The World Series of Poker Goes BIG
Phil Hellmuth earns 12th bracelet during the WSOP’s first wave of events
By Sean Chaffin
In the 43-year history of the WSOP, the tournament has awarded more than $1.6 billion in prize money.
The World Series of Poker went big this summer. There were big names making big finishes – Phil Hellmuth’s 12th bracelet, Phil Ivey making five straight final tables, and Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi becoming the $50,000 Players Championship’s first two-time winner. And big events – particularly the insane $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drops that featured an $18.3 million payday for first place. There were big money and big turnouts. And of course, big fun, with the addition of the Antes Only and Four-Handed tournaments.
Despite the economic downturn, the event’s prize pool topped $200 million for the first time – garnering 74,766 entries in 61 events. The total prize pool – $222 million – was an increase of 15.6 percent over the previous record of last year’s $192 million. In the 43-year history of the WSOP, the tournament has awarded more than $1.6 billion in prize money.
“We’re still in poker’s golden age, at least when WSOP gold bracelets are on the line,” said WSOP executive director Ty Stewart. “We can’t thank the players enough for their continued support of the WSOP, and for once again putting a bad beat on market conditions.”
Pros Chalk Up Big Wins
Many big-name pros had good runs in this year’s event. In Event No. 7, Andy Bloch took home his first bracelet and $126,000 in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud event. Bloch previously had well over $2 million in WSOP earnings, but no bracelets. That changed this year. He also earned a third-place finish in the $50,000 Player Championship, for $561,738.
“Now, no one can say, ‘Andy Bloch is the best player to never win a gold bracelet,” said Bloch, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Law School. “That is really annoying because there are so many other great players too, who have not won. I’ve been coming here for 18 years now. I never thought it would have taken so long.”
Another major accomplishment happened in Event 16, when poker author and 35-year-old poker pro Matt Matros won his third bracelet in three consecutive years. Matros took home $455,000 in the $1,500 No Limit Holdem Six Handed event, bringing his WSOP earnings to $1.36 million.
“It doesn’t even occur to me that I might win a bracelet,” he said. “Everyone hopes they do, but even winning two the last two years, you never expect to run that good again. Man, I just caught so many cards and came back from some a couple of big hands that I lost, too. I just can’t fathom how lucky I’ve been the last three years here at the Rio…I couldn’t believe I won another one… it’s ridiculous.”
One of the best players in poker the last few years has been Vanessa Selbst, and her WSOP would also prove memorable. Selbst started out with a fourth-place finish in Event 2 ($1,500 No Limit Holdem) and a ninth-place in Event 9 ($10,000 Heads Up No Limit Holdem) for a cool $180,000. In Event 10 ($2,500 10-Game Mix/Six Handed), Selbst would take home her second bracelet for $244,000.
Selbst, 27, is one of just 20 women to win a gold bracelet in the history of the WSOP (excluding the Ladies and Seniors Championships). She was the last woman to win an open event in 2008, and has been working at games other than Hold’em to sharpen her game.
“Personally, everyone can always improve,” she said. “I’ve actually been working on my other games, like mixed games, because I felt like that was something that was lacking in my repertoire. So, I’m really happy of this accomplishment – to show what I’ve achieved. But obviously, my No-Limit game, my PLO game, all over, it can always improve— and I’m just looking forward to putting in more hours and getting even better.”
A Tale Of Two Phils
In 2012, Phil Hellmuth came up just short in his quest to win a 12th WSOP bracelet. The “Poker Brat” lives for the World Series and craved the opportunity to separate himself from poker legends Johny Chan and Doyle Brunson, both winners of 10 bracelets each. Hellmuth came so close last year – racking up three runner-up finishes. Love him or hate him, Hellmuth brings a big game to the felt and a burning desire to win. This year was no different.
