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World Series of Poker Champion’s Perspective -- Phil Hellmuth

Eleven-time Bracelet Winner Discusses 2010 World Series


Phil Hellmuth“You didn’t see any police, did you?” Phil Hellmuth asked me, as his eyes darted from left to right. “No, I don’t think so…” I started to say. Before I knew it, we sped through our second Las Vegas red light, making a highly illegal left turn on red.

I looked down, making sure my seat belt was still securely fastened and hoping I didn’t hear any sirens, because as amazing as that story would be to share, I was slightly concerned Hellmuth would judge me for not being a better lookout.

You expect a lot of things when you schedule a sit-down interview with Hellmuth. You expect him to rattle off all the superlatives you can imagine, and you also expect him to talk confidently and optimistically about his chances for future WSOP bracelets.

But you don’t necessarily expect him to blatantly break traffic laws, while speaking soberly and honestly about the darker side to winning the World Series of Poker main event at the age of 24.

A Golden Opportunity

Last week, Hellmuth welcomed Card Player TV into his Golden Nugget suite for a rare sit-down interview during the World Series of Poker. In that interview, Hellmuth talked about what he hopes his legacy will be at the World Series, the importance of family, and the disappointment he suffered when he busted just short of the final table in Event No. 8.

Watch the interview below:

Phil Hellmuth

Afterward, I stuck around to conduct a follow-up interview for some additional editorial content. Hellmuth was running late, so we decided to do the interview on the road. As he was getting his things together for another Day 2 at the Rio, he received a phone call.

Hellmuth later told me it was Jeff Gross, who was entering the final table of Event No. 13 as the short stack. Gross is perhaps better known for being a friend of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, but he was competing for his first real shot at a bracelet in a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event.

“You know what to do,” Hellmuth told him on the phone, as he dished out some last minute advice to the young player. “It could easily be your day.”

(It turned out it wasn’t quite Gross’ day, but he did considerably improve upon his ninth place starting stack. He doubled up twice at the final table, before getting eliminated in fifth place for $109,621.)

After a quick stop at the Starbucks inside the Golden Nugget — where Hellmuth ordered a coffee and a banana, telling the cashier to keep the change — we walked briskly outside to the valet area, where his car was waiting.

Once seated inside, I began to pull out my audio recorder for the interview. After Hellmuth sped through an intersection right out of the gate, seemingly thinking the red light in front of him was more of a suggestion than a command, I decided it was probably smart to put on my seat belt first, and then begin the interview.

“I’ve decided to be a little more aggressive in my driving,” Hellmuth nonchalantly explains.

An “Unreasonably Big” Ego

Twenty-one years ago, Hellmuth arrived on the poker scene in dramatic fashion by winning the World Series of Poker main event for his first bracelet in 1989.

At 24, he was the youngest player to win the main event — a distinction he would hold for nearly two decades, until Peter Eastgate’s win in 2008 (a record broken once more by Joe Cada last year).

Besides earning $755,000 for the win, Hellmuth also received unprecedented coverage at the time since the mainstream media were mesmerized by the story of a young kid from Wisconsin beating seasoned Las Vegas gamblers more than twice his age.

Phil HellmuthBut more than just the money and the recognition it brought, winning the main event had a much more profound effect for Hellmuth.

“It made me believe. It made me believe that I could do amazing things. I had a lifetime goals list that I wrote in 1988, and I achieved a bunch of those goals,” said Hellmuth. In the book Deal Me In, which was produced by a publishing company that both Hellmuth and Phil Ivey partially own, Hellmuth outlined those goals.

“I won the main event, I found my wife Kathy, I bought a phenomenal penthouse condominium,” said Hellmuth. “I have a phenomenal life.”

But not everything was phenomenal in the year following his 1989 win.

“My ego became unreasonably big,” said Hellmuth, who of course is known for his self-confidence, making that statement all the more revealing. “I think the people that do amazing things at a young age, and they become rich, or heralded, or famous, or all three, I think that’s a tough thing to deal with.”

Hellmuth said he let that ego get the best of him, and it wound up hurting him financially.

