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The Top 10 Moments at the 2011 World Series of Poker

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Aug 24, 2011

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The 2011 World Series of Poker saw memorable victories throughout a run of preliminary events that crowned 57 gold-bracelet winners in June and early July. Notable professionals won their first bracelets or added to their trophy cases, and a European invasion showed the increased footprint of European players in the post-Black Friday poker world. In one case, a player who did not attend made headlines, and in other cases, the events themselves made news thanks to unexpected growth. Collected below are the top 10 performances, victories, and stories from this summer at the Rio.

1) Brian Rast Wins Two Bracelets and the $50,000 Players Championship

Brian Rast boosted his career earnings to $3 million after an incredible summer that saw him earn his first two gold bracelets and $1.95 million. He took home $227,232 in prize money and his first gold bracelet for topping a field of 765 players in a $1,500 pot-limit hold’em event. The story was a nice one at the time, especially considering Rast had arrived back in the U.S. — after a two-month vacation in Brazil with his fiancé — just hours before the tournament began. As the weeks of the WSOP moved forward, he was joined by other talented first-time bracelet winners like Eugene Katchalov, Allen Bari, and Sam Stein, and thus his story faded. However, he then did something to distinguish himself in a way that was almost unimaginable.
With only three preliminary events left on the slate at the 2011 WSOP, no player had won more than a single bracelet. This threatened to end an 11-year run of multiple-bracelet winners. A handful of the players in the $50,000 Players Championship had a chance to keep the streak alive with a win in the tournament, and one of those players was Rast. He faced a field of the 127 toughest opponents in the world, all of whom were intently focused not only on getting a piece of the $6,144,000 prize pool, but winning the tournament and adding their name to the Chip Reese memorial trophy. In the end, Rast would keep the streak of multiple-bracelet winners alive, and in impressive fashion, he had to come from behind heads-up against the red-hot Phil Hellmuth to accomplish the feat. He won $1,720,328 to go with his second gold bracelet of the summer.

2) Ben Lamb Dominates with a Gold Bracelet Win and November Nine Appearance

Ben Lamb put on one of the best performances in WSOP history this summer. He now heads into the main-event final table in fifth chip-position as a member of the November Nine.

Lamb claimed one of the largest prizes of the summer when he topped a field of 361 players in the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha championship. He defeated Sami Kelopuro heads up and won one of the most coveted titles of the summer in the process. Along with his first gold bracelet, Lamb took home $814,436 in prize money for the largest single score of his career. At the end of the summer, his career earnings now stand at $4,211,648 thanks to the $782,115 he is guaranteed as a member of the 2011 November Nine. If he goes on to win the main event in November, Lamb could grow his career earnings as high as $12,141,489, making him one of the most lucrative tournament players of all time.

3) Jake Cody Wins the $25,000 Heads-Up Event and Poker’s Triple Crown

Jake Cody won the first open event of the summer, the $25,000 no-limit hold’em heads-up championship, claiming $851,192 and his first bracelet. With the victory, Cody also joined the short list of players who have won poker’s triple crown, which consists of a WSOP bracelet, as well as World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour titles.

With a rail of fellow Englishmen screaming and chanting his name in support, Cody ran hot en route to busting Yevgeniy Timoshenko in second. The battle was all Cody’s, as he won every all-in confrontation in the final heads-up match of the event. Cody also put on a memorable performance in his final-four match, dominating Gus Hansen in a style that might have convinced the Great Dane to call Cody his toughest opponent ever.

The massive score brings Cody’s career tournament earnings to nearly $3 million, but perhaps more important, the poker pro joined Roland de Wolfe and Gavin Griffin as the only players to win poker’s version of a triple crown. Cody won the WPT London Poker Classic back in September and was the champion of the EPT Deauville main event in January of last year. These three players would be joined by a fourth just a few days later at the Rio.

4) Bertrand Grospellier Wins First Bracelet and Poker’s Triple Crown

For some players, it is simply a question of when — not if — they will achieve a certain milestone in their career. While it may seem outlandish to say that a player will surely capture poker’s triple crown during his poker career, it doesn’t seem too crazy when you are talking about the insanely talented Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. The 32-year-old Team PokerStars pro had amassed more than $8 million in career earnings before the final table of the $10,000 seven-card stud championship began. The only thing he lacked was a WSOP bracelet, and that all changed when ElkY won the event.

ElkY previously won the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event and the 2008 World Poker Tour Festa al Lago main event to account for the first two pieces of his triple crown. In addition to achieving poker immortality with the victory, he also took home his first gold bracelet and $331,639. He now holds $8,869,178 in career earnings. ElkY’s victory served as another marquee moment at the 2011 WSOP.

5) Phil Ivey Does Not Participate in the 2011 WSOP

Phil Ivey made news early in the summer when he announced — in a six-part statement released on his official Facebook page and website — that he would not play in the 2011 WSOP, and that he had “Electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware.”

“I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible,” read the statement.

The case, No. A-11-642387-C, is listed as Phillip Ivey, Jr., Plaintiff vs. Tiltware LLC, Defendant. According to the Associated Press, the company has denied Ivey’s request to pursue other professional opportunities in poker. As a result, Ivey was seeking more than $150 million for “injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages.” Ivey officially dropped his lawsuit June 30 as Full Tilt was attempting to sell its assets to European investors.

