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Phil Hellmuth Interview

Our friends at On Tilt caught up with the poker legend before the start of the new I-series

Published on May 10th 2012.

Phil Hellmuth Interview

ARGUABLY the best-known poker player in the world, 11-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner and Poker Hall of Famer, Phil Hellmuth Jr. is the epitome of poker.

Hellmuth has won over $11 million in career tournament earnings and is currently ranked eighth on the all-time WSOP money list. In addition to having amassed an unsurpassed record 11 WSOP bracelets, Hellmuth is also the record holder for most WSOP cashes (68), and most final tables (41). 

Amazingly, all of Hellmuth’s WSOP wins have come in Texas Hold’em events.

Known as the “Poker Brat” for his always colourful, competitive and controversial personality, Hellmuth is one of poker’s most fierce competitors, and is driven to be the best poker player that the game has ever seen. 

At the 2011 World Series of Poker, Phil finished 2nd in three tournaments; the 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship, the Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better Championship, and the Poker Player’s Championship eight game mix.  Hellmuth’s efforts earned him Player of the Year runner-up.

Away from the poker tables Hellmuth has spent countless hours raising awareness for numerous charities, proving his heart is as big as his wallet. He is also a savvy businessman who is regularly hanging out with the brightest minds in the Silicon Valley tech scene.

Hellmuth also has had several books published on poker, most recently, Deal Me In (2009).  If you’re interested in learning poker from Phil he is the founder of Camp Hellmuth, a weekend camp dedicated in helping average players become winners.

On Tilt were lucky enough to stop him for a quick chat...

ONTILT – So Phil, the I-series starts tonight. It’s a really interesting concept. It seems like nothing we have seen before. How have you found it?

PHIL HELLMUTH – We did a test of it just yesterday and we were really impressed with the way that it came out. It’s really exciting. People will be able to watch the game and bet on pretty much any outcome at the table. It’s a revolutionary idea and I’m real happy to be part of it.

OT – You have played all over the world with some of the best players, and this is a great line up. Is there anyone that you are looking forward to taking on?

PH – I’ve played a lot of poker with Devilfish and I think over the years he has had the upper hand on me more than I have on him. He’s a tough player. When we started playing together in the 90’s he was a super-fast player and I took him apart a couple of times, but since around 2002 he seems to have regularly got the better of me, so I’m looking forward to playing him. The thing about Devilfish is that he’s one of the best readers in the game.

OT – You seem to have re-invented yourself recently, completely changing your game. Tell us a little bit about that.

PH – The thing is that ever since 1999 my family has taken priority in my life – which I don’t regret one bit – but I made the mistake of going to the World Series of Poker playing really tough games like 7 card stud and Omaha, and trying win, without playing the rest of the year. I was getting smoked. Playing 2-7 single draw I was getting totally smoked due to having not practiced. I just wasn’t playing my best at all.

So in 2010 I started playing a lot of hours in all the mixed games and my confidence started to grow. I played in the World Series in 2010 and although my results weren’t great, I had a good tournament running deep in a whole bunch of events. I kept finishing just outside the money, which was so frustrating, but in 2011 my results started to come through.

Our interview is momentarily paused while Phil orders a BLT special.

OT – In the past, a lot has been made of your entrances into tournaments. Are they always your own idea?

PH – Yeah, I love to play up to the crowd. The first one was the race car driver, which came from me and my attorney sitting around brainstorming trying to get a bit of advertising for all my companies, and we came up with the idea of a racing car with all the signs on. I ended up accidentally crashing the race car, which actually ended up getting some great publicity for us.

OT – You always seem to register for tournaments late. Is this so you don’t get accosted by fans at the registration desk, or is there another reason?

PH – No, I definitely don’t try to avoid the crowds. I love my fans. I didn’t know until five years ago but I suffer from sleep apnoea. I’ve always had a problem getting out of bed, and I didn’t know why until it was diagnosed. I have a machine now so I’m a lot better, but the worst thing for a poker player is not getting enough sleep. I would just try and sleep until the second level so I would only lose a few chips.

Nowadays, it’s a sleeping tactic for me. If you imagine the World Series starts at 5pm. I can register at 8.45pm and have my chips dropped at 9.30pm. I then turn up at 11.30pm - 6 hours after the tournament started and I have only lost one level of blinds and it’s only a couple of hours to the break and 4 hours to the end of the day.

OT – Wow, that’s unreal. Ok, away from poker. You’re a big sports fan. Have you ever bet on English sports?

PH – I tell you, when I visit England I always find myself watching cricket for hours. It’s a really interesting game to me and I really enjoy it. Other than that, there are always pro’s hanging around that let me know that there is a big soccer game happening such as Man U v Barcelona or something like that and I make sure I watch it. A lot of people don’t know but I used to coach soccer and basketball in my sons league.

OT – Who would you say is the greatest tournament poker player at the present time, excluding yourself of course?

PH – It’s really hard to tell. There are probably seven or eight contenders. Obviously Phil Ivey is really good at tournaments, Eric Siedel and some of these young kids from London have done really well, but only in one game, Hold’em.

OT – I am a big fan of the poker greats and I wanted to ask, how good a player was Stu Ungar in your opinion? Did you ever play with him?

PH – Yes I played with him lots and he was just a great player. The thing about Stu was that he was fast. He knew how to play the game so fast, and so sometimes I could use that against him, trapping him.

There was a famous hand in a $50/100 game where I, Stuart, Johnny Chan and maybe five of the greatest Hold’em players ever, all on one table. I played this pot where one guy had KK and raised. I and Stu both called and the flop came A23 with the 23 spades. KK bet and Stu raised. I looked at him and I just knew he didn’t have the ace. There was something wrong, so I pushed for around $19,000, and he called me. I asked if he wanted a chop and he said no, but didn’t turn his hand over. The turn was a Jack and Stu asked me if I wanted the chop (Laughs). I said no. The river was an 8 and he turned over a busted straight flush draw with 56 spades. He was so mad. He thought I would split it after the turn. But yeah Stu was fantastic.

OT – Prop bets are a big part of the game nowadays. Have you ever made any crazy prop bets that stand out in your mind?

PH – Oh god yeah. I’ve made a bunch of crazy prop bets in the past. Huck Seed and I got into a few. He had just taken up golfing and I told him I would give him 30 strokes, at $1000 a stroke, so we flew to Wisconsin and we battled it out.

We have also had $100,000 prop bets on backgammon and a swimming race. I knew he couldn’t beat me at swimming but the backgammon was going to be expensive. We even bet $10,000 on a speed skating bet. He couldn’t even stand up on the skates. We’ve done some crazy things. Back in 1992 we were playing pool for $3000 a game.

We wished Phil good luck at the I-series, and left him to his BLT special. Hopefully we will get a chance to catch up with him after the event.

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Latest Rants

Vera Wright

really enjoyed the game , would have liked to be in longer but did manage over 2 hours , And happy…

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Beverley Monks

I really enjoyed the tournament and was a bit gutted to go out 13th, so close yet so far, heres to…

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great turn out and immensely enjoyed the day,well done to all organisers and the dealers!!!!

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june 5th is my tourney watch out the dukes about!!!!

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