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Brian Rast Wins $50,000 Players Championship

Brian Rast Wins $50,000 Players Championship

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Nov 01, 2011

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With only three preliminary events remaining to be played in the 2011 World Series of Poker, no players had won multiple bracelets, threatening 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 — but to do so, they’d have to conquer arguably the toughest field of the summer and compete in eight poker disiplines: limit hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, razz, seven-card stud, seven-card stud eight-or-better, deuce-to-seven triple-draw, no-limit hold’em, and pot-limit Omaha.

One of those players was professional Brian Rast, who had won his first WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 pot-limit hold’em event in early June. In this event, he faced a field of the 127 toughest poker players 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 during heads-up play against the red-hot Phil Hellmuth to accomplish the feat.

Final-Table Chip Counts

1. Minh Ly 4,490,000
2 Brian Rast 3,860,000
3 George Lind 2,805,000
4 Matt Glantz 2,685,000
5 Phil Hellmuth 2,345,000
6 Owais Ahmed 1,225,000
7 Scott Seiver 1,100,000
8 Ben Lamb 655,000

The final table began with two other players who already had won bracelets this summer, in addition to Rast: Ben Lamb (winner of the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha championship) and Owais Ahmed (winner of the $2,500 Omaha/seven-card stud eight-or-better championship).

Unfortunately for Lamb, he was the first player to bust from the final table, sent to the rail by recent World Poker Tour Championship winner Scott Seiver. Hellmuth then doubled through Rast and jumped into the chip lead.

Seiver was then eliminated in seventh place by Rast, which helped him recover from doubling up Hellmuth. George Lind fell next in sixth place, and Matt Glantz was taken out in fifth place — both players busted at the hands of Minh Ly. Even those two knockouts weren’t enough for Ly to catch up with Hellmuth, who held more than six million in chips during four-handed play. Hellmuth continued to increase his lead — he eventually ran his stack up to more than 10 million — and he looked unstoppable to win his 12th bracelet, which had eluded him twice before this summer with runner-up finishes.

Rast doubled up though Ly after the dinner break to take the chip lead for himself, but Hellmuth then eliminated Ahmed to keep pace. While Rast and Hellmuth each held more than 8 million, Ly was hanging on with close to 2 million during three-handed play. Hellmuth then jumped into the lead again when he eliminated Ly in third place after his A-6 held up against the K-5 of Ly on a 9-7-6-5-3 board. This gave Hellmuth 10,015,00 and the chip lead to work with in the heads-up final, but Rast was close behind with 9,185,000.

Hellmuth increased his lead to 16.3 million — leaving Rast with just 2.9 million — after he won a showdown with two pair, but Rast doubled up not one but twice to pull things back to even. The momentum clearly had shifted in the match, and Rast took advantage of the situation by chipping away at his opponent. The next time the two players got it all in, it was Hellmuth at risk for his tournament life.

Hellmuth raised to 400,000 preflop on the button, and Rast made the call. The flop came J◆ 10♠ 9◆, and Rast led out for 500,000. Hellmuth moved all in, and Rast made the call. Rast turned over K♣ Q♣ for the nut straight, while Hellmuth showed 8◆ 2◆ for a flush draw. (This was the third time Hellmuth had moved all in with a flush draw during the heads-up match). The turn and river were the 5♥ and the 8♠, offering no help to Hellmuth, who was eliminated in second place for the third time this summer ($1,063,034). Rast took home what many consider to be the most coveted title in poker, the Chip Reese memorial trophy, and the $1,720,328 grand prize.

The 29-year-old Rast now holds $3,088,728 in career earnings. Rast also recently got engaged to his fiancé Juliana, who resides in Brazil. He hopes to bring her to the U.S. immediately following the conclusion of the WSOP.

His first WSOP win was unbelievable, so Rast’s second win coming in the toughest, pound-for-pound, event of the summer was unthinkable. The win is a testament to the skill of the young professional; Rast has been respected for years for his cash-game prowess, and he now has the tournament credentials that many suspected he would achieve.

