A REVIEW OF THE 2011 POKER PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

The 2011 edition of the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship was won by Brian Rast, a professional poker player from Las Vegas, NV.  He topped a brutally tough field of 128 of the world’s best poker players who all competed in a mixed game format played over five consecutive days.

Rast collected a whopping $1,720,328 in prize money, which was the richest cash prize of any tournament at this year’s World Series of Poker.  Only the WSOP Main Event Championship will have a larger top prize.  He was also presented with his second WSOP gold bracelet.  Three weeks earlier, Rast won his first victory in the $1,500 buy-in  Pot-Limit Hold’em championship.  Rast is the first and only player with multiple wins at this year’s WSOP.

Rast’s victory was special for at least another reason.  His name was added to the illustrious list of former Poker Players Championship winners -- which includes David “Chip” Reese, Freddy Deeb, Scotty Nguyen, David Bach, and Michael “the Grinder” Mizrachi.  The championship trophy now in Rast’s possession is named in honor of the late Chip Reese, who won the inaugural $50,000 buy-in championship, held in 2006.

The tournament was nearly as memorable for what happened to the second-place finisher, Phil Hellmuth.  Remarkably, this was his third runner-up finish at the 2011 WSOP.  He became the first player in WSOP history to achieve three second-place finishes at a series, with no wins.  Hellmuth could take some pride in accomplishing three very strong runner up finishes.  He also collected the largest WSOP prize of his career.  The second-place consolation prize amounted to $1,063,034.

Following the conclusion of the tournament at 3:30 am, both players were interviewed.  The transcripts of those interviews follow:

PHIL HELLMUTH, JR. ON THE RECORD

On his self-evaluation of his performance:

“I mean, you know, I actually feel pretty good.  I feel like, God -- I played so good for five days.”

On why he shoved on a draw on what turned out to be the final hand:
“On the last hand, I caught the straight and flush draw.  He bet 500,000 and moved in.  He had to have the nuts.”

On his status as one of the world’s most famous poker players:
“Look, I wanted to prove to myself, and just to myself really, that I’m a pretty good player….The world in general has been great to me.  My fans have been great to me.  I feel really good about the treatment and a ton of people here watching.  It just makes me feel really good that there are so many people out there rooting for me.  And I’m so happy about that.  I’ve been way too cocky in the past, and I hear my critics.  That’s the problem.”

On his three runner-up finishes at the 2011 WSOP:
“I think I put on a spectacular performance at the Series this year.  So, I’m happy about that.  But I’d trade three seconds for a first, any day.  I already have 11 bracelets, you have to understand this is the number one bracelet that I wanted – I mean this and the Main Event.  So, to come this close, to taste it, and then fall short, was disappointing.”

On losing what was a 5 to 1 chip lead when playing heads-up versus Brian Rast:
“You never count the victory.  I mean I’ve already had two seconds, so believe me I didn’t count the victory.  I believe that if I hit any of those three flush draws, I win the tournament.  I just missed three of them and you know, I proved a lot to myself.”

More on his status as a poker superstar:

“The problem is when you’re someone like me, who has a lot of championships.  Like (NBA coach) Phil Jackson, he has a lot of championships, right?  Then he left the game he said something about his critics.  I hear my critics all the time.  I hear these people say ‘oh you can’t do it, you’re not very good’ and so you don’t do it for the critics, you do it for the fans and you do it for your family.”

BRIAN RAST ON THE REORD

On playing this tournament on national television:
“This is really the first time I’ve played on television for a final table.  I was on one time for like day one of the World Series of Poker Main Event.  I was on Phil Hellmuth’s table like three or four years ago.  I don’t know – I didn’t really feel that much pressure.  It was kind of cool.  I actually liked playing here more, because it was more of a loud environment, like the other table over there (for his first victory) was really small and there wasn’t much room and it didn’t feel like a final table.  You’re used to, being a poker player, the WPT, WSOP final tables all have big cheering sections and people go crazy when you win or lose pots and the other one didn’t feel like that.  And this one definitely had that feel and that excitement.  And definitely added something, I felt a lot more excited at the end of the tournament.  Like when I faded those flush draws for the third time, I definitely got a charged feeling just from the feeling in the air that was happening.”

On his decision to buy into the $50,000 Poker Players Championship:
“I think it was because I won the other tournament that I decided to buy into this one.  I felt like I was plus-EV in this event, but not by a lot and 50K is a lot to put up which is why I sold some of my action.  I’m not really a mixed game player.  I feel like I have some experience and I’m probably better than most people think I am at the mixed games.  But by no means do I consider myself to be one of the top mixed game players.  I mean it does have No-Limit Hold’em and PLO.  And it the final table is Hold’em, so I thought that was a definite advantage for me.”

