June 12, 2011 - 02:22:37 AM EST  | 

Las Vegas, NV (June 12, 2011) – Of all the poker tournaments he’s won, of all the prize money he’s collected, and of all the (now five) gold bracelets he’s earned in what has become an illustrious playing career, the most recent victory by international poker superstar and tournament veteran John Juanda most certainly ranks right up there among the most memorable.
Juanda won the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw Lowball World Championship, which concluded late on a Saturday night in front of a packed gallery of spectators.  Alas, when the final heads-up battle commenced, half the stargazers at the Rio Las Vegas appeared to be cheering for Juanda.  The other half were cheering for poker icon Phil Hellmuth.  More than a few in the standing-room only crowd were also rooting against Hellmuth.  Most certainly, Hellmuth is used to his detractors and even relishes the role of villian.  All great athletes and legendary sports teams divide the public's rage and fancy. 
But there was one thing everyone in the crowd could agree upon -- that the Rio was the place to be at this very special moment in the poker universe.  Each spectator was one of a few hundred lucky souls potentially witnessing poker history being made by two of the most skilled craftsmen at the very top of their games.

The path down to the final two wasn’t easy.  The field of 126 might have seemed relatively small in number when juxtaposed against the multi-thousand player fields in Hold'em events.  But measured in skill and experience, this was as tough a tournament as had ever been played.  Consider for a moment that of the final eight players who made it to the final table, seven were former gold bracelet winners.  Two finalists had won this same event previously, including the defending champion David Baker.  In all, the top seven players held a total of 19 gold bracelet wins.  Even the final table bubble player was no slouch.  His name was Greg “Fossilman” Raymer.  Johnny Chan finished 12th.  It was a tooooooough tournament.
This conquest marked Juanda’s fifth WSOP gold bracelet career victory, which now places him amongst even more elite poker royalty.  He joins seven other players who have achieved five gold bracelet victories – including Stu Ungar, Berry Johnston, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Jeffrey Lisandro, Allen Cunningham, “Bones” Berland, and Scotty Nguyen.  That’s pretty select company. 
But it wasn’t just the win, it was how he managed to triumph and make his own night of history.  With the victory, he prevented Hellmuth from taking a comfortable -- and some might say insurmountable -- two-bracelet lead over his two closest rivals – poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, who have ten career wins each.
As for Hellmuth, that's an entirely different chapter.  Not too many players would turn down a second-place finish and a six-figure score at the World Series.  But Hellmuth wasn’t buying any of it.  Following defeat, he was gracious towards Juanda who certainly has earned the respect of everyone within the poker world, including Hellmuth.  But what may continue to plague Hellmuth is that he’s yet to win a WSOP title in any game other than Hold’em.  Indeed, all of Hellmuth’s 11 previous gold bracelet wins had taken place in one form of Hold’em or another – Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit.  Nevertheless, he’s become an international dynasty that transcends the green felt.  Alas, year by year as he stacked bracelet upon gold bracelet and earned cash after cash, Hellmuth built what would become pyramid of self-worship, manifested in a “bad boy” image and marketing empire that catapulted him into arguably the most famous poker player in the world.

But if there’s one player who wasn’t intimidated by any of the bright lights and cheers of adoring worshipers on this night, Juanda was cast in the perfect role.  It takes quite a player to potentially upstage someone with Juanda's talent, and Hellmuth ultimately proved he was not quite Juanda’s match on the biggest stage in poker.
The two poker giants -- polar opposites in terms of disposition and imagery -- traded the chip lead back and forth like two prizefighers deadlocked in a tie during the middle of the 12th round.  Hellmuth had the chance to win.  He had Juanda down by nearly a 2-1 margin a few times, but was never able to close the victory.  Meanwhile, Juanda played what seemed to be a near-perfect game.  Never emotional, always in control, consistently pushing even the smallest edges and putting Hellmuth to the test on virtually every decision.
With everything on the line and the entire poker world watching and waiting, out of nowhere -- it happened.  It all came so quickly.  Suddenly, Hellmuth was all-win.  Juanda called.  The crowd rose to its feet.  There were screams and shouts.  Then, there was one final draw and Juanda ultimately triumphed, which was a final fisted glove to the hopeful chin of a noble fellow champion.
It was a great match.  It was a memorable night.  It was one of John Juanda’s finest hours in a stellar career filled with victories and memorable moments.

One can only hope that someday there will be a re-match.
For a list of all players who cashed, in Event #16, please click here.
A complete official report of this tournament will be posted shortly at WSOP.com.

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