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Phil Hellmuth Discusses His Departure From UB

11-Time WSOP Champion Talks About His Future


Hellmuth at the 2010 WSOPLate last week, 11-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth confirmed month-old rumors that he was severing ties with UB. The news came just hours after the site reported that Annie Duke was also leaving the company. Many have speculated as to why Hellmuth decided to walk away from a nine-year relationship, but in this exclusive interview, the long-time Card Player columnist and blogger agreed to set the record straight.

Already with the most WSOP wins and cashes in history, Hellmuth is confident that the future will see him continue to build on his 11-bracelet total, and thus his $10,955,370 in career tournament earnings.

Take a look below to find out not only why the 46-year-old Hellmuth, who is one of the few poker players capable of garnering constant mainstream media attention, ended his long-standing partnership with UB, but also what his plans are for the near future.

Julio Rodriguez: Did UB decide to cut ties with you, or did you decide to leave the company?

Phil Hellmuth: It was honestly a joint decision. It was a business related decision for me, and I think it was the same for them. It’s pretty simple really. Annie [Duke] and I happened to leave at the same time, and people may not read that as a coincidence, but if you ask her she’ll confirm that it was.

JR: Speaking of Duke, did the two of you discuss leaving with each other, or was it just a coincidence that she also decided to not renew her contract?

PH: It really was a coincidence. I knew that Annie was thinking about leaving, and she was obviously aware that I was in the process of leaving, but it really was a coincidence that we both happened to officially leave on the same day. I mean, I’ve been talking with UB about the possibility of leaving since November. If I had to guess, I would have thought that we’d be leaving a month or two apart from each other, but I that’s not how it worked out. I don’t know her situation, but for me, it was purely a business decision.

JR: How do you think the UB brand will fare without you?

PH: Well, I hope they do well. I am a very loyal person, and I am rooting for UB. I know they have some pretty unique players that they are bringing in soon, and I think they will represent the brand well, sort of picking up where I left off. Joe Sebok and some of the younger players like Eric Baldwin, even some of the original guys like Mark Kroon, they will represent the site well, and I wish them nothing but the best in the future.

Hellmuth Sits in 8th Place on Card Player's All-Time Earnings Leader BoardJR: How important is it for you to be the primary face of an online poker site?

PH: That’s not important. It’s nice, and it’s kind of fun, but it’s not a requirement. Certainly I’ll be talking to a lot sites, whether it’s PokerStars, Full Tilt, Bodog, whatever, and there’s going to be a deal out there that makes the most sense to me. I’m not just speaking financially, because it’s really important that I also have a good fit with the brand as well. As I continue my discussions with the various sites, I think it will be really interesting to see where I fit in. The nice thing is that my agent’s phone has been ringing off the hook since the rumors started in November. It’s nice to be wanted, and I’m lucky enough to be wanted.

JR: Are you leaning one way or the other?

PH: I’m not, to be honest. It’s interesting, there’s obviously the two big guys at the head of the list in PokerStars and Full Tilt, but I’m not counting anyone out. They are both fantastic brands with a lot of talent, but at the same time, they are very different. PokerStars is more known for their tournaments, and that is something I’m obviously known for excelling at. But then again, Full Tilt has a lot of my close friends.

Also, let’s not forget some of the other possibilities. If the law changes, a company like Zynga is suddenly sitting on a $5 billion poker site. That would obviously put me in a great situation to represent something like that. At this point, we’re taking calls from everyone, and I’m not counting anyone out. Again, it’s all about not only finding the best deal financially, but also going someplace where I’d be a great fit. There are a lot of factors to consider. I mean, it’s also about the vibe I get from the guys running the place. It’s important to me that I’m comfortable with anything I decide to endorse.

JR: Can you tell us about your other endorsements?

PH: I already represent the WSOP Academy and Aria. Those deals are already in place and won’t be affected by any decision I make in regards to an online site. I mean, I wore the Aria logo on the front of my hat for three or four international shows for Poker After Dark. Now, those shows are going to be shown in more than 50 countries. Those episodes are going to be played over and over again simply because for some reason, people like to watch the craziness that is Phil Hellmuth, the poker brat. That’s millions of dollars of unexpected exposure for Aria simply because they happened to be my primary sponsor after I started moving away from UB in November.

JR: Did your departure have anything to do with past UB issues, as some in the industry have suggested?

PH: Anyone who suspects that is mistaken. That was a couple of years ago. Listen, I’m a very loyal guy. If you were to ask any of my business partners they would tell you that I’m one of the most loyal guys on the planet. I could’ve left when the news of the scandal broke, but I wanted to stay and right the ship. Obviously the brand took a bit of a hit, but in many ways, I think we were successful in repositioning UB for the future. Now I find myself in a position to move on, but it honestly has nothing to do with the situation from a couple years ago. Most of the world would have abandoned them during a process that could have left the company bankrupt, but I’m proud to say that I stuck it out and did my best to repair some of the damage. UB is now ready to move on, and so am I.

Hellmuth at the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up ChampionshipJR: You tweeted late last month about the possibility of joining the cast of Dancing with the Stars. Can you confirm that you’ll be on the show?

PH: I cannot confirm that. I’m meeting with the Dancing with the Stars people sometime next week in Los Angeles, and we’ll find out then whether it’s something I’ll be participating in.

JR: What’s next for you? Have you set any goals for the future?

PH: My life has been incredible for the last six months. I wake up happy everyday, and I’m really excited for what 2011 has in store for me. Last year I played a lot more poker, especially the higher-stakes mixed games at Aria, and it was nice to get back to that.

My youngest son is now a senior in high school, so it won’t be long before he’s off to college. That will leave just my wife and I, so I’ll have a lot more time to devote to just playing the game. I’m also going to be making a 60-percent move to Las Vegas. I’ve always been a poker pro, but the last few years the game has taken a backseat to my family life and branding myself as a reputable spokesman. Now I can really focus on playing again, and I think it’s going to be a great year.

I’ve been playing in the $200-$400 game at Aria a lot recently, and I’ve really enjoyed myself. I’ve actually found that people like Daniel Negreanu are right when they say that it’s hard to jump into a big $100,000 cash game every once in a while when you are only playing two or three times a month. Lately I’ve put in a lot of hours, and I suddenly find myself in a nice rhythm. That’s something I haven’t felt in years.

As far as tournaments go, I’d like to see myself get to 24 bracelets. That’s my new goal. I figure that I have another 30.