A former European hockey pro finally broke through in the world of poker by winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet early this morning.
Canadian Greg Mueller won the $10,000 buy-in limit hold'em to capture the gold bracelet after seven final table appearances and two runner-up finishes in three years.
"It's like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders," Mueller, who cashed in the $460,841 first prize, said. "I was starting to think I was a second-place pony there for a while. I had nightmares."
The 37-year-old poker pro now has 18 in-the-money finishes in his series career with a total earnings of $1,321,352.
He finished runner-up in series events in 2007 and 2008.
Mueller played professional hockey for a team based in Germany for nine seasons before retiring in 1999.
Event report provided by the World Series of Poker
Total Net Prize Pool: $1,739,000
Number of Places Paid: 18
June 15-17, 2009
The Winner --
Mueller is a 37-year-old professional poker player. He is a regular player on the major tournament circuit.
Prior to playing poker for a living, Mueller played professional ice hockey in Europe. He played for nine seasons for a team based in Germany. He retired in 1999.
Mueller is fluent in both English and German languages.
Mueller has done modeling and has been featured in television commercials.
Mueller started playing poker seriously on his many road trips while a hockey pro. He insists that poker is a game that allows him to exercise the same competitive instincts he utilized as a pro athlete.
Mueller’s first WSOP cash took place in 2003.
Prior to his victory, Mueller endured two disappointing runner-up finishes. He appeared on the first ESPN broadcast of the 2007 and lost heads-up to Steve Billirakis, who at the time became the youngest WSOP gold bracelet winner in history. Last year, he finished second again, losing the gold bracelet to Philip Tom.
With this victory, Mueller officially became the 127th player in WSOP history to win in excess of $1 million.
There was some poetic justice in Greg Mueller’s victory on this day. Play at the final table was paused about midway into the action due to a special ceremony to honor the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup, which was unveiled to the poker world. The Stanley Cup was placed up on a pedestal, only a few feet away from the final table where Mueller was sitting. Mueller spent much of his early life playing ice hockey, so he knew very well what the Stanley Cup meant. In a casual conversation during the break, Mueller joked with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that he wanted to touch the cup (Bettman was a good sport about it, and agreed). The night was truly memorable as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined WSOP Commissioner (and half-brother) Jeffrey Pollack onstage to honor the poker players and recent winners. Meanwhile, Mueller’s attention remained fixated on the Stanley Cup, which had been his aspiration for so many years. Mueller later commented that the Stanley Cup being place close by motivated him to play better at the final table and win poker’s ultimate prize – the gold bracelet.
Winner Quotes (Greg Mueller) –
On the NHL’s Stanley Cup being close by and what it meant to him as a former hockey pro: “To be real honest, when they did this – seeing the NHL players and seeing the Cup and hearing the anthem, I had goose bumps. I was so jacked you know because of the anthems and the hockey. I saw the Stanley Cup and I said to myself, ‘maybe this is destiny. Maybe this is my night.”
On how this final compared to the others: “The funny thing was – this was probably the toughest final table that I had. Everyone at the table is a helluva’ player and a great tournament player. It’s the crème de la crème kinda’ thing. I really did not put any pressure on myself. I was low on chips yesterday. I climbed back to average today. And the net thing I knew, I said – oh boy, here we go!”
On whether he enjoys the final table experience: “It’s awesome. It really is awesome. It just sucks when you get knocked out, or do not win. Everything except for first sucks. But leading up to it, the night before, at the final table, I think it’s amazing.”
On why he loves poker: “It’s for the competition.”
On some of the secrets to his victory: ”I never panicked once. I was just really disciplined. I was really confident. Never were my chips in jeopardy. Never was I really low. I had a good table image. I stole when I had to steal. It’s weird. This was like the least-stressful final table I have ever been at, but it might have been the toughest.”
On the big hand where he took over the chip lead for the first time: “When I hit my straight flush (against Chad Brown’s nut flush), I said ‘Today is my day.”
On what the WSOP gold bracelet means, when asked if winning a WSOP event places him into a different category than before: “I think it does. Like I said, I have always done very well at the World Series. It is the one place where I play a lot of events. I made a bunch of final tables. People were giving me the recognition. But until you close the deal and win, I think that puts you in a separate category.”