Final-Table Results
1 Brian Rast $1,720,328
2 Phil Hellmuth $1,063,034
3 Minh Ly $665,763
4 Owais Ahmed $482,085
5 Matthew Glantz $376,750
6 George Lind $300,441
7 Scott Seiver $243,978
8 Ben Lamb $201,338

Phil Hellmuth Finishes Runner-Up Three Times in the Pursuit of His 12th Bracelet

Sometimes your toughest competitor proves to be yourself. That has been the case for Phil Hellmuth at the 2011 World Series of Poker. He is entering uncharted territory in poker history as the only 11-time bracelet winner looking to make it an even dozen for his career. Before the $50,000 Players Championship, Hellmuth had twice come very close to earning his 12th bracelet.

First, he finished in second place in the $10,000 deuce-to-seven triple-draw championship on June 11. Just over a week later, he finished second in the $10,000 seven-card stud eight-or-better championship on June 20. At one point during heads-up play in the $50,000 Players Championship, he held a 5-1 chip advantage, and it looked like the record 12th gold bracelet that had eluded him finally would be his. His third second-place finish in the $50,000 Players Championship certainly was a disappoint to Hellmuth, not only because it would have been his first bracelet win in a non-hold’em event, but also because he would have broken his own record.

Still, it is one of the most amazing months in one of the most storied careers in poker history, and, as a consolation prize, Hellmuth added $1.5 million to his lifetime winnings.

“I mean, you know, I actually feel pretty good,” said Hellmuth after the $50,000 Players Championship final table. “I feel like, God … I played so well for five days. I think I put on a spectacular performance at the Series this year, so I’m happy about that — but I’d trade three second-place finishes for a first any day. I already have 11 bracelets. You have to understand that this is the No. 1 bracelet that I wanted — I mean, this and the main event. So, to come this close, to taste it, and then fall short, was disappointing.” ♠

Spotlight Finally Shines On One of Game’s Underrated Stars

By Julio Rodriguez

Brian Rast may not have gotten all of the attention he deserved this summer. The 29-year-old ran straight into poker’s most successful tournament player — the giant personality that is Phil Hellmuth — on poker’s biggest stage to emerge as this year’s only double-bracelet winner.

Rast attended Stanford University before leaving to pursue a career in poker, but the Poway, California, native isn’t your stereotypical college dropout. Rast spent a great deal of time learning the game and building a proper bankroll before making the jump, and he has since become one of the most underrated pros in the game.

After his incredible summer, Rast now has boosted his career tournament earnings to $3.088 million. He did this despite arriving to the WSOP late, after spending the early part of the summer with his fiancé in Brazil. In fact, when we caught up with Rast on the tail end of a 12-hour cash-game session, he was just hours from getting on another plane back to South America to continue his wedding plans.

Julio Rodriguez: When did you first discover poker?

Brian Rast: I was first introduced to poker through the movie Rounders when I was in high school, but I didn’t really play until college. There actually was a poker club at Stanford that met once or twice a week to play a small home game for $10 or $20. By the end of the school year, I had started reading some poker books in an effort to get better. That summer, I really dedicated myself to finding a way to make some money playing poker and started making trips to local casinos. After about a year of study and practice, I had worked my way up to the $5-$10 no-limit and $20-$40 limit games.

JR: You studied mathematics at Stanford but never graduated, despite only being a semester or so away from your degree. Did poker play a big part in your decision to drop out?

BR: I really lost all of my motivation for school once I found poker. Poker became my passion, and I wound up dropping out after I realized how lucrative it could be. The way I see it, college is the best way to license yourself to get a job in the real world, and that’s not a world that I ever anticipate joining. The fact is that I play a game for a living, and my education outside of that game is irrelevant. That’s why poker is the ultimate equalizer. Everyone starts on a level playing field. I don’t regret my time at Stanford, but after all of this time, I’m not going to go back to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

JR: You run around with a pretty close-knit crew in Las Vegas. How did you become acquainted with some of the best high-stakes players in the game?

BR: When I moved to Las Vegas, I mostly played $10-$20 no-limit, with occasional shots at $25-$50. I put in a ridiculous amount of hours at those stakes, both live and online. It was at this time that I started to meet some other players while grinding at Bellagio. I met Keith Gibson and Andrew Robl, and the three of us would talk poker for hours at a time. I think we realized that we all had the same goal, to work hard and to win as much money as possible. Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari came later, but they, along with a few others, really rounded out my core group of friends.

