At the end of Day 1, 754 players had made 1,691 re-buys, creating a whopping $2.3M prize pool for this three-day event. Phil Hellmuth ended the day in third place with $109k, a great result but staring up at John Spadavecchia's $361k in chips.
Mimi Tran and Scott Fischman busted the cash bubble, (71st, 72nd, $2,703). Day 2 had the remaining 61 players working their way down to nine, and it was a tough group that was left in the field. A few of the players who didn't make it: Joe Sebok (50th, $5,500), Hassan Habib (33rd, $8,191), and Julian Gardner (27th, $11,701), joined others like Ross Boatman, Bill Gazes, and Prahlad Freidman out before the final two tables. Jennifer "jennicide" Leigh had her best WSOP finish ever, taken out by Tony G (18th, $16,832).
A huge pot between Phil Hellmuth and Shane Schleger gave us a new chip leader. Four players limped for a flop of , and Schleger bet $8k only to be raised to $20k by Hellmuth, only to be re-raised by Schleger for another $30k, and Hellmuth called. The hit the turn, and Schleger bet $40k and was called by Hellmuth. The river card of brought a final move by Schleger, all-in for his last $150k. Hellmuth thought and thought, and after five minutes Hellmuth thought no more, saying "Call." Schleger didn't want this call after all, as his lost out brutally to Hellmuth's . Shane Schleger was out (17th, $16,382), and there was a new chip leader at $493k in chips: Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth eliminated Humberto Brenes (11th, $25,743) but doubled up Tony G. Terris Preston, Tony Guoga, and David Plastik
all called Phillipe Rouas' $20k all-in, and Preston's pocket 10's eliminated Rouas (10th, $25,743).
won a big pot with pocket aces to close the gap with Hellmuth, but Hellmuth's $768k was well in front of Helppi's $436k as well as 2nd place Daryn Firicano's $450k. Tony G entered the day on the short stack at $77k. Helppi took a pot off of Hellmuth immediately, and his lead was cut to $60k. Tony G needed to double up and tried with big slick, only to see everyone fold. Elio Cabrera sent Tony G out in 9th ($46,805); picking off a move at the pot by Tony G holding Q-2 with Cabrera's A-10.
John Spadavecchia moved in with pocket 7's and doubled through Helppi's pocket queens, catching a straight to stay alive. David Plastik stayed alive as well, catching an ace on the flop to double through Ralph Perry. Terris Preston's jacks further mixed the chips up, doubling through pocket fours held by Hellmuth. Hellmuth then moved over the top of Ralph Perry, who called with pocket 9's. Hellmuth held jacks, and with a set on the flop, sent Perry out of the Rio (8th, $70,207). Elio Cabrera then kept the action going, doubling through Helppi when he flopped an ace with big slick vs. Helppi's pocket 9's.
Order was restored as Hellmuth returned to the chip lead, courtesy of David Plastik (7th, $93,610). Plastik came over the top of Hellmuth with pocket jacks, only to see Hellmuth call with aces. Elio Cabrera got to feel how Hellmuth must feel after a big time suck out. These two along with Helppi limped to see . Cabrera checked, and Helppi bet $45k, which Hellmuth raised another $145k. Cabrera then moved in on both of them for a total of $280k. Hellmuth was caught but had to call after Helppi folded, showing for top pair to Cabrera's a flopped straight. The followed, backing Hellmuth into a flush and backing Elios Cabrera out of the tournament (6th, $117,012).
While Hellmuth sat at over $1M, Spadavecchia and Preston had fallen below $200k. Spadavecchia moved off the bottom, his pocket 9's holding up against Hellmuth's . He then turned those chips on the other short stack, as he sent Terris Preston out in 5th ($140,414). Preston's flopped flush draw was good enough to shove his chips in, but without another diamond, Spadavecchia's pair of queens took the pot. Hellmuth, Spadavecchia, Helppi, and Firicano played eighty hands four-handed, twenty orbits of the button with no resolution. During those hands, only twice was anyone all-in and called. Once Helppi doubled through Firicano, A-K vs. A-Q holding up. The second time, a short-stacked Spadavecchia made a move at the blinds, only to be called by Hellmuth holding A-10. Two aces on the flop sealed the deal for James Spadavecchia (4th, $163,817), and he wouldn't add a bracelet to his earlier win in May at the Caesar's WSOP Circuit event. Three hands later, Firicano doubled through Hellmuth. Firicano looked to knock out Helppi and get heads-up, his well in front of Helppi's . But the continued Helppi's run late in the evening.
And instantly it was all square.
Firicano raised to $70k with the blinds at $12k/24k, and Hellmuth called. The flop came , and both players checked. The , and again Hellmuth checked. Firicano moved all-in for his final $333k, looking to take down the $180k pot then and there. Hellmuth deliberated and finally called, flipping over . He may very well have read some weakness as these top pros surely can, but sometimes it's all about degrees of weakness. Firicano's was way out front, his kicker live and kicking all day. The on the river doubled up Firicano, dropped Hellmuth to third in chips, and gave Helppi the chip lead, a position he excels in. It was hardly over, as only $125k separated first chip position from third. Gradually, Helppi moved further and further ahead, eventually reaching $1.2M vs. the $600k of Hellmuth and Firicano. As the pots went back and forth, Firicano moved into more of a short-stack, finally being knocked out by Helppi's baby ace vs. K-Q. Daryn Firicano was out 3rd ($187,219)
Helppi held a 2:1 chip advantage, and the two continued their deliberate sparring, both players showing patience in the face of higher blinds and the sight of the prize within reach. Helppi moved further ahead, then Hellmuth made a stand with pocket fives vs. for Helppi. The flop of gave Hellmuth a set but put Helppi near a flush. The flush came when the hit. It looked like Hellmuth would again be denied, but the river brought the for a full house for Hellmuth and continued play.
They stayed fairly close in chips, with Helppi having a slight advantage until the final pivotal hand of the night. Hellmuth made a raise to $80k, and Helppi moved all-in. Hellmuth instantly called and showed pocket kings to Helppi's . The kings held up after the board of hit, and Hellmuth had a commanding $2.2M in chips to Helppi's $600k.
Helppi doubled up once to again look threatening, but then the final hand came. Hellmuth limped in on the button, and Helppi moved all-in. Hellmuth beat him into the pot with to Helppi's . The kicker held up on the board of , and Juha Helppi from Finland had finished in 2nd ($331,144). Helppi joined the impressive list of players finishing runner-up to Hellmuth for a bracelet that includes Johnny Chan, T.J. Cloutier, Tom McEvoy, Daniel Negreanu, and Young Phan. His presence and play was no fluke, and he was a worthy adversary the entire night.
For Phil Hellmuth (1st, $631,863), what is there to say? When he won the 1989 World Series Main Event, all of this was so very different then it is today. He showed that he indeed belongs in the select group with Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson. Sure, this trio holds 10 bracelets, but each of them has adapted over this period of growth in poker to take the top prize. Tonight, Hellmuth belonged, and maybe no one will cherish a bracelet more, in this World Series, as much as the man who now is in double digits.