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Historic three-peat denies Phil Hellmuth 17th WSOP bracelet

Adam Friedman and Phil Hellmuth faced off at the World Series of Poker with landmark achievements on the line.

This time, history smiled on Friedman.

He became the first person to win the same WSOP event three times in a row, defeating Hellmuth heads-up in the $10,000 buy-in Dealer’s Choice six-handed tournament early Thursday at the Rio.

Friedman, 39, from Gahanna, Ohio, won his fourth WSOP bracelet overall, prevailing in a field of 93 entries to take home $248,350. He also won the $10,000 Dealer’s Choice in 2018 and 2019. It was not held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hellmuth, 57, from Palo Alto, California, missed a chance to extend his record with his 17th WSOP bracelet, just three days after claiming his 16th in the $1,500 No-limit 2-7 Lowball Draw. (The WSOP awards trophy bracelets for tournament victories.)

Hellmuth, who earned $153,493 for finishing second, lamented losing the chip lead heads-up.

“What’s tough is having 4 million in chips to his 1.5 million in chips and not finishing the job,” Hellmuth said. “Part of that is my fault, and part of it was some bad luck at the end. … I felt like I was supposed to win today.”

Hellmuth stopped a previous three-peat attempt at the WSOP when he defeated Johnny Chan heads-up to win the 1989 Main Event after Chan won in 1987 and ’88.

In Dealer’s Choice, the players take turns choosing which poker variant to play from a list of 20, ranging from familiar games such as No-limit Hold’em and Seven-card Stud to obscure ones such as Big O and Badeucy.

“It’s so addicting, so many games that we don’t get to play in tournaments, so many different thought processes and strategies that don’t exist in any other tournament,” Friedman said.

Figuring out which game to pick is one of the most important aspects of the event, he said. If a player at the table is weak in a game, you want to call that game over and over, he said.

“I don’t think I have any games that are particularly weak, but in general I know what to pick at nearly all times,” Friedman said.

Hellmuth opted to play Badugi in what turned out to be the final hand. The game is a form of Triple Draw Lowball in which players try to make their lowest four-card hand with every card in a different suit. (The best hand is ace-deuce-three-four of four different suits.)

A short-stacked Hellmuth was all-in before the first draw, and both players stood pat on all three draws. Friedman showed his nine Badugi (nine-six-five-deuce), and Hellmuth conceded.

Friedman said he would like to see the WSOP expand its Dealer’s Choice offerings — anything to keep from playing No-limit Hold’em all the time.

“I don’t mind playing the two-card poker, but let’s be honest, it’s boring compared to every other game,” he said. “It’s two cards. How much thought process could there be?”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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