Phil's Psychic Prediction of an Eighth Bracelet Comes to Pass

By Max Shapiro with Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"


Although the traditional format for these reports has been to hold the denouement until the end, it becomes difficult to do so when pretty much the whole story belongs to one player. As you may already have heard, Phil Hellmuth won the 12th event of World Series of Poker 2003, $2,500 limit hold'em. It brought him his eighth bracelet; the win puts him over the $3 million mark at the WSOP; he is now second only to Johnny Chan in total winnings; he won the event after being down to only $12,000 at one point at the final table; he played a textbook heads-up match lasting 160 hands; and there was a large measure of psychic premonition and karma thrown in for good measure.

Consider: Hellmuth said he has had premonitions four or five times before of other players (such as Kathy Liebert and Howard Lederer) winning events, but never about himself winning. Before the tournament, such a dream came to him, and he was sure he would win. What's more, the premonition was specific. A four would be the key card, and it was.

Beyond that, he has a friend named Larry who suffered a stroke a while back. He couldn't move or talk and all that kept him alive, Larry said, was thinking of Hellmuth and poker. After Hellmuth's new book, Play Poker Like the Pros, was published, Phil had been given 100 advance copies and had given away or sold all but one. The last copy went to his friend. Then, the moment that Larry sat down in the tournament bleachers ringing the final table, Phil immediately won 13 straight hands to take a gigantic lead. Better bring in the ghost-busters next time you play this man.


Phil was the headliner tonight, no doubt. But it would be unfair not to give recognition to second-place finisher Young "The Youngster" Phan, a player who is universally liked and respected by his peers for his unfailingly gentlemanlike behavior and his pixy sense of humor. Young gave as good he got tonight. He kept fighting back, overcoming big deficits and taking the lead from Phil a couple of times. But it's hard to overcome a player like Hellmuth when he has psychic powers or voodoo or juju or whatever it is on his side as well.

Hellmuth had a monopoly on bracelets at the final table since all seven belonged to him. He was playing catch-up with Doyle Brunson, who returned to World Series action this year and promptly won his ninth title in the H.O.R.S.E. event. With a 32-year age gap, Phil has plenty of time to close the gap, but bracelet race or not, any time Hellmuth is at a final table, there is the anticipation of action and excitement, and once again he did not disappoint. "I'm at the absolute peak of my power today," he proclaimed at one point, and indeed it was as he gave a demonstration of brilliance, cunning and often uncannily intuitive play. In typical Hellmuth fashion he also threw in a couple of minor but crowd-pleasing temper tantrums when he was drawn out on

Sadly, Andy Glazer was again sidelined by an uncooperative back and the exhaustion of writing a 7,500-word report for the prior day's final table. He did not make it downstairs until the heads-up match was well under way and was frustrated that he could not write the report about his friend and mentor. As you know, Andy and Phil have also been collaborating on Phil's biography, Poker Brat. Of course, the book has been in the works so long that when it finally comes out it will probably be called Poker Grandpa. In any event, Andy has provided another insightful addendum, located at the end of this report.


The final table started with blinds of $1,000-$2,000, playing for 2k-4k, 40:57 remaining.
Phil arrived above average in chips, though the lead was held by Greg Alston, a computer consultant with wins at the Commerce, Hustler and Carnivale of Poker. Here was how the players stacked up:

1 Herb Kelso $70,000
2 Young Phan $66,000
3 Eli Elezra $11,000
4 Phil Hellmuth $60,000
5 Nick Frangas $64,000
6 Richard Hoffmaster $38,000
7 Greg Alston $96,000
8 John Strzemp $24,000
9 Chuck McCormick $50,000
10 Kyle Rickey $2,000



With only $2,000, it seemed as if Kyle Rickey hardly needed to bother showing up. He didn't give up without a struggle, though. On hand four, he was in the big blind and all in with four-way action. All he had was 9-4, but managed to quadruple-up when a 4 on the turn gave him a winner. He was back down to 3k a few hands later after raising. Hellmuth looked hungrily at Rickey's last chips, and finally called, saying "good luck" to his opponent. But he decided to give up the pursuit and folded when Rickey bet a flop of K-9-3. The game was finally up on hand 17. Chuck McCormick, the director of casino operations at Ocean's 11, raised with A-3 of hearts and Rickey three-bet it with pocket queens. Rickey bet the A-J-2 flop. When a second heart turned, McCormick bet and put Rickey all in for $1,000. A third heart on the river gave McCormick the winning flush. Rickey earned $7,220 for 10th place.