JR: You now have just over $3 million in tournament earnings, but the majority of that came from your two bracelet-wins this summer. Where do you stand on the tournaments-vs.-cash-games debate?

BR: I’ve always been more of a cash-game player than tournament player. If you look at my buy-in history, you’ll see that I really didn’t venture outside of Las Vegas or Los Angeles for any poker events. My focus always has been on finding the best action, and more often than not that is in the side games.

There’s a reason why people like tournaments. They’re exciting, and there’s an opportunity to make a big, life-changing score, but they are also extremely volatile, and variance has a way of picking on some people. Until this summer, I had to force myself into believing that my time was coming after so many near misses.

In the 2009 WPT Championship, I got seventh after running A-K into Yevgeniy Timoshenko’s pocket kings. Earlier that day, he ran A-J into kings and got lucky to survive, but he went on to win the tournament for about $2.1 million. That’s not to say that Timoshenko played poorly or that he didn’t deserve that win, but it shows just how big of a role luck plays late in tournaments. That’s why I’ve always preferred cash games.

Even in the recent $50,000 Players Championship that I won, I had to fade three consecutive flush draws to win. Yeah, I was a slight favorite on each hand, but overall, I’m just 20 percent or so to hold in all three cases. That’s just the nature of the game.

JR: Your first bracelet this summer came in the $1,500 pot-limit hold’em event, but you almost didn’t even play it. What made you change your mind?

BR: I had just gotten back from Brazil that morning after visiting my fiancé. I was exhausted and wasn’t planning on playing the event, but Antonio [Esfandiari] stopped by to try to convince me to register late. I told him no a few times, but then he offered me a 40 percent freeroll with no makeup, and obviously that’s not something you can refuse. I was super short for most of the first day, but I wound up winning it anyway.

JR: The $50,000 Players Championship features an eight-game mix and a field made up of the best players in the world. What is your background with mixed games, and how did you approach the games you excelled in during the tournament?

BR: I was kind of ahead of the curve with mixed games. I’m not an expert, by any means, but I did spend a year or two working on different games, learning the math, and getting comfortable with all of the various situations that can occur. I kind of stopped in the last year or so, just because I wanted to focus on no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha cash games, but overall I think I’m pretty solid in all of the poker disciplines. That being said, I did try to push the action a little bit during the pot-limit Omaha rounds. Everyone was competent in no-limit, but I found myself really taking advantage of some weak Omaha play. I was relieved when we made the final table and they switched over to exclusively no-limit hold’em.

JR: Other than a few friendly faces, the rail at the final table was a distinctly Phil Hellmuth-friendly crowd. Did you feel any pressure, considering the fact that Hellmuth was gunning for yet another bracelet?

BR: Phil doubled through me early on at the final table, and I definitely realized that the majority of the crowd was there to see him win his 12th bracelet. That doesn’t mean that I was going to make it easy for him, of course, but I could feel the weight and pressure of the situation. When we got heads up, it really helped to have all of my friends in my corner and fiancé on the phone during the breaks to keep me positive, even after putting myself in a huge hole. After Phil missed those three flush draws and I had won, I could immediately tell just how crushed he was. I give him all the credit in the world for being able to, for the most part, maintain his composure. He played great, but I was fortunate to come out on top and win my second bracelet of the summer. ♠

The Six-Figure Scores of Brian Rast
Date Event Finish Winnings
Feb. 18, 2007 Full Tilt Online Poker Series $500 no-limit hold’em Third $114,203
April 12, 2007 Five Star World Poker Classic $5,000 no-limit hold’em Third $101,230
April 25, 2009 WPT Five Star World Poker Classic $25,000 no-limit hold’em Seventh $204,275
May 31, 2009 WSOP $40,000 no-limit hold’em 14th $128,666
June 11, 2011 WSOP $1,500 pot-limit hold’em First $227,232
July 6, 2011 WSOP $50,000 Players Championship First $1,720,328