6) Phil Hellmuth Comes Close to Bracelet No. 12 Multiple Times

A casual observer may take a glance at Phil Hellmuth’s 2011 WSOP and be impressed with his five cashes — including three final-table appearances — amounting to nearly $1.6 million in earnings. However, Hellmuth himself will only be disappointed with the fact that three times he made it to heads-up play, and three times he walked away without a shiny new bracelet.

His last defeat came when he lost the $50,000 Players Championship to Brian Rast, and it was particularly crushing. Hellmuth had Rast outchipped 6-1 and was locked in, leading many on the rail to believe that it was only a matter of time before he held his 12th career bracelet.

Instead, three missed flush draws later, Hellmuth had been eliminated, and Rast had earned his second bracelet of the summer. Hellmuth took little comfort in his $1,063,034 prize, stating after the tournament that he’d “trade three seconds for a first any day.” Incredibly, this was the first seven-figure score of Hellmuth’s career. He now has $12.55 million in lifetime tournament earnings and sits in fourth place on the all-time leader board behind Erik Seidel, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey.
Despite missing his record 12th bracelet, Hellmuth still put on one of the most impressive performances of the summer, and had it not been for Ben Lamb making the November Nine, Hellmuth would have been the WSOP Player of the Year.

7) John Juanda Wins Fifth Gold Bracelet

The final table of the $10,000 deuce-to-seven lowball championship was packed with big names and great story lines at the 2011 WSOP. Phil Hellmuth, John Juanda, Richard Ashby, Steve Sung, Nick Schulman, David Baker, and Hasan Habib made for one of the most talented and entertaining final tables of the summer. The final seven players had won a combined total of 19 gold bracelets at the start of the final table, and by the end of the tournament, they held 20. In the end, it was Juanda who won the tournament and his fifth gold bracelet by defeating Hellmuth heads up. Juanda grew his career earnings to $11,544,162 with the $367,170 he earned for the win.

Juanda had appeared at the final table for this event the previous two years, scoring back-to-back fourth-place finishes before he claimed the top spot and the bracelet that night. Juanda spoke of the tough level of competition he faced after play concluded.

“There were a lot of great players. It’s tough to post a $10,000 buy-in tournament, especially in a game like no-limit deuce-to-seven, so I didn’t expect it to be easy. I actually started today as the shortest stack and obviously had to catch some cards. You know, I just took it one hand at a time.”

8) Jason Mercier Wins Second Pot-Limit Omaha Bracelet in Dominant Fashion Once Again

He did it again. Jason Mercier won his second gold bracelet, and once again, he did it in pot-limit Omaha. Mercier defeated a field of 507 players in the $5,000 six-handed pot-limit Omaha event. He earned $619,575 for the win, and he now holds $6.7 million in career earnings, two WSOP titles, and a win on the EPT. He’s done all of this in less than four years on tour.

Mercier dominated much of the tournament — just as he did during his first bracelet victory — but he needed to score a double-knockout to start the final day and get back into contention. With those extra chips in his stack, he never looked back, outlasting a final table that included Hans Winzeler (second), Steven Merrifield (third), David Chiu (fourth), Joe Ressler (fifth), and Mike McDonald (sixth).
“It feels awesome to win a second gold bracelet, especially in pot-limit Omaha,” Mercier said after the victory. “I won my first one in pot-limit Omaha. It just feels amazing. I’ve had so many deep runs so far at this year’s Series, so it feels good to close it out. It’s important to me for people to think I am one of the best. I think I am getting to that level, if I am not already there. Obviously, winning tournaments and winning bracelets just adds to that.”

9) Overall WSOP Attendance Increases

Attendance at the full run of preliminary bracelet events stood at 68,807 at the 2011 WSOP. That amounted to the most players ever to attend preliminary events in one year, and the combined $127,468,010 awarded during those events also was the highest in the Series’ history.

Thirty two of the 48 preliminary events that had exact counterparts in 2010 saw attendance increases, while 16 of those 48 events saw a decrease from 2010. There were nine new events in 2011.

A collection of attendance records fell throughout the summer, while cash-game business was up considerably at the Rio and other card rooms in Vegas, like the poker room at Aria Hotel and Casino and Bellagio.

Although attendance in the main event shrunk by 454 players from the previous year, the field size still stood at 6,865, making the 2011 main event the third-largest live poker tournament of all time. That was due in large part to the strength of international attendance; players from 85 nations participated in the event. Countries with the most players included the United States (4604), Canada (486). the United Kingdom (288), France (213), Germany (158), Russia (108), Italy (106), Brazil (83), Australia (80), and Sweden (79).

10) European Nations Win 15 Bracelets

The strong European attendance in not only the main event but all of the preliminary events was accompanied by a large amount of European success at the 2011 WSOP. Indications of this rush of success were felt early when two British professionals from the town of Rochdale (just outside of Manchester), Jake Cody and Matt Perrins, claimed gold early in the summer and inspired many people to proclaim that the “British we’re coming.”

The French picked up the European push after that, led by wins from well-known professionals like Bertrand Grospellier and Fabrice Soulier. The charge for Eastern Europe and Russia was led steadily throughout the summer, with headline wins coming from Eugene Katchalov and Maxim Lykov. All in all, the European continent won 15 bracelets in the Amazon Room this summer.

The U.S. was still far and away the most successful country at the 2011 WSOP with 37 bracelets. Still, since Black Friday took away online poker from Americans, European players have an advantage, and Europe may be able to close the gap even further in subsequent years. ♠