- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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The $50,000 Poker Players' Championship is an event that shines above and beyond the rest of the events at the WSOP. Players must compete in eight games (limit hold 'em, Omaha high-low split eight-or-better, razz , seven-card stud, stud high-low split eight-or-better, no-limit hold 'em, pot-limit Omaha and 2-7 triple draw lowball) and defeat the best players the world has to offer in order to win the most prestigious bracelet of the Series. A field of 128 players was whittled down to an incredibly talented nine on Day 5, and among the survivors was none other than 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.
For most of the final table, Hellmuth was in control, and the atmosphere eerily resembled his efforts in Event 16 when he dominated play most of the night. This time, it wasn't John Juanda who stopped the "Poker Brat" in his tracks, but Brian Rast, champion of WSOP Event 15. Rast became the first, and potentially only, double-bracelet winner of the Series as he emerged victorious; swarmed by his friends and supporters, he became the proud new owner of $1.7 million in first-place prize money.
"This bracelet means a lot," Rast said after the win. "This is an event that is full of a lot of the top players -- not every one, but a lot of them -- and it's an event that you have to go through a lot of good players to win. The $1,500 pot-limit hold 'em was great winning, it was my first bracelet, but it's not like I really played a whole bunch of the top professionals and beat them in order to win that bracelet. This bracelet, I did that. The buy-in is $50,000; it's just a prestigious tournament that kind of like earns respect."
The turning point came with four players remaining on the final hand before the dinner break. Hellmuth paid off Rast on a large river bet and was visibly frustrated upon viewing Rast's rivered full house. Hellmuth exited the arena steaming, and that beat seemed to sit with him for the next hour of the break until play resumed. Hellmuth's downswing continued for the first hour after dinner until he finally scooped a pot against Rast holding top set. Hellmuth then eliminated another 2011 bracelet winner, Owais Ahmed (in fourth place) when he spiked an ace on the river (holding A-J) to overcome Ahmed's K-10 when a K flopped. Hellmuth was back on track.
A three-handed battle ensued between Rast, Hellmuth and Ly for nearly an hour. Ly worked his way up from the short stack to hold basically even stacks with Hellmuth. He eventually moved all-in with K-5 against Hellmuth's A-6 and didn't survive. Ly earned $665,763 for third, and although he's been a veteran player for more than two decades and has earned over $3.4 million in tournament cashes, he is still bracelet-less.
Rast and Hellmuth began heads-up play, with Hellmuth holding a very slight edge. He extended that lead to more than 2-to-1 early by keeping the pressure on Rast and forcing him to fold on a 3 million chip river bet. A few hands later, Hellmuth made a successful double-check raise to take more of Rast's stack, then cracked kings with A-7 by turning a straight. Quickly Hellmuth had a 5-to-1 chip lead, and with the bracelet within reach, he failed to put Rast away. In the span of 15 minutes, Rast was all-in twice and Hellmuth missed flopped flush draws both times to bring the two back to even keel.
Then out of nowhere, it happened. Hellmuth opened the pot to 400,000 and Rast called. The flop was Jd-10s-9d and Rast led out for 500,000. Hellmuth moved all-in with 8d-2d and Rast called, stood up and said, "I'm sorry, Phil, I have the nuts (K-Q)." For the third time in 20 minutes, Hellmuth was hoping for the flush to come, but once again, the turn and river provided no help. Hellmuth was out in second place for the third time during the 2011 WSOP, and the hundreds of spectators sat stunned in disbelief. Rast's supporters screamed in excitement while the majority of those in attendance couldn't believe that, once again, Hellmuth fell short of No. 12.
"I love Brian Rast, but it is kind of tough to watch a third person with my bracelet and piles of cash over there taking pictures," said Hellmuth. "I felt like last year I played phenomenally at the series and I kept telling people I was playing phenomenal poker, but I didn't have any results This year I was catching some cards. To have a massive chip lead in the 2-7 and not win and to have a massive chip lead here and not win, it's brutal. But you take your hat off to the tournament, it's a great event, and you take your hat off to Brian, he's a great guy."
Rast now joins Chip Reese, Scotty Nguyen, David Bach, Michael Mizrachi and Freddy Deeb as champions of the $50,000 event at the WSOP. In addition to the WSOP bracelet, Rast will get his name engraved on the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy. The runner-up finish also means much to Hellmuth, who is now the leader in the WSOP Player of the Year Race. Ben Lamb, who finished eighth at his third final table of the Series, remains in close competition with Rast and Hellmuth for the top spot. This was also Hellmuth's first career seven-figure score. He now has $13 million in career live tournament earnings.
For the second consecutive year, the final table was played in no-limit hold 'em. All the action before the dinner break can be replayed here and the conclusion of the event can be replayed here. The event will be broadcast on ESPN in August.
Defending champion Michael Mizrachi was eliminated on Day 2. A bracelet is awarded for each event during the World Series of Poker.
Other notable names earning cashes included runner-up finisher in the 2010 $50,000 event Vladimir Shchemelev (10th), Jeffrey Lisandro (11th) and Barry Greenstein (15th).
Below are the complete results of Event 55 at the 2011 World Series of Poker:
Event 55: Poker Players' Championship
Prize pool: $1,277,100
Players in the money: 16
1. Brian Rast ($1,720,328)
2. Phil Hellmuth ($1,063,034)
3. Minh Ly ($665,763)
4. Owais Ahmed ($482,085)
5. Matt Glantz ($376,750)
6. George Lind ($300,441)
7. Scott Seiver ($243,978)
8. Ben Lamb ($201,338)
9. Jason Lester ($168,529)
10. Vladimir Shchemelev ($168,529)
11. Jeffrey Lisandro ($143,400)
12. Yan Chen ($143,400)
13. Josh Arieh ($124,723)
14. Michael Binger ($124,723)
15. Barry Greenstein ($108,503)
16. Sebastian Ruthenberg ($108,503)