“Some people sleep with too many women, some do too many drugs, some drink too much. I didn’t do any of those things, but I had a big ego and it really hurt when I started losing,” said Hellmuth. “You just think that you can’t lose, that you’re so great. And then you go through money, and that’s extraordinarily painful.”

Phil HellmuthHellmuth played mixed games against some of the best pros in the world, and admits now that he was in way over his head.

“I was making basic, rookie mistakes,” said Hellmuth. “It was painful as I lost a lot of money… you don’t realize that yeah, you might be great, but you need to pay attention every day. And if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to lose.”

Those losses bruised his ego, something he admits was probably healthy for him at the time. But he never succumbed to those other temptations, saying simply, “I was raised right.”

Four years later, in 1993, he captured three bracelets in a single World Series. Along with his main-event title in 1989 and a 1992 bracelet for a $5,000 limit hold’em event, Hellmuth found himself with five bracelets by the age of 28.

After that, the goal was simple: “I said, I might as well go ahead and be the greatest of all time and win more than anyone ever has.”

No. 12 and Beyond

Now, in 2010, Hellmuth is seeking bracelet No. 12.

He is already alone at the top of the all-time bracelet leader board with 11, one ahead of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan with 10.

Never one to doubt his own abilities, Hellmuth says he expects to win another 13 or so WSOP events in his lifetime to get his total up to 24. As for who he expects will be near him at the top of that leader board in 20 years, he gives three names — Erik Seidel, Ivey, and Chan.

Phil Ivey“Obviously Phil Ivey is ahead of the pace. He’s pretty tough. I could also see Erik Seidel being up there, since he seems committed to the World Series,” said Hellmuth. “Johnny Chan doesn’t seem to be as interested in bracelets and as committed to win bracelets, yet I still think he’s going to find a way to win bracelets every once in a while. Those are the three I’d expect to be up there.”

After Hellmuth was eliminated in 15th place in event no. 8 last week, he began to slip into one of his trademark Poker Brat rants as he walked away from the table. He said he cried a little afterward, but then just let it roll off his back.

“In the past, I would just kind of ruminate and ruminate for eight to ten hours, what if I did this differently…” said Hellmuth. “It was miserable for other people to be with me.”

This year, Hellmuth said that he’s finding it easier to let go of such things.

“Why should I ruminate and waste those 12 hours? Why not enjoy that time with my wife?” said Hellmuth.

Phil HellmuthHellmuth says his current carefree attitude resembles how he was feeling during his historic 1993 World Series.

“I don’t care about the little things. I don’t care if my wife is on time or not, for example; none of the little stuff is bothering me,” said Hellmuth, saying in the past he would wear a certain shirt or stay at a hotel based on whether or not he deemed it lucky. “I’m now convinced that none of it matters, and that’s a nice feeling. It’s a liberating feeling.”

As we pull into the Rio parking lot, I ask Hellmuth if he could ever view a particular WSOP as a success without a bracelet win. Never one to be short with his words, Hellmuth is surprisingly concise with this final answer: “No.”



over 11 years ago

I don't expect to ever see him lose his sense of entitlement (as evidenced by his blatant disregard for traffic laws, "might as well go ahead and be the greatest of all time", etc.). It's nice to see him SAY he's growing up but, actions speak louder then words. If, by some chance we're at the same table this year and he goes off on me, I fully plan to make him shut the f*ck up.


over 11 years ago

Sounds like yer growing up too Wolfed.


over 11 years ago

Too vague Joe,,,,too vague


over 11 years ago

I beleive you mean Touché Wolfed :)


over 11 years ago

Hey Wolfed...Rules about posting a comment are as follows "Messages that harass, abuse or threaten other members; have obscene or otherwise objectionable content; have spam, commercial or advertising content or links may be removed and may result in the loss of your CP Social ID (including e-mail). Please do not post any private information unless you want it to be available publicly. Never assume that you are completely anonymous and cannot be identified by your posts." Why don't you go get a life instead of making these "post comments" into your own personal forum to express your inability to relate to other human beings in any type of normal setting? I hope they kick you off of here soon for harassment.