Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hellmuth v. Ivey, the Bracelet Chase

Hellmuth v. Ivey, the Bracelet ChaseI didn’t get a chance to watch the House hearing yesterday. Couldn’t get any of the live streams to work for me. Haven’t yet tried to view the archived video, although I am curious to see the Q&A portion. I heard that the UltimateBet cheating scandal did come up at one point yesterday -- am curious to see how Annie Duke managed to discuss that particular issue.

Speaking of UB and its spokespeople, Phil Hellmuth was back in the news this week with another bit of provocative self-promotion, this time concerning Phil Ivey’s prospects for one day breaking Hellmuth’s WSOP bracelet record.

This summer Ivey won his eighth WSOP bracelet, putting him in a tie with Erik Seidel on the all-time list. There are only four players with more bracelets -- Johnny Moss (9), Johnny Chan (10), Doyle Brunson (10), and, of course, Hellmuth (11).

Ivey won his bracelet this summer in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, and after winning he was widely quoted as having said “I think I can win 30 gold bracelets. I think I can reach that if I keep playing and stay healthy.”

Ivey won his first bracelet back in 2000, so since then he’s averaged a little under one bracelet per WSOP -- three in ’02, one in ’05, two last year, and the one this summer. At age 34, Ivey certainly has a shot at winning many more, and while 30 seems kind of out there, it could be Ivey is simply using that goal as another way to motivate himself.

Ever since Phil Hellmuth won his 11th bracelet back in 2007, thus breaking a three-way tie between himself, Chan, and Brunson to take the overall lead, he’s frequently reiterated how important it is to him to hold the record.

I remember last summer, during the 2009 WSOP, I attended a small press conference with Hellmuth regarding his new book, Deal Me In, at which time he was also talking up a documentary about him and the growth of poker over recent years, generally speaking. Although the film isn’t solely about Hellmuth, its title indicates its primary focus -- Quest for 12. (Hellmuth was saying at the time that the film had been submitted for consideration at the Cannes Film Festival, but that was the last I’ve heard of it.) It’s definitely all about the bracelets for Hellmuth.

The talk about Hellmuth, Ivey, and the bracelet chase came up on the most recent episode of The Poker Show with Jesse May. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I got a chance to meet May, a.k.a. “The Voice of Poker,” at that World Poker Tour press conference. Got a kick out of that, as I both enjoy May’s podcast and am an admirer of his poker novel, Shut Up and Deal, published “pre-boom” back in 1998.

I haven’t been able to listen to the latest episode yet, but I see over on the Cake Poker site a report of Hellmuth’s comments about Ivey and his record.

“Ivey won’t pass me in five years,” said Hellmuth. That’d mean Ivey winning four bracelets during that stretch -- and Hellmuth none -- which indeed would be quite a feat. Hellmuth adds that he sees himself winning three or four more during that period, thereby making it less likely for Ivey to catch him.

Ivey responded to Hellmuth’s proclamation on the same show, noting that “unless [Hellmuth] wins a couple in the next five years... then I’m probably a small underdog to tie him.” Ivey goes on to suggest he’s “probably a five-to-one, six-to-one dog or so” to catch the Poker Brat.

Such talk is fun and definitely adds a layer of intrigue to the bracelet chase. Besides holding the record for most bracelets, Hellmuth is also unsurpassed at the art of self-promotion, and his getting into it with Ivey over the record is yet another example of his success at keeping his name in the poker headlines.

One other interesting facet to the Ivey-versus-Hellmuth bracelet chase is the fact that all of Hellmuth’s bracelets are in hold’em-only events (including limit, pot-limit, and no-limit) while none of Ivey’s are in hold’em-only events. (Ivey does have a couple in mixed games that include LHE.) It therefore probably makes sense to look at the WSOP schedule when assessing Ivey’s chances of catching Hellmuth.

There were 54 open-field events at the WSOP this year. Of those, 32 of them were hold’em-only events. (That includes all of the variations on hold’em, including LHE, PLHE, NLHE, heads-up, six-max, shootouts, etc.). The other 22 events were not hold’em only (i.e., other games, including mixed games that include hold’em).

One assumes the schedule will remain similar going forward -- that is, roughly two-thirds of the bracelet events will continue to be hold’em-only events. One might conclude Hellmuth to have a slight advantage here, although one has to take into account that the hold’em events tend to attract larger fields.

One last point of comparison between Ivey and Hellmuth to add here -- something I’ll admit I was surprised to find out. If asked what was more likely, Hellmuth winning a bracelet in a non-hold’em-only event or Ivey winning one in a hold’em-only event, what would be your response? Probably that Ivey has the better chance, yes?

In fact, Hellmuth has made 15 final tables in non-hold’em-only events, finishing runner-up three times (in a Deuce-to-Seven event, a limit Omaha event, and an Omaha/8 event). Meanwhile, Ivey has only three final tables in hold’em-only events at the WSOP -- one way back in 2000 and the other two last year.

All of which is to suggest I think we’re looking at a close race here going forward. Will certainly be interesting to follow, whatever happens.

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Blogger Gene said...

During the TOC Hellmuth was seated in front of us and he and Howard Lederer were in conversation. I believe they were referencing Ivey when Hellmuth said, "I don't care if he catches long as it's at 17 or 18!".

7/22/2010 4:16 PM  

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