Eli Elezra wasn't much better off with his $11,000 start. On hand 24, Phan opened for 4k with Kh,Qh and Elezra raised all in for 6k with pocket treys. A queen on the turn sent Eli out with $9,010 for finishing ninth. Hellmuth, meanwhile, had built up to about 90k, but then dropped down to about 70k when his pocket 7s were swamped by the pocket aces held by John Strzemp, retired from his job as chief financial officer for the Steve Wynn properties.


Blinds now went to $2,000-$3,000, playing 3-6k. The chip count showed:

Herb Kelso $105,000
Greg Alston $81,000
Phil Hellmuth $72,000
Young Phan $51,000
Chuck McCormick $48,000
Nick Frangos $47,000
John Strzemp $43,000
Richard Hoffmaster $38,000

A few hands later, Hellmuth lost a sizeable pot to Herb Kelso. Phil three-bet before the flop. He bet the K-8-5 flop and the turn-card queen, only to be check-raised. At the end, Kelso showed A-K.


It was then that Phil, perhaps trying to pump himself up, declared himself at the peak of his powers. You know, something like Mike Caro's mantra about being surrounded by a powerful winning force. Phil didn't show much power, however, when he again tangled with Kelso on the next hand. In a repeat, Phil again three-bet pre-flop, then again bet the flop, then again bet the turn, a 9, and again was check-raised. Getting to his feet, Helmuth wailed, "Oh, Herb, what did you do to me?" and folded an A-Q.

Kelso, a jovial, cigar-chomping retiree from several businesses, including real estate and construction, then won his third consecutive hand when he bet on fourth street and got no call. He made it four in a row in a raised pot against Phan when he held Q-3 and paired his trey on the river. His lead had now increased to about $150,000.


Players at the table, suddenly startled to see a "lit" cigarette dangling from Young Phan's mouth, reminded him that it was a nonsmoking tournament. But it was just a devilishly realistic imitation of a butt. Later, John Bonetti showed up and was pressed into service as a guest announcer for Binion's live pay-per-view computer feed. Delighting spectators with his inimitable Brooklynese delivery, he too was puzzled when he spotted the gag cigarette. "I see it boinin' but I don't see no smoke comin' out," Bonetti remarked.

Phil came close to "boinin' up" when he found himself short-chipped in the big blind with K-2. When the flop came K-10-9, Phil bet. Nick Frangos, a pro from White Plains New York, raised with Q-9. Hellmuth re-raised all in and his paired king held up. Then Strzemp took a hit. Holding Q-J, he had an open-end straight on a flop of 10-9-3. He bet the turn-card ace and river card, missing his straight but pairing his queen. It wasn't nearly good enough because McCormick had made aces and treys. Strzemp later climbed back up to about 40k when he went up against Hellmuth's pocket 5s with K-J, three-betting a flop of J-8-3, then hitting a second pair on the river. John then left retired golf pro Richard "Shadow" Hoffmaster with about $7,000 when he flopped a set of 7s, and then filled on the river.

A few hands later, Hoffmaster was in the big blind with 9-8. He called Phan's raise, then bet all in with two pair on a flop of K-9-8. Phan had K-Q and hit a queen on the river for a bigger two pair to eliminate Shadow Hoffmaster, who earned $11,280 for finishing eighth.

As hand 64 came up, Alston, Phan and Kelso were grouped rather closely in the 100k range, while Hellmuth, McCormick, Frangos and Strzemp brought up the rear. On hand 64, Strzemp was in the big blind with Q-7. Nick Frangos raised with Q-5 and Strzemp called. Strzemp bet the Q-4-4 flop, Frangos raised. On the turn, Frangos outran Strzemp's better hand when he hit a 5 for two pair, raised him all in and busted him. Seventh place paid $13,500.


