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Poker Authors Analyzed

Part IV: Phil Hellmuth

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Jul 01, 2007

Editor's note: Card Player Europe Bureau Chief Rolf Slotboom has read just about every poker book available, and in this series of columns, he analyzes the work of several poker authors, one at a time. He analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of both the person and his products - whether it's books, DVDs, or just articles. Extensive reviews and ratings of individual books and DVDs can be found on Rolf's site,

Phil Hellmuth, self-proclaimed "Poker Brat," isn't exactly known for his exemplary behavior at the tables. One could even say, "Quite the contrary," as berating his opponents, belittling them, and whining both after losing and after winning pots are all part of his arsenal. Also, quotes of his like, "If luck weren't involved, I would win every tournament," and his other ways of showing how great he is compared to others, don't exactly make Phil the most popular or best-liked player on the circuit.

However, Hellmuth does have some incredibly good results to back up his attitude. After all, he has 11 World Series of Poker bracelets. And still being relatively young, with an eagerness and desire that are unparalleled in the poker world, there can be no doubt that the Poker Brat will go into the history books as one of the most successful players ever.

Does this excellent resume also make him a good writer? Well, it depends on whether you want to see Hellmuth's good or bad things. Rather often, his Card Player columns follow a pattern such as this: Phil makes a great play or a good read, followed by a not-so-good move by one of his opponents. In those cases in which the opponent gets lucky at Phil's expense, the story often ends with something like: "I was unlucky in that pot, and at first was very mad about it. But then I thought about my lovely wife and family, and about how blessed I am with the life I lead," and so on. Or, the story will end with how he left the table, and whether or not he had the class to say, "Nice hand," "Well-played," or, "Best of luck." Rarely will you find any very advanced thoughts in Phil's writings. And sometimes there are even comments that make your head spin, such as: "So, I folded my Q-Q to his reraise. And even though my opponent had just 7-7 and I would have been a 4-to-1 favorite to win, I still liked my laydown, as I could have gone broke on the hand."

It is for this reason that many math-oriented people don't like Hellmuth's approach to the game much. But, at the same time, everyone still reads his columns, even those people who talk about only the flaws in his analyses. Heck, his columns may be so popular because he isn't afraid to go against common wisdom, or against math-oriented play. Also, a lot of people watch him in action or read his material simply because they want to disagree with him or want to see him fail. Of course, this is one of the main reasons why Phil is always the center of attention, and continues to be such a high-profile player. And, quite clearly, there can be no question that a man with the courage to go against what people think or say, and who will simply stay true to his character whatever the outside world thinks of him, deserves a lot of respect - let me repeat, a lot of respect.

I do have to admit that I am one of those math-oriented people who have problems with Hellmuth's theoretical approach, and the flaws in his math. Mainly because of this, I am not too fond of his Play Poker Like the Pros book. I especially disliked the beginner section on limit hold'em with his "Top Ten Hands," and the pot-limit Omaha high strategy was just plain weak. Again, there are not enough deep thoughts as to various plays and their concrete implications, and he almost never mentions any stack sizes in the decision-making process, which I view as bad. Also, his advice on continuing to bet the pot on the turn with top set "in order to protect your hand" after this turn card has completed all kinds of possible straight draws, followed by the advice that if you get raised the pot here, "you will have to look out, because he will almost always have the straight," is not the type of advice that I think will help readers to start thinking on a deep enough level. What I dislike about this book in particular, and about Hellmuth's writings in general, is that he almost always comes up with one play that he says is good, without analyzing alternative plays that could be better, cheaper, or both.

However, he definitely deserves credit for having tried to come up with a truly meaningful addition to poker literature. After all, Play Poker Like the Pros covers almost all games, discusses tournaments and cash games, and live as well as online play. So, clearly, Phil has put a lot of time and effort into trying to produce this "definitive" piece, when he could have simply come up with a fluff type of book about remarkable hands and stories - which also would have been a best-seller, but that would have required considerably less time and effort to produce. So, he definitely should be praised for trying to enrich the poker world with a book about all games and structures - yet, as fate would have it, I like his second book better, which is more of a "fluff" book, featuring a few of his columns and a few stories here and there. Why do I like this book, Bad Beats and Lucky Draws, better? Well, in this book, Hellmuth is simply being himself: self-oriented, egotistical, sometimes charming and forgiving, yet always eager and focused to perform at the highest possible level. In other words, it's all the things that make many of us love to hate him.

Next issue: Daniel Negreanu.

About the Author
Strengths - Unparalleled desire to win. Always the center of attention. Strategy that is aimed at playing small pots and avoiding big/risky calls in order to minimize the chances of busting out early.

Weaknesses - His ego, which leads him to rarely if ever give his opponents credit for also making a good or smart move every once in a while. Also, he has written so extensively about how he likes to avoid gambles that players have started reraising him relentlessly, even with nothing - thereby causing significant damage to Phil's excellent (in theory) tournament strategy.

Best piece - His regular column in Card Player and his Bad Beats and Lucky Draws book, albeit with the words of caution/criticism in this column.

Worst piece -
Play Poker Like the Pros. Tries to cover too many different things at the same time. Lots of advice that is either flawed or too simplistic. The cash-game advice especially is not very strong, probably because the author's merits come from his tournament play, especially his no-limit hold'em tournament play.

Overall author rating - The good and bad things about Hellmuth seem to balance out somewhat when it comes to his writing. It's a pleasure to follow the thought processes of an obviously great player like him, yet at the same time, he has some clear flaws when it comes to theory and analytical thinking.

Titles - Play Poker Like the Pros; Bad Beats and Lucky Draws

Additional information -
Has a record 11 World Series bracelets (at the time of this writing; after publication of this issue, it could be more), all in hold'em. His lucky hand is two black nines, having won crucial hands and titles with it. Was the youngest player to ever win the World Series of Poker. Known as the "Poker Brat" because of his conduct at the table, and his overall behavior.

Rolf Slotboom is a longtime professional, specializing in limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, and, more recently, no-limit hold'em ring games. He is the co-author of Hold'em on the Come, the author of the upcoming book Pot-Limit Omaha My Way, the commentator for the Eurosport EPT broadcasts, and the Card Player Europe bureau chief. He is the semiofficial 2005 Dutch Champion, and maintains his own site at