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Monday, June 25th, 2007

Hellmuth Mark Tainted, Thanks to ESPN

BY TOM SOMACH

When Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth Jr. made the final table at World Series of Poker (WSOP) Event #28 earlier this month, it was reported in many circles that he had tied the record for most WSOP final table appearances lifetime.

Before this year’s WSOP began, T.J. Cloutier had the most WSOP final table appearances lifetime–39.

Hellmuth was second, with 37.

Then, Hellmuth made the final table at Event #15 of this year’s WSOP, his 38th career final table appearance, and moved to within one of Cloutier’s mark (Hellmuth went on to win Event #15.)

Then, a week later, Hellmuth made the final table at Event #28, and headlines blared that “Poker Brat” had tied Cloutier for most WSOP final tables made lifetime–each now had 39.

But with the revelation last week by a WSOP insider that ESPN manipulated the final table at Event #28 to guarantee Hellmuth would make it–and thus increase TV ratings–it appears that Hellmuth’s record-tying effort is tainted.

A WSOP source told www.PokerHelper.com earlier this week that ESPN demanded that the final table for Event #28 consist of 10 players, not nine as is usual, so Hellmuth would be at the final table for the event.

At the time, Hellmuth was in 10th place out of 10 remaining players, and it looked possible that he would fail to make the planned nine-player final table.

In the end, the subterfuge by ESPN wasn’t needed, as Hellmuth ended up finishing sixth in the tournament, but a stain still remains on the record because a final table appearance was guaranteed to someone who hadn’t yet earned it.

But with the way he is playing–winning a record 11th WSOP bracelet earlier this month and then almost winning a 12th a week later–Hellmuth will no doubt make many more WSOP final table appearances and eventually hold the final table record all by his lonesome.

But in the meantime, anyone for an asterisk?

(E-mail Tom Somach at [email protected])

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