The Party Poker Premier League is one of the most exclusive events in all of televised poker. Only 12 top-flight poker stars are invited to participate each year, and those players battle it out in a week of preliminary heats leading up to the Grand Final. The 2008 edition of the Party Poker Premier League saw 2007 champion Juha Helppi attempt to defend his title against Annie Duke, Tony G, Roland de Wolfe, Marcel Luske and other worldwide poker celebrities, including 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.
The PPPL is structured like no other event in the world. Twelve players compete for points in a series of 6-handed tournaments, with two tourneys running each day for six days. Each player competes in six preliminary heats to determine their final points standing. The top four scoring players, from the six preliminary heats, are guaranteed seats at the final table. The fourth through eighth-place competitors have to play their way into the final table in best-of-five heads-up matches, while the bottom four players in the points standings are left with nothing.
Nine players from the 2007 contest returned for 2008 – Juha Helppi, Dave ‘The Devilfish’ Ulliott, Tony G, Andy Black, Phil Hellmuth, Ian Frazer, Vicky Coren, Roland de Wolfe and Eddy Scharf. They were joined in the 2008 event by Annie Duke, Marcel Luske and Alex Kravchenko.
Day #1 saw Tony G get off to a fast start by winning his first heat, while 2007 champion Juha Helppi picked up no points, going out in 6th place in his first tourney. Andy Black was the bottom of the barrel in his first heat, while Roland de Wolfe took the top honors to tie with Tony G at the top of the points standings at the end of Day 1.
De Wolfe couldn’t maintain his head of steam on Day 2, busting first from his second heat to gain zero points, while Andy Black reversed his fortunes by picking up the victory in his second match. After de Wolfe, Ian Frazer, Juha Helppi and Marcel Luske busted, it was Black and Vicky Coren heads-up in their Day 2 heat, with Black calling Coren’s all in move with . Coren tabled and picked up a monster draw on the flop. Black made top pair with Aces, and it held up to grab him his first victory as the turn and river came down to bust Coren in 2nd place.
Tony G continued his domination of the preliminary rounds as he took down his second consecutive heat, while The Devilfish exited in 6th place for no points. Phil Hellmuth continued to flirt with irrelevance on Day 2 as he finished 5th for one point, and it was Eddy Scharf who made his move toward the top of the leader board with his 2nd-place finish.
Day 3 saw Tony G solidify his lead with another strong showing in his heat, while Andy Black continued his chase of Tony G in the points lead by picking up his second consecutive victory. Black needed only 55 hands to run the table on his opponents, which included Helppi, Hellmuth, de Wolfe, Scharf and Frazer. Eddy Scharf notched another 2nd-place finish when his pocket deuces couldn’t hold up against Black’s on a board of .
The second heat of Day 3 took on a much different texture, as it took more hands to find the first elimination than the first heat took to finish the entire tourney! It was hand #56 before Tony G took out Marcel Luske with to Luske’s on a board of . Tony G was next to fall when Annie Duke’s held up against his to send him to the rail in 5th.Tony G’s one point from Day 3 was enough to keep him atop the points standings for one more day, as Duke went on to bust Alex Kravchenko heads-up for her first preliminary victory.
At the halfway point in the preliminary heats, the point standings looked like this –
Tony G – 19 Points
Andy Black - 18 Points
Annie Duke – 15 Points
Eddy Scharf – 13 Points
Alex Kravchenko – 13 Points
Roland de Wolfe – 11 Points
Vicky Coren – 8 Points
Marcel Luske – 6 Points
Ian Frazer - 6 Points
Phil Hellmuth – 5 Points
Dave Ulliott – 4 Points
Juha Helppi – 2 Points
Dave ‘The Devlifish’ Ulliott moved from the cellar back into contention on Day 4 when he picked up a 2nd-place finish in his heat. It was Roland de Wolfe who picked up his second win by busting Devilfish, but the much-needed points for 2nd place kept Ulliott from joining Phil Hellmuth and Juha Helppi in the irrelevant corner.
Hellmuth ran into a massive cooler in his Day 4 heat when he flopped a full house against Andy Black, only to lose the hand and be eliminated with, again, zero points. Hellmuth checked the flop with his , and Black hit gin on the turn with his . Hellmuth bet out and Black smooth-called the turn. The came on the river, causing Black to lead out with a bet. Hellmuth check-raised, and Black moved all in. Hellmuth made the call, and picked up his bagel to symbolize zero points as he headed to the rail. After Marcel Luske, Juha Helppi and Vicky Coren busted, it was point leaders Tony G and Andy Black heads-up for the Day 4 heat. Tony G crippled Black in a big pot where his held up against Black’s , and Tony G went on to take down his 3rd win out of 4 preliminary heats.
