“Player X won an event this week at the World Series of Poker.”
There isn’t another player you could have said that about in more years than Phil Hellmuth, Jr. He earned his 12th WSOP bracelet this week in the $2,500 Razz tournament, winning $182,793 and making him the clear leader in number of events won ahead of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, who have 10 each. The win also marked the first time Hellmuth had earned a bracelet in any discipline of poker that didn’t include the word “hold’em” in its name.
Less than halfway into this year’s WSOP schedule, Hellmuth already has four cashes and one bracelet. In honor of his achievement, here’s a look back at five of the Poker Brat’s brightest WSOP moments.
1. $10,000 No Limit Hold’em Main Event (1989)
Phil Hellmuth was no stranger to winning tournaments in May of 1989. Since the beginning of the previous year he had scored victories in events at the Pot Of Gold, the 4th Annual Diamond Jim Brady, the Super Stars of Poker, and the Cajun Cup. But nobody today remembers his wins in those events, and for good reason: the WSOP Main Event was The Big One.
In topping a field of 178 players – including a heads-up victory over two-time defending champion Johnny Chan – Hellmuth simultaneously broke two Main Event records. He became the youngest player ever to win the tournament (at age 24) and he became its biggest winner (with a $755,000 prize). He became known as the Poker Brat – a name so iconic that it has stuck with him even as he near 50 years of age.
2. Second bracelet, five final tables (1992)
After winning his first gold bracelet in the 1989 Main Event, Hellmuth hit a WSOP dry spell for two years. Though he was enjoying plenty of success in other tournament series at home and abroad, he cashed just once at the 1990 Series and not at all in 1991.
But in 1992, Hellmuth showed the WSOP that he was no one-hit wonder. He finished at the final table of four different events – 9th in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em, 4th in the $5,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw, 2nd in the $2,500 Limit Hold’em, and 8th in the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em – in just the first two weeks of the schedule.
Then he won the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event, topping a field of 82 players – not to mention a final table including the likes of a young Freddy Deeb and an in-his-prime TJ Cloutier – to take home his second gold bracelet. If the WSOP Player of the Year award had existed at the time, it most likely would have gone to Hellmuth.
3. Four final tables, three bracelets (1993)
If 1992 had been a successful WSOP for Hellmuth, 1993 was a career-definer.
His first cash of the Series was a bracelet win in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em. For beating a field of 284 players and defeating “Syracuse” Chris Tsiprailidis, who would go on to post two decades’ worth of cashes at tournaments around the U.S., Hellmuth earned $161,400.
His second cash came days later in the $5,000 No Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw event. Though he was denied a fourth career bracelet by Draw specialist Billy Baxter in the heads-up match, Hellmuth finished in 2nd place ahead of TJ Cloutier and Bob Stupak.
One week later Hellmuth earned his second bracelet of the spring with a win in the $2,500 No Limit Hold’em event. He defeated Noli Francisco, who would later go on to fame as one of the earliest champions on the World Poker Tour, in the heads-up to win $173,000.
The Poker Brat wrapped up his conquest of the 1993 WSOP with a win in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event. It drew only 69 players, but the field was tough: the final table included the likes of former Main Event winner Jack Keller, and future three-time bracelet winner “Miami” John Cernuto, and future bracelet winner (and Kill Phil author) Blair Rodman. In the finale, Hellmuth bested three-time bracelet winner Don Williams to claim the $138,000 prize – and in an alternate universe, the WSOP Player of the Year award that didn’t yet exist in ours.
4. Eight cashes, one bracelet, and a million dollars (2006)
By 2006, though Hellmuth was widely considered one of the greatest tournament poker players of the previous generation, there were some who saw him as more of a circus sideshow who wasn’t capable of hanging with the young internet crowd. He gave them reason to rethink their hypothesis in 2006 with perhaps the greatest WSOP performance of his career.
After two early cashes, he made the stacked final table of the $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event. Outlasting Vinny Vinh, Doug Carli, Thomas Schreiber, Isabelle Mercier, Marcel Luske, and Eugene Todd, Hellmuth found himself heads-up with an unknown named Jeff Cabanillas. Hellmuth was chasing a 10th career bracelet, which would have tied Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most ever; Cabanillas was playing in his first live tournament. David slew Goliath, Chan and Brunson’s record was safe for the moment.
Far from discouraged by the near-miss, Hellmuth pressed on for five more cashes, including three final tables. One of those resulted in his record-tying win, a $631,863 victory in the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em with Rebuys event that still stands as the fourth-largest score of his career. All told he own $1.19 million at the 2006 WSOP – at the time his career best. The WSOP Player of the Year award actually existed at this point, but Hellmuth lost out to double bracelet winner Jeff Madsen.
5. Four final tables, three runner-up finishes (2011)
After two less-than-satisfying WSOP performances in 2009 and 2010, Hellmuth looked to be a man on a mission in 2011. Though he fell short of a 12th career bracelet, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Hellmuth’s first runner-up finish of the 2011 WSOP – and his first cash – came in the $10,000 No Limit Deuce-to-Seven World Championship. After outlasting a final table lineup of Joe Cassidy, Hasan Habib, David Baker, Nick Schulman, Steve Sung and Richard Ashby, Hellmuth fell short heads-up against John Juanda.
Days later Hellmuth was heads-up for a bracelet again, this time in the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo event. Another tough field behind him – including Ali Eslami, Joe Tehan, David Benyamine, Ted Forrest, and John Racener – Hellmuth found himself facing unheralded Eric Rodawig. Hellmuth was left wanting as the underdog won his first and only bracelet.
With a few more cashes under his belt, Hellmuth had his biggest chance yet at Number 12 in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. The eight-game tournament saw Hellmuth and Brian Rast face off in the finale after overcoming a final lineup including Ben Lamb, Scott Seiver, George Lind, Matt Glantz, Owais Ahmed, and Minh Ly. Though he again finished in second place, Hellmuth’s $1,063,034 prize was the largest of his Hall of Fame career.