The robust crowd cheered as Phil Hellmuth rose from his seat and raised his arms in victory. He had finally done it, Hellmuth just won his record-extending 16th World Series of Poker gold bracelet after taking down Event #31 ($1,500 No Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw) for $84,851.
But when it was all said and done, the money was the last thing on his mind.
“I’ve wanted a Deuce To Seven bracelet ever since the 1980’s since it was the coolest bracelet to win because it’s the one tournament that Chip [Reese] and Doyle [Brunson] showed up for. All the big-name poker players, Billy Baxter, all the champions showed up for that,” he said. “And I wanted that bracelet so badly.”
“And so I’ve been fighting so ****ing hard for this bracelet for so long in the Deuce to Seven…but yeah, it feels really good.”
Hellmuth weaved his way through the 272-entry field, to make his fourth final table of the series. He started the day second in chips and battled through an up-and-down day in the chip counts. Once the final table of eight players was set, he outlasted the likes of Dario Sammartino, Rep Porter, and Chris Vitch until he was finally heads-up with Jake Schwartz, who was playing for his first bracelet.
Hellmuth started heads-up at a slight chip deficit but quickly managed to turn the tide and grab a commanding four-to-one chip lead. The two agreed to take a 45-minute break and when they returned Hellmuth went to work, chipping away at Schwartz’s stack and, roughly 20 minutes later, ended Schwartz’s run in second place.
Hellmuth then stood and lifted two fists in the air, made his way over to the rail where his wife and longtime friend Mike Matusow were waiting to congratulate him. Nearly two dozen fans snapped photos and cheered as Hellmuth basked in the victory. He then returned to the poker table, and as he prepared to take a barrage of winners photos, it looked as if a wave of emotion came over him. He sat center stage and held his head in his hands.
“I told myself if I ever won a Deuce bracelet, I thought maybe I’d cry afterward,” he said, reflecting on that moment. “Because I wanted this Deuce bracelet so badly and because of the extreme effort I’ve put in this year.”
It was a week of roller-coaster emotions for Hellmuth, one that started out with him making a deep run in the $10K Stud. But after a pivotal hand against Anthony Zinno, Hellmuth lost his temper, and his alter-ego, “The Poker Brat”, burst onto the stage. Hellmuth’s extended tirade, one of the most explosive of his career, made the rounds on social media and had players talking at the tables in the Rio for days. Hellmuth then spent the better part of the next 24 hours tweeting apologies, making amends, and insisting he could do better.
And he did do better. It didn’t take long for Hellmuth to regroup from that chaos and get back to work with a renewed focus on his mantra of positivity.
“I told myself no swearing tirades, no threats…now I swore a little bit and I’m sure the camera caught it but it was a lot mellower because I went too far the other day.”
When reflecting on what took place over the past week, Hellmuth likened the uproar to his 2018 feature table clash with James Campbell. In that, an angry Hellmuth “folded kinda out of turn” and it cost Campbell an important hand. To make up for it, Hellmuth bought Campbell into the Main Event for the next year.
“There were like 2000 negative tweets about what an asshole I was,” he said. “It was a record. And then four days later I won a bracelet and there were 3000 positive tweets. So I told my wife, I said ‘Honey, all this negative press it feels like 2018′ where I’m just going to pop a bracelet and turn most the stuff back to positivity.”
“And that’s what happened…but I think it’s kind of weird.”
With Hellmuth finally breaking through for number 16, he insists that he’s going to spend very little time before working on what’s next. He’s planning on taking a day off, showing up for a bracelet ceremony, and then getting back to the bracelet chase “immediately.”
“I’ve always said I’m going to win 24 bracelets. I started saying that in 1993 and then [Phil] Ivey said he might win 30. I just have this weird sense that I’ll win at least 24 bracelets…but they’re not that easy to win in the mixed games.”
Hellmuth throws out Ivey’s name as, maybe, the one player with a shot to catch his WSOP gold bracelet record. However, it will likely take a great deal of time before any player even makes a credible push in that arena, if ever. Of course, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and Johnny Chan each have 10 bracelets, but Brunson is effectively retired from playing WSOP events and Chan is not as active as he once was.
There was speculation that Ivey might (and still may) show up to this World Series of Poker now that his legal troubles in the U.S. are behind him – but he has yet to make an appearance. Those factors make Hellmuth’s 16th an even bigger gap for those who would have an eye on catching him.
With five cashes, four final tables, and a bracelet in hand, Hellmuth states that this “has to be” the best start to a series in his career. And, that in addition to getting to work on number 17, he’s going to take aim at the 2021 WSOP Player of the Year title. It’s something he thinks is well within reach, especially with his recent success in mixed games.
“I think because I don’t have enough mixed game bracelets, I haven’t really been getting my due in these games,” he said. “You know, I’ve just kind of exploded in the last 10 tournaments.”
“I’m showing everybody, hey, I’m pretty good.”