Day 5 continued a streak of strong showings for Tony G and a streak of terrible results for Phil Hellmuth, as he notched another bagel when he busted in 6th place in his heat. Marcel Luske took down his heat to gain a much-needed points boost when he took out Juha Helppi in 2nd place. Andy Black got some of his own back against Tony G when the two found themselves heads-up again in back-to-back heats, this time with Black prevailing over the Tony G. Black’s victory over Tony G moved him to only one point back of Tony G on the leader board, with one day of preliminary heats remaining.
Day 6 dawned with Tony G clinging to the slimmest of leads in the points standings, and Phil Hellmuth needing a perfect series of events to avoid elimination. Ian Frazer was the first to bust in his heat, which also meant that he was eliminated from the playoffs, as he needed more points to move above the bottom four. Annie Duke finished in 5th place, guaranteeing her a spot in the heads-up playoffs, and Eddy Scharf secured his playoff spot with a 4th-place finish. Vicky Coren finished in 3rd place in her final heat, but did not secure enough points for a playoff spot and was eliminated. Alex Kravchenko and Marcel Luske secured their spots at the final table by coming in 1st and 2nd respectively, and the stage was set for the final heat.
Phil Hellmuth had nothing but pride to play for on Day 6, as he was already eliminated from contention, but the 11-time WSOP bracelet winner refused to go down easy, as he busted Roland de Wolfe in 6th place, forcing de Wolfe into the playoffs and guaranteeing Luske’s spot in the top 4. Andy Black finished 5th in his final heat, guaranteeing a points victory for Tony G, and Juha Helppi’s chances at a playoff spot vanished when The Devilfish busted him in 4th place. Ulliott sent Hellmuth home in 3rd, and The Devilfish squared off with Tony G heads-up for his tournament life. Nothing short of a win in his final heat would keep Dave Ulliott alive in the competition, and he turned a flush against Tony G in an all-in situation to win his way into the playoffs in dramatic fashion.
Tony G, Andy Black, Alex Kravchenko and Marcel Luske won their way directly into the final table by their strong points showings, while Annie Duke, Roland de Wolfe, Eddy Scharf and Dave ‘The Devilfish’ Ulliott were forced to play their way in via a series of best-of-five heads-up matches.
De Wolfe took out Scharf in three straight matches to secure his spot at the final table, but Annie Duke and Dave Ulliott used all five of their matches to determine a winner. Ulliott’s flair for the dramatic comeback evidenced itself once again, as he went down 2-0 to Duke early, then won two straight matches to force a fifth and deciding match. Duke pulled slightly ahead in match #5, then called a preflop raise with against Ulliott’s to see a flop of . Ulliott moved all in, and Duke called with two pair. No help on the turn or river for Ulliott, and Annie Duke secured the 6th and final spot at the final table.
Duke was unable to keep her momentum going at the final table, and she became the first to bust when she and Alex Kravchenko got all the money in preflop. Duke tabled , but Kravchenko held two live cards with . They became more live as the board ran out to bust Duke in 6th place ($20,000). Marcel Luske picked up $30,000 for his 5th-place finish when he ran into Roland de Wolfe’s pocket sevens, and then Alex Kravchenko headed to the rail in 4th ($40,000) when Andy Black cracked his pocket Queens.
Tony G dominated the preliminary heats, but in poker, like in NASCAR, it’s better to lead late then to lead early. Tony G ran into Roland de Wolfe’s slow-played pocket Kings and busted in 3rd place for a $60,000 payday. De Wolfe had a 3-2 chip lead when heads-up play began, but the Irishman Andy Black was not to be denied. Black trapped de Wolfe on the final hand with his own pair of slow-played Kings, limping in with . De Wolfe checked his option with , and check-raised all in when the flop came down . Black didn’t hesitate for a second before calling, and the on the turn left de Wolfe drawing to two outs. The on the river wasn’t one of them, and Andy Black picked up the win and the $250,000 first place prize money.
The final standings and payouts looked like this -
1st: Andy Black, $250,000
2nd: Roland de Wolfe, $120,000
3rd: Tony G, $60,000
4th: Alex Kravchenko, $40,000
5th: Marcel Luske, $30,000
6th: Annie Duke, $20,000
*Photo courtesy of AndyBlackPoker.com*