Phil Hellmuth contains multitudes. And we’re not just talking about his World Series of Poker bracelet collection, although that is far and away the most multitudinous of its kind. We’re talking about the contradictions, the pros and cons, the yins and yangs. Nobody hits all ends of the spectrum quite like “The Poker Brat.”
And the extremes have been on full display during the first three weeks of the 2021 WSOP.
He has already made four — count ‘em, four — final tables, consistently reaching one every five days or so. He has extended the records he already held for most WSOP cashes, most WSOP final tables, and, of course, most bracelets, when he won his 16th — nobody else has more than 10 — in Event 31, $1,500 no-limit deuce-to-seven draw, on Sunday.
Not that poker is a young person’s game the way most physical sports are, but it’s notable that Hellmuth, sitting a close second in 2021 WSOP Player of the Year standings after 20 days of play, is still crushing it at age 57.
It’s also notable that his behavior at the table continues to prove a major issue. If you want to watch segments of his final table outburst in the $10K seven-card stud event, just be warned that Hellmuth’s tirades are very much NSFW.
Was @phil_hellmuth out of line last night at the final table of the WSOP $10,000 stud final table?
Unrelentingly, unacceptably, unspeakably.
All the bracelets in the world do not excuse that behavior at the table. Ever.
It’s GOTTA stop, buddy.
— Norman Chad (@NormanChad) October 12, 2021
The thing is, away from the table, Hellmuth’s personality is widely embraced. He’s deeply engaged in charitable work and is considered by most to be a friendly fella. He has his eccentricities, such as excess name dropping, but almost everyone agrees he’s a nice guy.
The 100TH EPISODE of the Gamble On podcast drops on Thursday so you know we had to do it big. Ladies and gentleman, the legend @phil_hellmuth!!
Full episode to come but here's a preview… pic.twitter.com/gwABK8CkaT
— US Bets (@US_Bets) July 15, 2020
And while some will debate whether he warrants consideration for greatest poker player ever, it gets harder and harder with each passing year to deny him the titles of all-time greatest tournament poker player or, at least, all-time greatest WSOP player. To wit, he showed his versatility by seizing his 16th bracelet in a variant he’d never won before.
“I’ve wanted a deuce-to-seven bracelet ever since the 1980s because it was the coolest bracelet to win,” he said. “It’s the one tournament that Chip [Reese], Doyle [Brunson], and all the big-named poker players showed up for. I’ve been fighting so hard for this bracelet for so long, and my game has gotten better and better. I’ve worked really hard at it and I know all these tricks because I’ve been playing since the ’80s. It feels really good.”
Hellmuth has captured the biggest headlines so far at this fall’s COVID-delayed World Series at the Rio in Las Vegas, but there have been plenty of other noteworthy stories.
Numbers predictably down
With vaccination requirements, COVID caution, and travel restrictions for some, it was assumed that this year’s World Series, while surely creating the largest gathering of poker players in two years, would see smaller fields than any other recent WSOP.
The numbers thus far have been respectable, but generally down. Take the $1,500 “Millionaire Maker” as a point of comparison. It was Event 19 in 2019 and Event 17 this year, so roughly at the same spot on the schedule, same price point, same first-place guarantee.
In 2019, it drew 8,809 entries and an $11.89 million prize pool. In 2021, it attracted 5,326 entries for a $7.11 million prize pool.
That’s a 39.5% drop, which is pretty much in line with realistic expectations once the Delta variant of COVID-19 put a partial damper on things. It will be interesting to see if the Main Event, which saw 8,569 entries in 2019, falls by a similar amount. Speaking of which …
Two Main Event starting flights added
In response to an easing of international travel restrictions that kicks in Nov. 8, WSOP organizers announced on Friday that two additional starting days for the Main Event would be added to bring the total number of starting flights to six.
The original plan included Day 1A through Day 1D from Thursday to Sunday, Nov. 4-7. Now players also have Day 1E on Monday, Nov. 8, and Day 1F on Tuesday, Nov. 9, to consider.
And there’s always the late-entry option. Registration officially closes at 3:40 p.m. Vegas time on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
Poker Hall of Fame finalists announced
On Tuesday, the WSOP revealed the 10 names with a chance at Hall of Fame induction this year. While a couple are controversial for one reason or another, there’s not a single name among the finalists who lacks a strong case for induction:
- Eli Elezra
- Antonio Esfandiari
- Chris Ferguson
- Layne Flack
- Ted Forrest
- Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
- Mike Matusow
- Michael Mizrachi
- Matt Savage
- Isai Scheinberg
Flack, Grospellier, and Mizrachi are all first-time finalists. The latter two became eligible for the first time this year by turning 40, while six-time bracelet winner Flack would be a posthumous inductee, having died at age 52 in July.
Zinno outkicks Hellmuth
We mentioned at the top that Hellmuth is second in the WSOP Player of the Year standings. The man he’s looking up at happens to be the man he profanely ranted at earlier in the Series: Anthony Zinno.
Zinno went on to win that final table and become the first poker player to capture three WSOP bracelets and three World Poker Tour titles. And he enjoyed winning Event 19 so much that he decided to also win Event 27 a few days later and become the first to win four WSOPs and three WPTs.
He also extended the streak of somebody winning at least two bracelets at every single WSOP since 2000 — excluding 2020, when there was no in-person Series.
Other small and big blinds
- Phil Ivey has yet to enter a 2021 WSOP event, though he is in Vegas. Veteran poker reporter Chad Holloway tweeted that multiple sources told him the vaccination requirements are keeping the 10-time bracelet winner away.
- Statistician, writer, and FiveThirtyEight.com Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver lived up to his surname by finishing second in the $10,000 limit hold’em tournament. It’s not exactly Gabe Kaplan at the Main Event final table, but for “celebrity” showings at the 2021 Series, it’s the best we have to offer so far.
- Silver lost to John Monnette heads-up, which secured the man known as “Angry John” his fourth career bracelet. Other notable winners to add to their collections: David “Bakes” Baker (3), Chance Kornuth (3), Ari Engel (2), Connor Drinan (2), Daniel Lazrus (2), and Jeremy Ausmus (2). Amazingly, despite winning one of the first two tournaments he entered this year, Ausmus said he was behind financially through two events.
- At his ninth career final table, Jason Koon removed his name from consideration for “best to never win a bracelet,” as he took down the $25K heads-up NLHE tourney.
Photo courtesy of WSOP/PokerNews