On the next hand, Hellmuth had pocket 10s against Kelso's A-6. Kelso flopped two pair, and at the showdown, Phil, suddenly left with 12k, peevishly threw in his cards in Kelso's direction. But then he picked up five out of the next eight pots, climbing back to about his original 60k. "You don't have to wait long to get better hands," he said. Phil suggested the winning hands were his reward for having the discipline to throw away K-Q suited a few hands earlier when Alston raised him before the flop. A few hands later, he was up to about $82,000. Not long after, McCormick held A-6 to Hellmuth's A-10, and the pot was four-bet before the flop. Phil put his opponent all in when the flop came 8-3-2. McCormick had an ace of clubs and a third club hit the turn. But an offsuit 10 on the river nailed it for Phil, and the Ocean's 11 exec cashed out for $15,780 in sixth place.

Continuing his comeback, Hellmuth now had about100k, but still trailed Kelso with around $130k and Phan, who had taken the lead with around 170k. Using his chips to assert himself, Phan raised against Greg. But when Greg, holding the button, raised on a J-9-8 flop, then bet after a king and 7 came, Young said, "I believe you" and mucked two red aces. A few hands later, Phan again showed discipline by folding a paired ace on the river. He had made a straight on the turn, but when an ace of clubs came on the river, the board showed 5-4-2-3-A with four clubs, and Phan understandably wanted no part of it.
"I'm waiting for the roof to fall in on me," he lamented humorously. "The problem is that I'll probably not die, just get a broken neck."


However, good laydowns are only part of the game. Gutsy calls are just as important. After all, a prudent fold saves one bet. A good call can win the whole pot. That's what happened when Frangos was in a pot against Kelso. Frangos, on the button, raised pre-flop and bet a flop of Jc,9c,2c and on the turn when a 9 came. Then, when a king came on the river, Kelso suddenly bet out. All Frangos had was pocket 4s, but he called and won because all that Kelso had was A-5.

Hellmuth had another slight flare-up when Phan beat him with an ace-high and jack kicker. Phil grabbed his hat, showed his ace and folded. Approaching the 100-hand mark, Kelso was holding onto the lead with about $150,000, while Helmuth and Phan were behind him with about $90,000 each. Taking down a couple of pots, Phil began closing in on the lead with about $137,000. Alston had started as chip leader, but hadn't been able to do much, and after losing a couple of pots to Hellmuth, he had dipped down to a mere 20k. That went all in, again against Phil, when the pot was five-bet before the flop. Alston had A-Q of hearts to Hellmuth's pocket 8s. On a flop of 8h,6c,2h, Phil had a set against Alston's flush draw. No more hearts came and Alston finished fifth for an $18,040 pay-out. For the first time, Hellmuth had the lead, with about $165,000.

About 20 more hands went by when Phan, with A-J, ran into Hellmuth's pocket aces. Hellmuth now had passed the 200k mark. By the time the limits had gone up again, to $5,000-$10,000, the count was:

Hellmuth $167,000
Pham $117,000
Frangos $108,000
Kelso $93,000


About another 25 hands went by, with the 200 mark starting to come into sight. Kelso had been going down fast. On the button, he check-raised Phan, who held K-Q, when the
flop showed K-Q-2. He called when Phan bet after a jack turned, but gave it up on the river, now down to about 14k. He went all in once and escaped with pocket 8s. Instead, it was Frangos who went out next. Holding 10-7 of diamonds, he flopped a flush, re-raised Phan's bet, then went all in on the turn when another diamond came. Phan had a king of diamonds and his bigger flush left Frangos in fourth place, worth $27,060.

Hellmuth and Phan now were very close, both with somewhat over 200k, while Kelso had about 60k. Kelso then lost more chips in a couple of pots and finally bowed out when the count had gone past 200 hands. He held K-2 and went all in on a flop of K-J-3 and two spades. Hellmuth turned up Qs,7s, then hit a 9 of spades on the turn and Kelso was drawing dead. "Flush, flush, flush," he muttered, after losing to that hand more times than he liked. Third paid $42,400.

