Heading into the 2021 World Series of Poker, the headlines were supposed to be about the grand return to live poker action after the unavoidable move to online action for the 2020 WSOP. While that’s still part of it, much of the attention has been pulled away by Phil Hellmuth, which is just as the Poker Brat probably likes it.
The World Series of Poker has always been a showcase for Hellmuth, who has won more bracelets at the event than any other player. Hellmuth hasn’t slowed down a bit, coming into the tournament off a string of successes in high stakes showdown battles against luminaries like Antonio Esfandiari and Daniel Negreanu.
But it’s one thing to play well when you’ve got a 50/50 chance of winning. It’s another to grind out tournaments over dozens upon dozens of entrants, most much younger players. Perhaps being bearish on Hellmuth’s chances at the WSOP was only natural.
“Philling” It Up
But he has proven any doubters wrong with his play so far in the 2021 WSOP. Hellmuth hit three final tables in the first few weeks of the event, often doing so in disciplines a bit off the beaten path. People who know him as only as Texas Hold’em type are finding out just how varied his skill level can be.
The only thing that was missing from Helmuth’s incredible run was an event victory. But he took care of that this past week by picking up the 16th bracelet of his career, adding to his record total. And he continued his trend of performing well in non-Hold’em events.
His Latest Bracelet
In this case, it was a No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw event which packed in 272 entrants ponying up the $1,500 buy-in. It was by no means an easy win for Hellmuth, who wasn’t all that far from elimination on several occasions on the first two days. But his mental toughness served him well, and he hit the final table second in chips behind Dario Sammartino.
Sammartino soon faded and settled for a sixth-place finish. Hellmuth was pretty steady, with the exception of a mini-meltdown when he lost a big pot to Joshua Faris. But he righted the ship quickly and ended up in head-to-head play with Jake Schwartz.
Schwartz was game and put some dents in Hellmuth. But eventually, the Brat wore him down and put the upstart away for the victory. The winner’s purse of $84,851 wasn’t bad, although for Hellmuth, the chance to add to his legacy was probably worth a whole lot more.
The Legacy Grows
What Hellmuth has been doing has gone beyond just bolstering his reputation. His string of final tables, to which he would add later in the week (more on that in a moment), is reaching a point where he is enjoying one of the best stretches of WSOP play of any player ever.
Since the beginning of the WSOP play, Hellmuth has hit five final tables. On top of that, the victory we just mentioned now puts him six higher than the nearest number of bracelets won by another player. It was his first bracelet victory since back in 2018.
What’s basically happening now is that Hellmuth is simultaneously making a case for greatest career player and greatest single-year player in World Series of Poker history. He’s basically hijacking the entire narrative of the event. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Friedman Steals Some of Phil’s Thunder
Dealer’s Choice is a variation of poker that often gets shoved aside in terms of interest when compared to Texas Hold’em. But the best players in the world are often drawn to it, however, because of the challenge that it represents.
Switching from variation to variation of poker, many of which are somewhat obscure, with each new hand is a great test of mental fortitude. Perhaps that’s why the final table of the $10,000 buy-in Dealer’s Choice Championship was so stacked.
Jake Schwartz, whom we just mentioned as a runner-up to Hellmuth, was in there—so too was Mike Matusow. Daniel Negreanu just missed the final table, finishing ninth. And there was Phil Hellmuth, once again in the middle of the action.
The Champ Is Back
But all of these players, big names every one of them, might have been fighting an uphill battle all along. After all, they were going up against a player who has turned the Dealer’s Choice event at the World Series of Poker into his own personal playground.
Perhaps no game within the WSOP realm lends itself to players repeating good performances year after year than Dealer’s Choice. There are precious few players that know the ins and outs of games like Badugi or Big O. Fewer still that can pivot from one game to another on a dime without losing their heads.
Going for the Three-Peat
Still, Friedman being able to pull off a third straight title seemed like anything but a foregone conclusion considering the heavyweights he was facing. Yet they fell one by one, until the last man standing was—you guessed it—Phil Hellmuth.
Here was a showdown for the ages: A guy on an incredible current heater in Hellmuth going up against one whose dominance of a particular game is almost unprecedented. And it was Hellmuth who went into heads-up play with the advantage, coming in with nearly double the chips of his opponent.
But Freidman stuck to his guns and wasn’t intimidated by Hellmuth, catching him in a couple bluffs to even things out. Once the momentum changed, Hellmuth couldn’t get it back. The end result was Friedman ending it all on a hand of Badugi to make it back-to-back-to-back.
The winner’s share of $248,350 was certainly a nice perk for Friedman. But his ability to put his stamp in the World Series of Poker record books is probably the bigger plus. This seems like a record that will be hard to top by anyone anytime soon.
As for Hellmuth, while disappointed, he could point to the fact that he was able to make his fifth final table so far in the 2021 WSOP. And his second-place finish was the 12th in his World Series of Poker career. That is also more than any other player has ever managed.
Since we’re still in the middle of the 2021 WSOP, we don’t know much about what the 2022 event will look like. But we do know that Adam Friedman should be the favorite when it comes to Dealer’s Choice.
Addamo Adds WSOP Win to High-Stakes Heater
While Phil Hellmuth might be stealing most of the headlines, when it comes to the games with the biggest buy-ins, Australia’s Michael Addamo has been hard to top lately. And he added another big one to the tally this week by scoring a World Series of Poker bracelet.
For those who might not be familiar to what this guy has done, he has been a major force on the high-stakes circuit for a number of years. But in the last few months, Addamo has turned up the heat to an impressive degree. If you’re sitting across the table from him with a lot of money on the line, you better start thinking about second-place at best.
Addamo began his tear with back-to-back wins in the Poker Masters series, winning the overall crown for his efforts. He then took down the competition in the Super High Roller Bowl. Those three victories combined earned him over $5 million combined.
Addamo vs. WSOP
Still, there is something about the status that goes with winning in the WSOP that adds heft to any hot streak. So it was that Addamo went looking for the kill this past week in the $50,000 no-limit hold’em eight-max event with 80 other entrants also hoping to win that title.
It wasn’t smooth sailing, and his frequent high-roller opponent Justin Bonomo actually lunged into the lead. But Addamo was the knockout artist, taking care of the three remaining players before the showdown with Bonomo and legend Erik Seidel among the ones who fell.
A Thrilling Final Hand
It was pretty even between Addamo and Bonomo for much of the showdown, until a thrilling rollercoaster of a hand ended it all at once. Addamo got all-in with a suited K-J while Bonomo, slightly trailing, called with unsuited 10-9.
Addamo paired up his jacks on the flop to solidify his lead, only to have Bonomo end up with two pair on the turn. Addamo needed a third Jack for a set, or a nine or ace for a straight, to prevent a big hit to his chips. As befitting a guy on a tear, an ace popped up, giving him the straight and the win.
Add another $1.1 million plus to the swelling coffers of Michael Addamo. It would be hard to argue that he is the top high-stakes player in the world right now. Let’s see if he can do any more damage before the WSOP comes to a close.