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Best of Ryan McLane
By Ryan McLane
When Phil Hellmuth Jr. informed the poker world in the mid 1990's that he was on a quest to become the greatest poker player in history, many of the crusty old card room veterans simply laughed it off as Hellmuth being Hellmuth.
At the time of the claim, poker was a different game. Grizzled pros told Hellmuth cash was the only thing in poker that mattered and history held the same insignificance as the chips they'd toss to the dealers as tips.
However, with the invention of the hole-cam, the multi-million dollar televised poker tournament, and the influx of online players living out the American dream, the game changed and the legions of poker fans made winning events the new poker currency.
On Wednesday, July 26, Phil Hellmuth defeated a field of 754 players in the 2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Event #34 $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em with Re-buys Tournament to capture his tenth gold bracelet . Once again he proved his big-event prowess and added another major trophy to his already cluttered mantle.
As WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack put it after the event, "I'm going to keep this simple, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth. It appears Hellmuth's claim may have been prophetic and as usual, "The Poker Brat" might get the last laugh.
"Everyone used to laugh at me when I would go on record saying I'm trying to become the greatest player who ever lived," Hellmuth said earlier this year. "But in order to measure something like that, you need a level playing field and tournaments work because everyone starts with the same number of chips. A long time ago I decided the way to make history was to win the biggest tournaments over and over again until I had more big wins than anyone else. That's the mission - that's what I'm trying to do."
Like him, hate him, respect him, or think he's overly brash; Hellmuth now sits atop the Poker Pantheon with two of the greatest poker players in history. His quest began in 1989, when at 24-years old he became the youngest player to win the WSOP Main Event.
Now, Hellmuth is by far the youngest player to win 10 WSOP titles and he shows no signs of slowing down. Forget the millions of dollars he's raked in, Hellmuth plays poker for one reason and one reason only - to win the ones that count.
"I started a trend of playing for history and I think it's a great trend and great for the game that others are jumping on board," Hellmuth said. "But still, sometimes I have a little amusement in my eyes when I watch people change their opinion of what it means."
If the four major WSOP records are cashes, final table appearances, gold bracelets, and Main Event victories, Hellmuth now holds at least a share of two and is well within striking distance of a third.
Already the WSOP "In the Money" record holder with 55 cashes, Hellmuth was able to tie the record for WSOP bracelets with his win Wednesday, and come within one appearance of the final table record as well.
His final table appearance in the 2006 WSOP Event #34, his third in the 2006 WSOP, brought Hellmuth's total in that category to 34, one behind the all-time leaders TJ Cloutier and Men "The Master" Nguyen who each have 35.
The last record is probably out of reach, but that may be true of every one of today's great players, not just Hellmuth.
Because of the exponential growth in the number of competitors who play in the WSOP Main Event, winning back-to-back world championships, or even winning multiple world championships, is a thing of the past. A field of more than 8,000 players makes skill an almost non-factor in today's Main Event and the overwhelming amount of amateurs looking to knock out a famous professional makes the tournaments that much more difficult for today's great players.
The late greats Stu Ungar and Johnny Moss each have three Main Event victories, making the ultimate record the one that might get away from Hellmuth, especially considering he only has one. Even getting to two might be ridiculous, but for the man who believes he can dodge bullets, just ask him:
"I believe anything can happen," Hellmuth said. "It's certainly more difficult and I wouldn't bet on someone winning multiple Main Events anymore, but then again, it's a strange game so I would never say never."
So where does Hellmuth rank in the poker world after winning his tenth bracelet. Not one to avoid giving his opinion, even the player who said, "I guess if it wasn't for luck, I'd win every one" doesn't know for sure.
Certainly in tournament poker history, Hellmuth is among the elite. Although Brunson and Chan both have back-to-back Main Event championships and have 10 bracelets to their names, Hellmuth has a more consistent tournament record, especially in the WSOP.
"I tried to position myself to become the greatest poker player in history and I'm walking that path," Hellmuth said earlier this year. "But I'm not there yet. I look ahead of me and see Doyle and Johnny. I look behind me and see Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel and Phil Ivey. The challenge is to keep going – to keep making history and let others decide where your name falls."
Even if he doesn't win another bracelet, Hellmuth's name will always be mentioned in the same breathe as the greatest who ever played the sport. And that's exactly what he set out to do years ago when his historical quest began.
Perhaps that's his legacy. There's something special about a person who sets out to become the greatest and is able to stake a reasonable claim.
Ryan McLane is a gaming industry reporter for Casino City and is assigned to the poker beat. Email your comments and questions to him at email@example.com .