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Event #55 Champion Brian Rast (Photo Courtesy of Cardplayer.com)

Event #55, The $50K Poker Players’ Championship, was a complete joy to watch and cover from start to finish.  Not only did it feature the game’s best players going at each other in an 8 Game mixed format, but it wound up producing an absolutely awesome and completely rail-bird friendly Final Table.  In the end, much as we predicted on Tuesday, Phil Hellmuth made a very deep run, Ben Lamb and Barry Greenstein (among plenty of others) fell a little bit short of the goal, and Brian Rast remained a force right through the money bubble and all the way to the bracelet.  Despite having to wait out a Final Table in which Hellmuth was dominating the NLHE-only format, Rast survived to heads-up play and took the bracelet home for an epic win.

But Rast’s win was not without drama.  For starters, Hellmuth played table sheriff for the better part of 6 hours at the final table, and with a few exceptions, he remained at or near the chip lead the entire time.  There was a point at which Rast was all the way down to 2.6 million with the blinds headed up in a hurry, but he wound up using the rest of the level to commandeer a large pile of chips from Hellmuth.  After that mild rally and the great KO’s of 4th and 3rd place by Phil Hellmuth, the heads-up battle that seemed imminent from about 9pm onward was set to begin.

It was a tremendously entertaining tournament even before heads-up play, but with Hellmuth’s chance for a 12th bracelet hanging in the balance, there wasn’t much more drama that you could pack into one event.  Not long into the match, Hellmuth commanded a 5 to 1 chip lead, and he had Rast on the ropes, looking to catch a 5th heart on the turn or river to claim the trophy and the bracelet.  But it didn’t happen.  Just a few minutes later, Hellmuth held the Tc8c and was looking, once again, to fill out the flush for the win.  But it didn’t happen.  That was when I really starting feeling bad for Hellmuth.  There was a part of me that wished it was a cash game so they could run it twice or something.  But alas, the 2 missed flush draws only resulted in a more or less even match after that, and with Rast’s cheering section rocking and rolling into the wee hours of the morning, it wasn’t long before the seemingly inevitable happened – – on a JdTd9x flop, Hellmuth got it all in with 8d2d looking for, you guessed it, a flush (or straight in this spot as well).  But Rast snap-called with a flopped King-high straight, and a diamond was nowhere to be found.  The bracelet belonged to Rast, and the Player of the Year Race lead now belonged to Hellmuth once again.

As much as I had to feel for Phil Hellmuth, his interview after the tournament made me glad that I’ve been in his proverbial corner all summer long.  He knew what had happened, knew that he probably should have won, but accepted the fact that he was 2nd best on this day.  As much as people want to create and inflate a persona of arrogance and self-delusion around him, if you watched, you actually saw a pretty level-headed and gracious guy losing to an incredibly humble and well spoken champion in Rast.  Both men certainly handled the entire situation with a ton of class, and that’s really all that you can ask for at such a high profile event.

If you’re curious, Hellmuth now has 710 POY points, leading Ben Lamb by about 50 points with the Main Event and the WSOP-E yet to be played.  If he keeps playing like he has been, he will take home a very, very well-deserved Player of the Year Title for 2011, not a bad consolation prize at all for the only man to Final Table (and finish 2nd in) three different Championship events in three different disciplines of poker.

Congratulations again to Event #55 Champion Brian Rast, Final Table Results are below:

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