Phil Hellmuth melted down big time when he lost with pocket aces to Tom Dwan in the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Championship. “Durrrr” sent the “Poker Brat” packing in one of the most memorable televised poker hands ever.
This past week, “High Stakes Poker” returned for the first time since 2011, on PokerGo. Also on PokerGo, new episodes of “Poker After Dark,” another popular show during the poker boom era, aired.
But, we’re still missing the reboot of one show that the poker community loved a decade ago — the “National Heads-Up Poker Championship” on NBC. The show aired from 2005-2013 and pitted 64 of the most famous poker players in the world in a $25,000 buy-in, eight-round tournament.
Hellmuth won the inaugural tournament in 2005 for $500,000, beating Chris Ferguson in the finale. Ferguson would go on to finish runner-up again the following year, this time to Ted Forrest. He would finally get over the hump and win it in 2008.
Hellmuth, on the other hand, didn’t have any success in the event again until 2013, the final time the show aired. In that tournament, he lost in the finale to Mike Matusow. Four years earlier, he memorably lost on a cruel bad beat inflicted by Dwan.
Hellmuth isn’t Much for Controlling his Emotions
In 2008, the 21-year-old Dwan had just burst onto the live poker scene following an impressive run as one of the best online poker players in the world. He met up with Hellmuth, inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame the previous year, in the first round of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Poker fans still haven’t forgotten the ending to that epic match.
Hellmuth, in his pre-match interview, was already cocky. He told NBC reporter Leann Tweeden that he could beat any of the great online players such as Dwan in a live heads-up match. On the final hand, Hellmuth went for a slow play with pocket aces, opting to just limp in on the button.
Dwan, in the big blind, picked up pocket tens and raised the $300 big blind to $1,100. Hellmuth, done slow playing, then bumped it up to $3,600. His opponent tanked for a brief moment before announcing “I’m all-in.” The WSOP bracelet record holder quickly called and stood up to watch the flop, which he liked (2♠ K♥ 7♠).
But the turn, that’s a different story. Dwan spiked the 10♠ for a set and went from a big underdog to a favorite. Hellmuth, however, wasn’t dead in the water. He could still hit an ace or spade that didn’t pair the board on the river to double-up. Instead, the 9♦ landed, shipping Dwan the pot and the first-round victory.
Hellmuth, as usual, immediately shook Dwan’s hand, smiled for the camera, and then walked off stage like the true gentleman that he is. Okay, that’s not exactly how it went down.
The Poker Hall of Famer, instead, made sure to berate his opponent for having the audacity to move all-in with a premium heads-up hand.
“Son, I would tell you this much, son, I would never put more than three-thousand with two 10s before the flop,” Hellmuth rudely told his opponent.
“I was gonna say good game, sorry for the suck out, but when you phrase it like that, it makes me not want to,” Dwan fired back. “Phil, that’s why you lose money online.”
“You played the hand bad, that’s the truth,” Phil Hellmuth, who couldn’t just walk away, responded.
Dwan wasn’t intimidated by the older poker legend. The Full Tilt Poker crusher then offered up a heads-up challenge to Hellmuth.
“Pick your stakes heads-up,” Dwan offered. “I’ve said it a million times. I’m sorry for the suck out, nice hand, pick your stakes heads-up. We can play right now if you want”
“Son, you’re the sucker,” said Hellmuth, again refusing to just bow out gracefully. “You just put in 20-thousand with two 10s. It’s a terrible play.”
Spoiler alert: Dwan and Hellmuth never played a heads-up challenge.