Arguably the greatest no-limit hold 'em tournament player of all time has just added another notch to his belt. Phil Hellmuth defeated a strong field of 420 players in the 2012 WSOP Europe main event to win his 13th WSOP bracelet and 1.02 million euros. Hellmuth played a style that commentator Antonio Esfandiari said was completely unexpected and it seemed to work to perfection.
"This was the best poker I've ever played in my life, I know that for certain," said Hellmuth after his win. "I played as good as I can possibly play, caught a few breaks and here I am. I'm very thankful."
Hellmuth entered the final table as the chip leader and held on to the top spot for most of the day. Only Sergii Baranov, the man he defeated heads-up, was able to surge over Hellmuth. However, each time Baranov was at the top, Hellmuth's extremely loose, aggressive style earned him the chips to regain his position. During early action, Hellmuth told the table that Baranov predicted days ago that they would be playing heads-up for the bracelet. Sure enough, the Ukrainian's prophecy came true.
Hellmuth entered heads-up play with slightly more than a 3-to-1 chip lead and it didn't take long before the chips were in the center. Baranov was all-in and behind with A-4, trailing Hellmuth's A-10. Hellmuth turned his back to the table and stared into the crowd, watching and wondering if this was going to be the historic moment. The flop came out and Hellmuth peeked over his shoulder. Then the turn. Then the river. As the board read Jd-9h-5h-Ad-3c, Hellmuth put his hands in the air, then on his head in disbelief.
I know people don't expect me to use this word, but I'm humbled," he said. "I'm trying to figure out if this is real or not."
His performance on Thursday will be one to remember. Many people have characterized Hellmuth's strategy throughout his career as slightly more conservative, but that couldn't be farther from what was witnessed on Thursday. Hellmuth was calling out of position with less than optimal cards all day, then making the big bets to keep the pressure on his opponent. This approach seemed to take the table off guard and Hellmuth's determination to win No. 13 was evident all day.
I was shocked, impressed and completely confused by Phil Hellmuth today," said Esfandiari, who has played extensively with Hellmuth. In addition to the bold, aggressive maneuvers, Hellmuth made a number of big calls that, if wrong, would have been devastating to his efforts.
Hellmuth was locked in from the very start and even though there were no early eliminations, it was evident he would be the table captain. He was talking, betting big and had the table playing his game. After the first break, four quick knockouts set the stage for the night's play. Jason Mercier was the first casualty at the final table, running A-Q into Baranov's A-K. This was Mercier's third cash and largest at the 2012 WSOPE, worth 84,672 euros.
As well as Hellmuth played, he also ran pretty well, too. Hellmuth knocked out Stephane Girault in seventh in a race, holding 5-5 to Girault's A-J. An ace flopped, but Hellmuth rivered a straight to knock out one of the three French players at the final table. Shortly after that, Joseph Cheong finished off a second Frenchman, Paul Tedeschi, in sixth with Q-Q to Tedeschi's A-J. After Christopher Brammer caught a key river card to double through Hellmuth, he faced his own river devastation against Stephane Albertini and was eliminated shortly after in fifth by Baranov.
Play continued for a short period of time until the remaining players left for a four-hour dinner break. When they returned, a lengthy four-handed battle would resume and ultimately be broken by the defeat of Cheong. Cheong, whose live tournament career has taken off since his third-place finish in the 2009 WSOP main event, had four top-15 finishes in 2012 WSOP events, including a runner-up finish and a 116th-place result in the main event. He earned 292,320 euros, the second-largest cash of his career.
It seemed like it would be only a matter of time until the very conservative Stephane Albertini bowed out in third and Hellmuth ended the French hopes of a third WSOP Europe bracelet. Albertini was all-in and well ahead with J-J against Hellmuth's 7-7. The board was clean through the turn, but a seven on the river ended the hopes of the cash-game pro.
Hellmuth's victory over the businessman and part-time poker player Baranov was applauded for minutes by those in attendance. Baranov's effort was worth 632,592 euros and was his third tournament cash of the year.
In addition to the cash, the bracelet and the fame, Hellmuth also has taken the lead in the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year race after finishing second in that category one year ago (Greg Merson can overtake Hellmuth only if he's able to win the WSOP main event later in October). Hellmuth also became the first player to win the WSOP and WSOP Europe main events and is the second double-bracelet winner of 2012, joining Esfandiari in that category.
This seven-figure score was Hellmuth's second largest of his career, with his biggest coming from the $1 million buy-in event this July where he finished fourth. Hellmuth has 95 WSOP cashes and $17 million in tournament earnings.
Below are the complete results of the WSOPE main event:
Event 7: Main event
Buy-in: 10,450 euros
Prize pool: 4,032,000 euros
Players in the money: 48
1. Phil Hellmuth (1,022,376 euros)
2. Sergii Baranov (632,592)
3. Stephane Albertini (423,360)
4. Joseph Cheong (292,320)
5. Christopher Brammer (207,648)
6. Paul Tedeschi (149,184)
7. Stephane Girault (108,864)
8. Jason Mercier (84,672)
9. Timothy Adams (66,528)
10. Scott Seiver (66,528)
11. Nicolas Cardyn (52,416)
12. Steve Dannenmann (52,416)
13. Toby Lewis (40,320)
14. Kyle Julius (40,320)
15. David Benyamine (32,256)
16. Max Silver (32,256)
17. Curt Kohlberg (26,611)
18. Liv Boeree (26,611)
19. Joe McGowan (26,611)
20. Sebastien Guinand (26,611)
21. Vadzim Markushevski (26,611)
22. Andy Frankenberger (26,611)
23. Vladislav Varlashin (26,611)
24. Joe Kuether (26,611)
25. Bertrand Grospellier (22,982)
26. Ben Roberts (22,982)
27. Vladimir Troyanovskiy (22,982)
28. Kitty Kuo (22,982)
29. Philipp Gruissem (22,982)
30. Steponas Venckus (22,982)
31. Emil Patel (22,982)
32. Axel Pergolizzi (22,982)
33. JC Alvarado (21,250)
34. Keven Stammen (21,250)
35. Bruno Fitoussi (21,250)
36. Prosper Masquelier (21,250)
37. Fung Cheung (21,250)
38. Maxime Conte (21,250)
39. Elio Fox (21,250)
40. Eugene Katchalov (21,250)
41. Julien Lefebvre (20,150)
42. Remy Biechel (20,150)
43. Daniel Negreanu (20,150)
44. Timothy Reilly (20,150)
45. Tom McCormick (20,150)
46. Joao Barbosa (20,150)
47. Daniel Weinman (20,150)
48. Justin Bonomo (20,150)