Heads-up, Hellmuth had a lead of about 275k-210k, then lost it on the 11th hand heads-up when Phan, starting with Ah,9h, hit a 9 on the flop and check-raised. The two finalists then agreed to a "save" arrangement, and continued to play. Nine hands later, Hellmuth lit up when Phan, starting with Q-8, won by catching a queen on the flop. "Geez, are you going to catch every miracle card?" Hellmuth fumed, as Phan's lead increased to about 300k to Phil's 185k.


But a few hands later, Hellmuth took the microphone to pay tribute to Phan as a classy guy and great player. Phil then won the next hand, the second in a row, when he bet a board of J-5-2-K and Phan folded. "Oh, butter me up and take the pot," Phan joked.
What then proceeded to happen to Phan wasn't funny. Whether it was the karma of friend Larry showing up, whether fate smiled on Phil for complimenting his opponent, or whether the cards just happened to break that way, Phil now went on an extraordinary rush.

He won the third hand in a row, holding 10-8 and check-raising when the flop came K-10-5. Phil got a walk on hand number 4. On hand 5, Phil held K-Q and made a full house when the board came K-Q-2-J-Q. That gave Phil a good lead, about 305k-180k. Hand 6, another walk. Hand 7, Phil's A-J stood up against Phan's A-3. Hand 8, Phan folded after Phil bet with a board showing 7-7-5-A-4. Hand 9, Hellmuth bet a board of A-Q-5 and Phan folded. Hand 10, Hellmuth won with A-K, filling when the board came J-J-J-K-9. Hand 11, another walk. Hand 12, the board shows 7-6-3-6-K. Hellmuth bets, Phan folds. And hand 13, the board shows Q-9-7-A-4, and Phil wins with Q-4 for two pair.

Phil now has about $400,000 to Young's $285,000. "I'll need to win 30 straight just to get even," Phan laments. Then, when Phan wins the next two hands, guest commentator Mark Seif says, "Call surveilance," media director Nolan Dalla warns that if Phan wins the next hand they'll bring in the Nevada Gaming Board, and Hellmuth calls for a change of dealers.


Phan is in bad shape, but the contest is far from over. In fact, more than 100 hands remain. Ten hands later, the tide begins to turn. After taking a $50,000 pot with pocket aces, Phan runs up a streak of six wins and a split in seven hands to regain the lead. Then it's Hellmuth's turn again. After flopping a king to his K-Q, he pulls ahead again, $255,000 to $230,000. On the 84th hand heads-up, Phil makes a great call. On a flop of 7-4-2, he bets, Phan check-raises. Phan then bets a turn card 7 and Phil calls. On the river, a 9. Phan bets, Phil quickly calls with K-10 and, winning with a king-high, jumps up and punches the air in triumph.

A few hands later, Hellmuth, with 10-10, flops top set and runs his lead up to 380-k-105k. As the jousting continues, Phan makes a remarkable comeback, closing the gap, $260,000-$225,000. On the 113th hand heads-up, Phil, with J-9, flopped two pair, only to explode after Phan, with K-10, catches a queen on the turn for a straight and, unbelievably, takes the lead again, 285k-200k. Calming down later, Phil good-naturedly describes his opponent as the "unflappable Young Phan," and himself as the "highly volatile Phil Hellmuth."


Perhaps being nice gave Phil better karma again, because two hands later, holding 4-4 (remember his premonition about the 4), he flopped a set against Phan's two pair to take a pot of about $90,000. By the time the limits went up again to $8,000-$16,000, Hellmuth led, about $280,000-$205,000. Two hands later it was 385-110. Young, suddenly playing very cautiously, waiting for a big hand, eventually dropped below 100k.

On the 150th heads-up hand, the board showed A-K-Q-A and three hearts. Phil bet and Young raised. After a long pause, Phil, saying, "I can't fold," re-raised. Phan folded. "Good laydown, baby," Phil said, showing a third ace. Young now had only $22,000 left. A hand later, he went all in but won with a paired 9. "Sorry, guys," he jested, as he failed to give the audience the final victory they were awaiting.