On being down 5 to 1 in chips at one point when heads-up:
“It was pretty amazing.  There wasn’t a back and forth.  He just won every pot for like an hour.  It was pretty frustrating.  I just told myself ‘don’t do anything to try and take control of what’s going on. Just like play your cards, pick your spots.’  I was still picking up a few small pots here and there.  You know, most of those I didn’t have anything.  I waited for a spot.  I called it off with ace-high in a spot, where I think he had the flush draw a huge percentage of the time, and I was getting a good price.  After that he just kept the gas on, he kept playing flush draws really strong.  Like the K-7 hand, he has no overcard and no straight draw, when he gets it in he’s always behind.  The last one, when I bet 500k and he went all in for 9 million, I’m going to fold a lot.  But when I call, he’s in trouble.  It was lucky to fade those.  Luck is a very strange thing, and you could almost say he got lucky at the first part when I had T-5 suited and nothing every time he raised me and luck is a strange thing and I got lucky to win, and I’m happy about that.”

On being low on chips at one point during both of his two victories:

“It’s funny, in both of these tournaments I won this Summer, I got really short and was all in.  At the beginning of Day Two, I showed up a little late.  I actually blinded off about 14K.  I lost two pretty big pots that were kind of sick…. One of the key moments is I was all in -- I had to catch a 6 or 4 or 3, and I caught a 4 of diamonds.  After that pot, I went on a sick tear, busted Sorel Mizzi with aces to his queens in the blinds, and basically went up to being second or third in chips behind Gus Hanson.  In that two hour span, it was the same thing.  I went from being all in and behind, to one of the chip leaders in an hour.”

On playing against Phil Hellmuth and denying him a 12th gold bracelet:

“I mean like, that’s Phil’s thing.  I know he’s going for his 12th bracelet.  I’m happy for him but I don’t really care though. It doesn’t matter for me that he gets his 12th bracelet for the poker world.  I respect the fact that he cares so much.  Phil’s always been really nice to me and even made a really nice comment at the table to me.  He definitely gets frustrated, but I never feel like its personally directed at me.  There was maybe once or twice when he was losing some pots to me, he was saying more or less that I was trying to run over him.  But really he was trying to run over me and I wasn’t letting him, so that was frustrating him.  But it’s cool.  II think Phil for the most part is a pretty nice guy and he lost graciously and had nothing but nice things to say to me, and I respect the fact that he cares.”

On what he was feeling during the final hand when he realized he would win:
“Well, the first thing that’s going through my head is I can’t believe he just moved all-in.  Really, I mean it’s such a strange play.  I understand him shipping it with 9-6 of hearts when I had 2 million (down 5 to 1).  Even like, the way he played the T-8 of clubs.  But this one we both have 9 million in chips, and I know I’ve been leading weak, which is why I played it like that.  At the very least I could go lead, lead, lead, and get three calls out of him.  It was very surprising to me that that was the play he decided to make. I  thought he played really well all tournament.  But I didn’t really like that play.  He’s sitting with 9 million, with a million that’s in the pot, and every time he gets called he’s in very bad shape.  So, he made the play and I said the ‘I’m sorry’ thing out of respect more than anything else.  I was being cordial with Phil the whole final table and so I said, ‘I’m sorry I call.’  I didn’t mean it any way to be condescending.”

On what winning a second WSOP gold bracelet means:

“This bracelet means a lot, this is an event that is basically full of a lot of the top players, not every top player but a lot of them, it’s an event that you have to go through a lot of top players to win.  The $1,500 Pot-Limit Holdem, it’s a great win and my first bracelet.  But you know, it’s not like I really played a whole bunch of the top professionals and beat them to win that bracelet and this event I did that.  And you know the buy in is 50,000, so it’s a prestigious tournament that’s kind of like earns respect.  It’s almost like, say you go play in a cash game and you win 100,000 or something playing with all amateurs.  Hey it’s like you won money and that’s great and everyone’s happy for you.  But if you went and played in Bobby’s Room against Phil Ivey and Patrick Antonius and you won, you know people are going to say ‘wow, you know you can really play, and didn’t just beat guys that don’t know what they’re doing.’  It’s nice that I can say that I beat some of the best players in the world and ran good for four days.”
 
For a comprehensive recap of Event #55 including the official report, please check back at WSOP.COM soon