Understanding Phil Hellmuth


Phil Hellmuth

One of the most controversial figures in the poker world has to be Phil Hellmuth. Through his exposure on ESPN and the Travel channel, his undeniably crass style, his occasional odd behaviors, and his enormous ego have all somehow grown to overshadow his amazing 9 World Series of Poker bracelets and numerous tournament wins. In some respects, he's become the New York Yankees of poker -- you either love him or you hate him (and if you hate him I bet you still watch him, hoping to see him lose).

Staying with the comparison to the Yankees, you have to say that he is indeed consistently great at what he does. Championships don't lie. So what is Phil really all about? What makes him tick, and why is he so darn good? How did this tall college kid from Wisconsin burst onto the poker scene and never look back?

Phil at the Poker Table

Phil's agent (yeah, most of the big players have several agents and publicists these days) set me up with an interview with Phil in between his other meetings, radio interviews, and various business endeavors. I was hoping to get a an hour of his time, covering a dozen or so basic questions for an upcoming magazine article. Instead, we had a long talk, probably ranging around an hour and 20 minutes worth of discussion. Well, I have to say it wasn't much of a discussion -- I just listened. I was sitting there at one point thinking, "Man, this guy can talk!" As a Counselor by trade, it is my job to listen. We fit into our roles well, and I took in his wisdom. Don't scoff as you re-read that last sentence: I took in his wisdom. Phil Hellmuth is wise. He is extremely intelligent and insightful. He understands business, family, marriage, and (mostly) poker. His message can sometimes be dismissed because he expresses himself in an occasionally unwelcoming manner, but a keen ear can decipher his viewpoints while detecting his genuine heart.

All professional poker players are multi-faceted individuals -- the business end of poker, family, and various personal demands can all take up more time and focus than actual playing time. Hellmuth knows this more than most, as he has as many endorsement deals and business ventures than any poker player in history. In addition to sharing the primary spokesperson role for UltimateBet, with Annie Duke, Phil's list of sponsorships, endorsements, and demands is seemingly unending. He has his own books, DVD's, poker supplies, Oakley sunglasses, games, poker instructional camps, a clothing line, and even a movie script possibly in the works to highlight his life. With all of that, Phil is still able to keep his family first. He raises his two sons with heart and conviction. He continues to love and value his wife, Kathy, a Doctor at Stanford University.

Phil Hellmuth: Play Profile & Prediction

PLAY PROFILE: Most of Phil's fellow professional poker players comment that Phil's best game is tournament style No Limit Hold 'Em. Although his ability would serve him well in cash games, it seems that his volatile nature would hurt him in the long run in cash games. His specialty seems to be more in the tournament structure, where his aggressiveness and confidence can help him control tables at times. When I spoke with Phil, he also displayed confidence in his ability to play heads-up contests. After securing the championship prize at the National Heads-Up Championships (which aired on NBC), we see that he has a reason to be confident in this area of play.

Ironically, I feel that Phil's biggest weakness at the table is also his biggest strength: emotions. Phil has been seen on televised events tossing himself to the floor in anguish and disbelief after a tough loss. Even though he told me, "I can bear-down when I have to," it is still clear that Phil's emotions can cause him to get off of his game at times. I contend that those emotions are also what drive him to greatness. He has an untamable hunger to meet continual success. Not only does he want to win each time he plays, he literally expects domination of his opposition. He calls himself "passionate" about poker. I'd say that this is a very accurate description. His well-documented ego is also his source of self-confidence. You'll find no other professional player as openly confident as Phil Hellmuth. That confidence is a key to his longstanding tournament success. Any hint of weakness at a tournament table is a clear open advertisement for opponents to attack. Phil will likely never show such uncertainty in the poker room.

PREDICTIONS: Phil will weather the storms of his detractors, and will (as usual) come out on top. I'd expect Phil to add a couple of more WSOP bracelets to his collection before his career is done, especially in some of the NLHE events. I'd also say that Phil's sharp business mind will propel him to become the most recognizable faces in poker to the general masses. Never one to turn down an interview and promotional opportunity, I wouldn't be surprised to see Phil Hellmuth products in every retailer in the USA and abroad. When I spoke with Phil, he joked that he might consider running for President of the United States one day. Although I can't imagine a "President Hellmuth" greeting dignitaries from around the globe, I could foresee Phil taking a leadership role in an organized poker player association/union of some sort.

 

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