He then doubled up again, but the outcome was all but inevitable. On the final hand, Phil looked at a 4, along with a 6, and felt this was it. Phan went all in for 8k in the big blind with 6-2. The flop was A-9-7, and then that magic 4 on the turn gave Phan no outs, and Phil, with a tremendous victory, now had his eighth bracelet, $171,400 in official prize money and, as he later exulted, "all my power back." Phan would have liked his first bracelet, but the second-place pay-off of $85,700 was some consolation.

Creating Your Own Reality, Take Two
By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

In yesterday's report, I addressed a lot of subjects (and also made a few mistakes, which I'll correct at the end of this note), but probably the most unusual of these was the notion of "creating your own reality."

As you've already read in Max Shapiro's piece, Phil Hellmuth won his eighth WSOP bracelet today, and I want to talk about two different kinds of reality that seemed to be created.

(Normally, of course, I would have covered a Phil Hellmuth final table myself, but that boring, painful subject interfered, again, and Max jumped in.)

The first "creation" was probably more like a bit of serendipity. After I detailed David Plastik's antics at a final table a few days ago, a friend of mine who hates (or possibly resents) Phil Hellmuth and takes more or less every opportunity that comes along to take a shot at Phil.


I finally had to tell him that I considered both of them friends and that he was putting me in an untenable position, and that while he was certainly entitled to his beliefs, I didn't want to hear about them anymore, unless there was some sort of newsworthy incident that I needed to learn about. It's possible to be friends with two people who are fighting, as long as they don't insist on you taking sides.

My friend acceded to my request, but when I roasted Plastik, my friend had the "incident" that I'd required. He sent me an email that indirectly asked the question, "Would you roast Phil Hellmuth the same way?"

I told him that the answer was yes, that if Phil got as far out of line as Plastik had, I would write what I saw, but that no matter how many stories I heard, I'd never covered a final table where he'd acted that way.

Sure enough, Phil got to a final table almost the next day, and while my back prevented me from covering the whole thing, I went down there when I heard it was heads-up between Phil and David Pham…and wondered what kind of conduct I'd observe.

For about the first third of the time I spent watching, Phil was either quiet or jovial, and why not, because he had a pretty good chip lead. Mostly he was quiet, and so was Pham.


Then Phil got whacked with nasty turn cards on two consecutive large pots, and Mr. Hyde started rearing his ugly head. It was very brief, and not 1/20th as bad or as long as David's tirade, but it popped out on his second bad beat. He jumped up so fast that his chair fell over backwards (no kicking, it just fell over) and started talking about the pot he would have won if something else had fallen, and started asking tournament Co-Director Matt Savage when they were going to change dealers.

His chip lead had vanished, and indeed he now trailed 290k-195k, and I wondered if Phil was going to tilt himself into oblivion.

He started eating so crackers - he often likes to eat peanut butter crackers at final tables, for energy - and suddenly got up from the table to the place where I was sitting next to his wife, Kathy.


With cracker crumbs coming out of his dry mouth, he tried to say "water" and it came out (along with the crumbs) like "wa." Kathy said "got milk, honey?" and I started laughing so hard my sides started to hurt more than my back. Hellmuth busted up too.

Something about the moment transformed Mr. Hyde back into Dr. Jekyll. He suddenly became engaging, overhearing the pay-per-view commentary about the Jekyll-Hyde thing and said, loudly, "Hey, I got one for you guys, how about 'The Unflappable David Pham' against 'The Volatile Phil Hellmuth.'"

When Mr. Hyde went away and Hellmuth became engaging again, the cards started coming his way, he started playing better, and he won the tournament. He talked about the moment afterwards.

"When I get unlucky, I get negative, I go on tilt, and then I BECOME unluckier," he said. "When I'm in that frame of mind and get two aces, they get cracked. When I get positive again, I catch a lot of cards. I'm this (holding thumb and forefinger about a half inch apart) far away from licking it. Today the key moment was (he went on to detail the "got milk" incident, which only Kathy I and had seen). After that I was able to be positive and I caught the cards I needed."

