Monday, June 11, 2012 | 2:45 a.m.
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Phil Hellmuth extended his record for World Series of Poker championships and exorcised a demon in the process early Monday morning at the Rio.
Hellmuth won a $2,500 buy-in razz tournament with a field of 309 players to add a 12th golden bracelet to his collection. It was almost five years to the day that Hellmuth won his last WSOP event. He’s agonized over notching another ever since.
“This is the first tournament in my life I have no idea what the prize money is,” Hellmuth said immediately after the victory on a live stream of the event on WSOP.com. “I don’t know what first-place is.”
Informed that he won $182,793, Hellmuth responded predictably.
“I was hoping for $425,000,” Hellmuth cracked, “but it’s all about the bracelet.”
Hellmuth found the type of bracelet worth celebrating, too. All of Hellmuth’s previous WSOP victories came in hold’em, the most popular poker variation.
Any criticism about a lack of variety fades away now. Razz — a seven-card stud form of poker requiring players to make the lowest possible hand — is one of the most obscure games offered at the WSOP.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hellmuth said. “I’ve been waiting for this since ’07.”
“I’ve been knocking, knocking, knocking on the door.”
“The Poker Brat” memorably finished second in three WSOP tournaments last year, including the prestigious $50,000 buy-in Poker Player’s Championship. Although he cashed for $1.06 million in the event, Hellmuth insisted the bracelet meant more.
He’s now created more separation from Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, who are tied in second with 10 WSOP championships.
Hellmuth’s record also caught a break when the man fifth in bracelets, 36-year old Phil Ivey, lost a heads-up match in the $10,000 buy-in pot-limit hold’em championship Monday morning.
Andy Frankenberger bluffed and maneuvered his way past Ivey, who many consider the best poker player in the world and the one who has the best chance to catch Hellmuth, for $445,899. Ivey cashed for $275,599.
With both Ivey and Hellmuth battling simultaneously for championships, the Rio filled up with hundreds of spectators.
“This was a big day for the World Series of Poker,” WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said on the live stream.
Ivey’s tournament ended about 30 minutes before Hellmuth’s. Facing more than a 2-to-1 chip disadvantage, Ivey went all-in after a flop of Ace-5-4. Frankenberger called immediately and showed Ace-Jack for top pair.
Ivey was only slightly behind with 6-7 for an open-ended straight draw, but he couldn’t pull out a 3 or 8 on the turn or river to catch up. Frankenberger, a former Wall Street trader, won his second bracelet since turning professional two years ago.
Hellmuth’s heads-up match with long-time Las Vegas cash game regular Don Zewin lasted nearly two hours. But Hellmuth was ahead the entire time and continued to wear Zewin down.
In a strange twist, Hellmuth and Zewin have a long-dated history. When Hellmuth won the Main Event in 1989 for his first bracelet, Zewin finished third.
Hellmuth celebrated in front of a slew of cameras and fans while making plans to play in another tournament tomorrow.
Now that bracelet No. 12 is out of the way, No. 13 is on Hellmuth’s mind.