Most observers of the WSOP will agree that the big “names” of world poker have had a pretty miserable series so far. Players who were anticipated to have dominated the final stages of specific events have failed to shine (Gus Hansen in the Heads Up v Jake Cody springs to mind), and the first 15 gold bracelets have gone to relatively unknown or unfancied participants (well, we had heard of Jake Cody!).
Event 16 – the 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship – saw all change, with a table dominated by previous bracelet holders including 2004 WSOP Main Event winner Greg Raymer, and all time leading WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth. Also competing for the $367.000 first prize were previous “2-7” Champions Nick Schulman (2009) and David Baker (2010), as well as the UK´s own WSOP champion – Richard Ashby (2010 – 7 Card Stud).
However, it was John “Avoid the Parking Lot” Juanda who emerged victorious from a three hour heads-up battle with Hellmuth to claim his fifth bracelet, deny Hellmuth his twelfth (four years to the day after he won number 11) and earn the acclaim from Hellmuth that he was one of the scariest players he had met in a Heads Up situation (but don´t tell James Bord!).
Juanda´s victory was not only impressive in terms of the masterclass of Heads Up play he gave to Hellmuth, but also considering where he had been positioned just a few hours earlier. Going into the dinner break, “JJ” looked destined for an early night, sitting in third place with 409,000 chips, behind Ashby (700,000) and runaway chip leader, Hellmuth (2,662,000).
With blinds at 12K/24K and 6K ante – and Hellmuth playing his best tournament poker in years – it seemed just a question of time until Hellmuth claimed his twelfth WSOP bracelet. However Juanda had different ideas. Quickly doubling up through Ashby, prior to the Englishman succumbing to Hellmuth´s 10 low hand, Juanda was still left at a 3 million to 850K disadvantage.
Juanda chipped away at Hellmuth´s stack and was on level terms within an hour. The next hour saw the advantage swing back and forth until Juanda started betting all-in on a series of hands – resulting in Hellmuth folding his cards, losing his blinds (now 25K/50K) and a little of his composure. Juanda pressed home and eventually Hellmuth shoved all-in with a Queen low hand to get instantly called (and beaten) by Juanda´s Jack low hand.
Hellmuth was gracious in defeat, acknowledging that the 2-7 Championship bracelet had gone to the better player on the day and, as Juanda waved to the crowd, he was presented with his fifth WSOP bracelet to more than compensate for his two fourth placed finishes in this event in the last two years.