The serendipity of Mr. Hyde's appearance right after my email exchange with my other friend (serendipitous because it allowed me to show that I would mention misconduct if it happened) leads us, in other words, right back into the kind of "creating your own reality" viewpoint that I was discussing yesterday. I already knew that Phil felt this way, but here it was, out in the open, his belief that how one views the world affects what winds up happening in the world.


If you're one of those who believes solely in Mr. Hyde, you might be a little surprised at the speech Phil made after winning (although not surprised that he MADE a speech). The moment came when he was offered the microphone and asked if he had anything to say.

Where he started was quite far from where he finished.

"Well, actually, I did rehearse something," be began, instantly cracking up the crowd. "I don't know if I'm as good a player as a lot of the people up there on the money list with me. I don't know if I'm as good as Johnny Chan, or T.J. Cloutier, or - who else is up there - Chris Ferguson, or Erik Seidel. I really don't know if I'm as good as those players, but I feel honored to be mentioned in the same company as them."

Everyone who was prepared for an "I, I, I" speech was left a little flabbergasted.

The last time that Hellmuth was truly in a humble, appreciate frame of mind, I know for a fact that he went on a big winning streak - even in money games, where his success rate isn't anything like what it is in tournaments. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his WSOP goes.


Hopefully "yesterday's errors" won't become a regular feature here, but I did make a few mistakes in that report that some readers who where quite kind in there overall comments and who just reminded me about a few wayward facts.

1) The man who designed the "poker clock" that is being used at many tournaments to track the blind levels and time remaining in rounds is Paul Westley, not Paul Westfield.

2) When John Bonetti made the mistake of "going for it" before the short-stacked Glen Cozen had been eliminated, he did indeed have A-K, but a king hit the board, not an ace. Perhaps more significantly, the year was not 1990 against Mansour Matloubi, but 1993 against Jim Bechtel. I felt a little better about this one when one of the readers who pointed it out said that Cozen finished third, not second. I DID at least get that right. Cozen did get second place money of $420,000, and Bonetti third money with $210,000.

3) The flop on hand #55 was 5c-Js-8c, not Jc-Js-8c, relevant because I wrote that Z caught a flush he didn't need, and if the board had indeed been J-J-8-8-7, the pot would have been split between Zolotow's A-Q and Nguyen's A-9, as they would each have had jacks and eights with an ace. This one just is a handwriting thing: in my scrawl, my J's look a lot like my 5's. Nice catch by the reader, though. It shows that he was reading actively, not passively, and active reading is what you need to do if you want to improve via reading poker books or articles.

Unless things change, you won't be receiving a full report tomorrow. Max is understandably exhausted after jumping in for me at the last moment (we both thought I would be covering Hellmuth's final table, but I was just too sore to make it), and I'll be surprised if I'm in shape to work tomorrow.

We will be sending out final official results at the very least; these could be important because Hellmuth passed T.J. Cloutier on the all time money list today (becoming the second "three million dollar man," behind Johnny Chan), and as Hellmuth pointed out to the room when he had the microphone, "Hey, T.J. Cloutier, I passed you…for a DAY. The last time I passed you it was only for a day before you passed me back, and I see you have the chip lead over there." (A true statement with two tables left.)

Final Official Results

1. Phil Hellmuth Jr. Palo Alto, CA $171,400
2. Young Phan Garden Grove, CA 85,700
3. Herb Kelso Ridgeland, MS 42,400
4. Nick Frangos White Plains, NY 27,060
5. Greg Alston Las Vegas, NV 18,040
6. Chuck McCormick Oceanside, CA 15,780
7. John Strzemp Las Vegas, NV 13,500
8. Richard Hoffmaster Somers, MT 11,280
9. Eli Elezra Henderson, NV 9,010
10.Kyle Rickey Las Vegas, NV 7,220

11th and 12th, $7,220: Thithi Tran, Torrance, CA; Carlos Mortensen, Madrid, Spain.
13th-15th, $6,320: Toto Leonidas, Glendale, CA; Scotty Nguyen, Henderson, NV; Steve Landfish, Middleburg Hts, OH.
16th-18th, $5,420: Ed Richardson, Tucson, AZ; Leandro Alvarez, Carson, CA; Darren Neishuler, Santa Monica, CA.


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