A 29-year-old poker professional bested the World Series of Poker’s winningest player for $1.7 million early Thursday in the Poker Players Championship, a mixed-game tournament widely considered poker’s biggest test of all-around skill.
Brian Rast overcame a 5-1 heads-up chip disadvantage against Phil Hellmuth to win for the second time this series and spoil Hellmuth’s bid for a 12th championship bracelet.
“Luck is a strange thing, and I got lucky to win,” Rast said. “I’m happy about that.”
Rast won a pot-limit Texas Hold `em event for $227,000 last month.
The victory came less than 10 hours before the series’ most prestigious tournament—the no-limit Texas Hold `em main event—was set to begin.
Rast dodged three straight flush draws from Hellmuth to go from a heavy underdog to winner. First, he called an all-in bet from Hellmuth with an ace-high, avoiding a heart on one of two final community cards. Then, he moved all-in with a pair of kings, and Hellmuth called with a club draw that never materialized and evened up the competitors in chips.
Rast won the final hand with a straight, apologizing to Hellmuth for holding the best possible hand as he made his call, seeing Hellmuth with a flush draw once again.
“It was very surprising to me that that was the play that he decided to make,” Rast told reporters after posing for pictures with stacks of cash, his second bracelet of the series and the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy.
Hellmuth earned just over $1 million for second place—his biggest tournament score, topping the $755,000 he won for winning the main event in 1989. His last win at the series came in 2007, in a $1,500 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold `em event.
“This is one of the ones that I really wanted,” he said, expressing disappointment after three second place finishes this series without a title.
The Poker Players Championship tested players in eight poker variations and cost $50,000 to buy-in, making it attractive to only the wealthiest and best card players. The final eight players switched to no-limit Texas Hold `em to make the event more TV-friendly and keep players’ chips at risk in every hand.
“They say I can only play Hold `em,” he said. “I guess they’re right— I’ve had three seconds in all the other games.”
Hellmuth eliminated Ly in third place after gambling for the last of Ly’s chips with an ace high and catching a pair of sixes. His hand held through two more community cards, and Ly won nearly $666,000.
He then built up a big stack against Rast through aggression, crafty bets and by challenging Rast to prove he had good hands.
Hellmuth’s finish put him at the top of the series’ Player of the Year standings as he leapfrogged Ben Lamb, who finished the Poker Players Championship in eighth place. But the 46-year-old professional from Palo Alto, Calif., said he was in the series for wins, not the Player of the Year contest.
“I’m after bracelets,” he said. `Player of the Year, it’s kind of nice— now it’s something to fall back on.”