The Final Table --
The final table contained one former WSOP gold bracelet winner – Daniel Alaei (2 wins).
The final table included players from three different nations – including Canada, Holland, and the United States.
There were three Canadian players at the final table, the most of any event held so far this year. The top two finishers were Canadians.
The runner up was poker pro Pat Pezzin, from Toronto, ON (Canada). He now has 14 in-the-money finishes at the WSOP, and 3 final table appearances. This was his highest finish, both numerically and financially. Second place paid $285,195.
The third-place finisher was popular poker pro and former actor Chad Brown, from Margate, FL. He has three runner-up finishes as WSOP final tables and is clearly on the short list of best poker players to have not won a gold bracelet. Brown now has 26 in-the-money finishes at the WSOP.
The fourth-place finisher was Daniel Alaei, from Los Angeles, CA. The two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner came up short in his attempt to win a third title, and gain his second WSOP victory at this year’s WSOP.
The fifth-place finisher was Matt Hawrilenko, a former options trader-turned poker pro from Boston, MA. Hawrilenko is widely-acknowledged as one of the best Limit Hold’em players in the world. He concentrates mostly on high-stakes cash games.
The sixth-place finisher was Matt Glanz, from Lafayette Hill, PA. Glanz is another player who has come close to victory many times at the WOP. This was his fourth time to cash at this year’s WSOP.
The seventh-place finisher was Michiel Brummelhuis, from Amsterdam, Holland. This was his second time to make a WSOP final table the last two years.
The eighth-place finisher was Soheil Shamseddin, from Houston, TX. The poker pro has numerous wins in other tournaments, but has yet to win at the WSOP. Shamseddin is always one of the final table’s most interesting personalities. He tends to play fast and is known to acquire chips or bust out early. This time, his aggressive tendencies did not work and he finished eighth.
The ninth-place finisher was Kenny Hsiung, from Los Angeles, CA. It was a disappointing day for Hsiung, who was making his first WSOP cash in three years. He arrived at the final table with the chip lead but was never able to establish any momentum.
In-the-Money Finishers --
Former WSOP gold bracelet finishers who cashed in this event included – Daniel Alaei, Philip Tom, Howard Lederer, Todd Brunson, and Ralph Perry.
Howard Lederer’s 40 WSOP cashes now places him 18th on the all-time list.
The defending champion from 2009 was Rob Hollink, from Groningen, Holland. He entered this event but did not cash.
The Event --
The $10,000 buy-in Limit Hold’em world championship attracted 185 entries. The total prize pool amounted to $1,739,000. The top 18 finishers collected prize money.
The tournament was played over three consecutive days.
The End of Day One chip leader was Jennifer Harman, from Las Vegas, NV. She ended up finishing in 12th place.
Kenny Hsiung was the chip leader coming into the final table. He ended up finishing ninth.
Mueller came into the final table ranked sixth out of nine players. But the chips stacks were largely even between the top six players. He seized the chip lead about mid-way through the 11-hour finale.
The decisive hand of the tournament took place when Mueller made a straight flush against Chad Brown, who presumably had the nut flush (his cards were not shown). Mueller and Brown went back and forth with a flurry of raises and re-raises before Brown surrendered his chip lead to Mueller – a fatal mistake from which he could recover.
When play became heads-up between Mueller and runner up Pat Pezzin, the two players realized they shared at least one common trait – they were both Canadian. “It’s going to be ‘O Canada’ for sure,” Mueller beamed to his fellow countryman and rival.
The tournament officially began on Monday, June 15th, at 12 noon. The tournament officially ended on Thursday, June 18th, at 1:15 am.
WSOP Statistics –
Through the conclusion of Mueller's event, the 2009 WSOP has attracted 32,142 entries. $64,117,613 in total prize money has been awarded to winners.
Mueller's win was the second for Canada. The nationalities of WSOP gold bracelet winners so far reads as follows:
United States – 23
United Kingdom – 2
Canada – 2
Russian Federation – 1
Finland – 1
Australia – 1
Sweden – 1
Mexico – 11