 30 events so far this summer there has yet to be a double bracelet winner. The last time there wasn’t a player with two WSOP wins in a year was 1999, and there have multiple double bracelet winners every year since 2012.
Christian Pham got a lot of mainstream media attention after winning the $1,500 no-limit 2-7 event after he registered for it by accident. He had meant to play a different event and had never played the game before being dealt his first hand. He joked in his winner interview that he would play the $10,000 buy-in event but when registration closed, Pham was not in the field.
Phil Hellmuth leads quite the life. Just days after winning his 14th WSOP bracelet, he was sitting courtside at Game 5 of the NBA Finals as a guest of Golden State Warriors ownership. Following the game he visited the Warriors locker room to congratulate the team before whisking back to Las Vegas to play that night’s event, the $3,000 pot-limit Omaha high-low event. He failed to make Day 2 in that event.
What to Watch For
The $50,000 Poker Players Championship is normally one of the most highly anticipated events on the schedule. This year there are some players who’ve said they’re skipping it altogether because of two new games (Badugi and no-limit 2-7) that have been included in the mix this year for the first time. The new variants aren’t spread all that often, so few players play them regularly. The all-time smallest field size for the event is 95 – that was back in 2009, when David Bach won.
One of the players who is likely to play the event regardless of what games are spread is Phil Ivey. The 10-time WSOP bracelet winner has yet to play a single WSOP event this summer. He’s been in Macau playing high stakes cash games but Dan Fleyshman, who runs Ivey’s online poker site, indicated that Ivey would be returning to Las Vegas on June 18th.