The WPT Legends of Poker main event at the Bicycle Casino on Thursday was the first World Poker Tour tournament cash game pro Art Papazyan had ever entered. After wading through a field of 763 in the $4,000 buy-in main event, he’d end up heads-up with Phil Hellmuth, who was desperately seeking his first WPT crown.
Hellmuth may have outlasted trash-talking JC Tran at the final table, but spoiler alert: the Hublot watch, $668,692 in first place prize money, and the coveted WPT trophy went to Papazyan.
But not without Hellmuth providing the kind of spectacle that had made the Poker Brat famous.
Contrary to popular belief, Hellmuth’s first major mark on the poker world wasn’t when he won the 1989 WSOP Main Event, defeating two-time defending champion Johnny Chan heads-up. A year earlier, a 24-year-old Hellmuth took down the $10,000 buy-in Diamond Jim Brady tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles for $125,000, a massive payday at the time.
Fast-forward almost exactly 29 years later to the same casino and a now 53-year-old Hellmuth was attempting to win another major tournament to put some icing on the cake of his remarkable career.
Hellmuth has mastered nearly every challenge during he’s faced at the poker table. He has a record 14 WSOP bracelets and $21 million in lifetime tournament winnings to show for it. But the new host of WPT’s “Raw Deal” segment still has that one hole on his resume: a World Poker Tour title.
The opportunity to get the monkey off his back presented itself on Thursday. As the six-handed TV final table was starting, he was third in chips. The first two eliminations came quickly, with Adam Swan ($91,825) and Marvin Rettenmaier ($120,775) finishing in sixth and fifth place.
Four Players from Glory?
The tournament remained four-handed for three hours or so as no player could bust. Hellmuth had an opportunity to send DJ Alexander home in 4th place at one point, but that darn river always seems to screw over the Poker Brat, at least so he claims.
Hellmuth limped in the small blind for 120,000 with J♥J♣, hoping to set one of his patented traps. The plan worked like a charm as Alexander, in the big blind, moved all-in for 2.3 million with A♦9♥. Phil snap called and then watched the board run out 2♣9♦6♥A♠2♦.
The bad beat dropped Hellmuth to the smallest stack, with barely 10 big blinds, and as you might have guessed, it made someone extra poker bratty.
“I guess I will never win a WPT event,” he bemoaned. “Wow, how can you move in with all these hands? These f*cking donkeys are so bad. How in the hell are these f*cking donkeys so bad? I mean, how do you do it? You don’t deserve that hand.”
With fans watching around the table and via the PokerGo app, Hellmuth went on a 10-minute tirade that included numerous f-bombs and references to Alexander as a “donkey” multiple times.
Hellmuth, however, regrouped and slowly rebuilt his stack to respectability, playing his unconventional, anti-game theory optimal strategy. Alexander eventually ended up busting in 4th place ($161,491).
JC Tran, a two-time WPT champion and chip leader heading into the final table, had started playing aggressively as the big stack, but never really connected to make big hands. He’d eventually bust out in 3rd place ($217,040). That left Papazyan, a cash game player, taking on one of the best tournament pros in history, heads-up with nearly even stacks.
Chip Counts at Start of Heads-Up Play
Art Papazyan 11,825,000 (39 bb)
Phil Hellmuth 11,025,000 (37 bb)
Bad Beats with No Lucky Draws
With both players having nearly identical chip stacks, Papazyan slowly chipped away at Hellmuth before winning a 10.8 million pot with a flopped straight on the 12th hand of heads-up play. On the next hand, holding better than a 3-1 advantage, Papazyan moved all-in with K♣Q♠, only to get snap-called by a dominating A♥K♦.
Like a dagger in the kidney, Hellmuth saw the bad news in the window. The board ran out Q♥10♥8♣5♥3♠, fittingly ending Hellmuth’s WPT title quest on a bad beat.
For Papazyan, it was his first tournament win of any significance. He had just $40,000 in career winnings entering this event.
No surprise, Hellmuth responded to the bad beat with a bit of a hissy fit. But he’s 53 now, not 24, and soon settled down long enough to shake hands and graciously congratulate the victor, his slayer. Say what you will about the Poker Brat, but you can’t question his heart and determination at the table. He wears his emotions on his chest, and it was obvious how important winning this tournament was to him.
Maybe next time, Phil.