A determined Hellmuth came out on fire, earning a cash in Events 2, 8 and 15. He then struck gold in Event 18, $2,500 Seven Card Razz, winning $183,000 and a record 12th bracelet in his first non-Hold ‘em event. With the final table being webcast at WSOP.com into the early morning hours, Hellmuth beat a tough group of opponents that included six previous bracelet winners.
“You know, after three seconds (last year), I don’t think people were bringing up the Hold ‘em quite as much anymore,” he said. “But still, I’ll take it. I felt like I was supposed to win the Deuce-Seven last year, but Juanda played great. I feel like I was supposed to win the Players’ Championship, and you know, Rast played great, and I just missed a bunch of hands. And I really thought I was going to win the Stud-Eight or Better two days ago. I kept thinking, ‘Wow.’ I kept seeing myself as the winner. Who knew it was going to be two days later instead in the Razz? So, I’m pretty pleased right now.”
Hellmuth wasn’t finished yet. In the $10,000 HORSE (Event 32), he would make another run at a bracelet, but finished fourth for another $134,000. He followed that up with another fourth-place finish in the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop for $2.65 million. All told, he finished with almost $3 million in winnings, bringing his lifetime WSOP winnings to $10.8 million.
While Hellmuth was making history at the Razz event, Phil Ivey was also at a final table at the Rio. It was something that would become a regular occurrence for Ivey this summer – making five final tables in a row. Ivey took the 2011 WSOP off after Black Friday brought his sponsor Full Tilt Poker’s questionable business practices to light.
This year, Ivey looked to be ready to make up for lost time. While he didn’t earn a bracelet, he racked up runner-up and third-place finishes, $576,000 in winnings, and seven cashes before the Main Event had even begun. Ivey’s impressive run was the talk of much of the series, and had him atop the WSOP Player of the Year standings at press time. As for his runner-up finish, Ivey shouldn’t feel too bad. He placed second to former World Poker Tour Player of the Year Andy Frankenberger , who took home his second bracelet in the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold ‘em event for $446,000. This was Frankenberger’s second bracelet; he has definitely made a name for himself in the poker world.
Poker: A Shulman Family Affair
For many of us, poker is a family game. We remember our parents playing with friends, our dad teaching us the game growing up, or pulling out the cards and chips for family get-togethers. For the Shulmans, poker success is a family affair. Barry Shulman and his son Jeff are publishers of Card Player magazine, and they’ve found huge success on the felt, as well.
In 2009, Jeff finished fifth in the WSOP Main Event for almost $2 million. Also that year, Barry took down the Main Event of the WSOP-Europe for £801,000. This year, Barry’s wife and Jeff’s step-mother, Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, got in on the act – besting a massive field of 4,128 to win the $1,000 Seniors No Limit Holdem Championship for $604,000. Allyn works as legal counsel and writes for Card Player, and became the latest Shulman success story. She believes seeing more women playing is good for the game.
“I do think it’s important and I don’t think women have been given their due,” she said. “I’m happy for myself, but I’m happy for all women that I won this – showing that any woman can win a poker tournament and I’d like to see more of them out there playing, feeling comfortable with going at it with the boys and winning.”
Amazingly, Barry and Jeff also made final tables the same week that Allyn won her bracelet, a first for the WSOP. A success in the publishing world, the Shulmans also prove to be successes at playing cards – fitting.
As this issue of Casino Player went to press, the World Series of Poker was finishing its first 60 events. The legendary $10,000 No Limit Hold ‘em Main Event lay ahead. With a whopping 6,598 entries, the championship would award $8.5 million to the winner along with the most coveted of all WSOP bracelets. Would a poker pro take home the prize or would an amateur make his (or her) dream come true? Be sure you to pick up the next issue of Casino Player to find out.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Rockwall, Texas, and his new book, RAISING THE STAKES: True Tales of Gambling, Wagering and Poker Faces, is available at www.RaisingtheStakesbook.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is also editor of www.PokerTraditions.com, all about poker history, lore, and people. If you have a gambling or poker story idea, email email@example.com.