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Best of Aaron Todd
Hellmuth a class act in defeat7 July 2011
“I thought that if he took second he was just going to go ballistic,” said Esfandiari. “I actually felt sorry for his wife, Kathy, because she was going to have to deal with him.”
It turned out that Esfandiari’s worries were unfounded. Yes, the 11-time WSOP winner did end up finishing second when Rast faded three flush draws to come back from a 5-1 chip deficit to claim the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy and a $1.72 million first-place prize. But Hellmuth, who won $1.06 million for his first career seven-figure cash, did anything but go ballistic.
Instead of launching one of his trademark tirades, he handled defeat with class and humility. He shook Rast’s hand, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“The world in general has been great to me,” Hellmuth told ESPN’s Kara Scott a few minutes after finishing second. “It makes me feel really good that there are so many people out there rooting for me.”
After the interview was over, Hellmuth shook hands with everyone at the final table stage he could reach. The reaction didn’t square with the man whose reputation earned him the nickname “Poker Brat.”
“I think [people] just love to hate him for whatever reason,” said Esfandiari. “Just seeing him on TV, acting like a brat and whatnot, makes you want to hate him. But when people get around him, they love to talk to him. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship. I think Phil’s a great guy.”
While many of the pros in attendance were friends with both players, they could sympathize with Hellmuth.
“Obviously I feel for Phil,” said Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan, who was rooting for Rast but says he would have been happy if either had won the title. “I had the same kind of thing happen last year when I finished second.”
Owais Ahmed, who finished fourth, said that people’s impressions of Hellmuth don’t fit the reality of who he is.
“I’ve played with Phil a lot this series,” Ahmed said in a brief interview with ESPN after his bustout. “He’s a great guy, and underneath all the bad antics he’s a true gentleman and I hope the best for him.”
Ahmed wasn’t the only person at the final table to show Hellmuth respect. Scott Seiver, who finished seventh, wore one of Hellmuth’s hats with a PH logo, and did several Hellmuth impersonations while in a pot against him, either by posing in the same way Hellmuth does, or by acting incensed by a bet by his opponent.
“I thought it would be fun to try to pantomime some of his most famous mannerisms,” said Seiver. “We were just having a lot of fun. I try to have a lot of fun at the table and create a fun atmosphere.”
Rast also had great things to say about Hellmuth. He even apologized when he called Hellmuth’s oversized all-in bet, saying, “Wow, I’m sorry Phil, I have the nuts. I call.”
“I said ‘I’m sorry’ more out of respect than anything else,” said Rast.
The respect was mutual. Hellmuth called Rast one of the truly good guys in poker, saying it’s nice to see a good guy win the title. Maybe next year, that good guy will be a former “Poker Brat” named Phil Hellmuth.
Best of Aaron Todd