Phil Hui wins 2019 WSOP $50,000 Poker Players Championship
The Main Event is the highlight spectacle of the World Series of Poker, as well it should be. But for many poker pros, it is the $50,000 Poker Players Championship (PPC) that is the most prestigious tournament of the Series. The eight-game mixed event against a few dozen of the best players in the world is considered one of the most difficult tests of poker skill each year and for the next annum, Phil Hui can strut through the poker room as the best player in the world.
The Poker Players Championship was born in 2006, at the peak of the poker boom, starting as the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. At the time, it was the most expensive event at the World Series of Poker. Nobody really knew what to expect – it was a spectacle, each table packed with the poker elite (and a few rich people), sweating huge bucks across five games. The one weakness of the tournament was that the final table was all No-Limit Hold’em, in order to make the broadcast more palatable to television viewers. It was a black mark on the event, as it got away from the multi-game rotation that contributed to making it such a test of skill.
I was fortunate enough to be there for the first iteration of the PPC, though I couldn’t stay for the whole thing. I had a flight to catch the next morning so I could spend the weekend with my wife. I figured it would be no problem, but the heads-up match between Chip Reese and Andy Bloch went forever; I eventually had to duck out in the wee hours of the morning to head to the airport. I’m not sure it was finished when I got home, all the way across the country.
Reese, considered by many of his peers the greatest all-around poker player of all-time, passed away the following year, after which the special trophy awarded to the winner of the event was named the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy.
The tournament switched to an eight-game format in 2010 and was renamed to the Poker Players Championship. It later became a ten-game tournament, but this year it was eight-game: No Limit Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better, Razz, Pot-Limit Omaha, Limit Hold’em, Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 8 or Better, and 2-7 Lowball Triple Draw 6-Handed.
As mentioned, the PPC is considered more prestigious than the Main Event by most poker pros (not that it isn’t a big deal to win the Main Event). Hui is no exception.
“This is my dream. I’d rather win this over the main,” Hui said in his interview with WSOP.com afterward. “This is incredible, you have to be well versed in every game. It’s a dream come true. Definitely this is the one tournament I want to win and play. This is only the second time I played it. Just to be lucky enough to play it, it’s incredible.”
Interestingly, Hui prepared for the Poker Players Championship by playing in lower buy-in mixed game tournaments (think $150 buy-ins low). He also learned a lot from his friends, including his girlfriend, poker pro Loni Harwood. He considers her one of the best No-Limit Hold’em players in the world, so he had a great resource right there by his side.
When the final table started on Friday, Hui was in good shape with 4.135 million chips, but it was Josh Arieh who was the chip leader with 6.220 million. And for most of the day and night, it looked like Arieh was going to win it easily. He ran into little resistance at the six-handed final table, going into heads-up against Hui way ahead, 16.2 million to just 6 million for Hui.
Arieh held a solid lead for about an hour and a half until Hui suddenly took the chip lead by a hair during a Limit Hold’em level. Arieh regained the lead, pulling away to as much as around a 2-to-1 lead, but Hui once again grabbed the advantage and then it was he himself who had double his opponent’s chips.
From there, it was back and forth, each player grabbing a large chip lead, making it look like the tournament would end, only to see the other roar back to turn the tables. Like in 2006, I eventually gave up following the action, though in this case it was to get some sleep, as I was already home.
It was finally in a Stud round that Hui finally took charge for good. He then crippled Arieh in a Stud Hi-Lo round and finished it off in 2-7 Triple Draw. Arieh was down to about 1.5 million and was all-in. Both men drew two cards on the first draw. Arieh took another two on the second, while Hui took just one. Hui stood pat on the end, revealing 9-5-4-3-2. Arieh had 6-5-2, so an excellent start, but he still needed to draw two more. He got a 3 with one of them, but his final card was an Ace, a high card in 2-7 Triple Draw, so that was it. Hui won the Poker Players Championship and $1,099,311.
“I still don’t know if it’s real or not,” Hui said afterward. “Every day I made the next day, it’s been like a dream. No sleep, just super anxious before every day, but when I get to the table, I’m comfortable.”
Hui’s next goal: win the 2019 World Series of Poker Player of the Year award. He is on track, sitting in second place right now, about 90 points behind Daniel Zack.
2019 World Series of Poker $50,000 Poker Players Championship – Final Table Results
1. Phil Hui – $1,099,311
2. Josh Arieh – $679,426
3. John Esposito – $466,407
4. Bryce Yockey – $325,989
5. Shaun Deeb – $232,058
6. Daniel Cates – $168,305