In praise of Phil Hellmuth? Really? [Editorial]

In praise of Phil Hellmuth? Really? [Editorial]

Friday, 17 June 2011

One of the biggest stories of the 2011 World Series of Poker thus far occurred in the most unlikely of events – the $10,000 2-7 NL Single Draw event that saw John Juanda triumph over a field of 126 players to win his fifth bracelet and a cool $367,170. It was the last player that he triumphed over who got all the attention though – Phil Hellmuth finished in second place, oh-so-close to his twelfth overall and first non-Hold ‘em bracelet.

Love him or hate him, you know Phil Hellmuth. He often reminds me of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Jack Davenport’s Commodore Norrington says to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow that “you are the worst pirate I have ever heard of.”

“Ah,” says Sparrow. “But you have heard of me.”

For many, many years Phil Hellmuth took a lot of stick from online players. Winning online players and busto railbirds alike – to them, Hellmuth encapsulated the idea of the “old school” pro who had been overtaken by the new generation. He was the poster boy for dated poker players and he doesn’t help himself by folding queens fifteen big blinds deep:

That is simply atrocious poker and there is no way around it. However, I’ve always fancied an article entitled “The Fine Line Between Genius and Idiocy” and this is a prime example of the concept. Imagine that in this hand the amateur player with A-Q actually held kings or aces. Now Phil Hellmuth looks like a supernatural genius and that fold is regarded even higher than when he dodged bullets, baby:

I’m not going to defend his television persona (much) suffice to say that his character is good for the game. He was one of the first poker players I remember watching on TV way back when in 2005 and I’m sure he’s attracted hundreds of thousands of others to the game. Of course, that lead me to believe he was an authority and I foolishly read Play Poker Like the Pros which is a disgustingly nitty and flawed tome.

Phil Hellmuth is not, as he believes, the best poker player in the world. He never has been. He was the best TOURNAMENT poker player in the world – specifically in Hold ‘em – for many years and he is still up there, despite not being as fundamentally solid as guys like Chris Moorman or Jordan Young or any other early twenties millionaire who plays thousands of online tournaments a month. I have to say, when he was going for bracelet number twelve I was rooting for him a little bit. It would be huge for the game and despite Phil’s own game being pretty bad sometimes he deserves it because he loves poker just so damn much it should be illegal.

Anyway, his record at the World Series of Poker speaks for itself. The $10,000 2-7 event was his record eightieth cash at the World Series (he’s beaten his own record year after year) and forty-first final table. People say that his non Hold ‘em game is even worse than his sometimes-bad Hold ‘em game but he does have seventeen non-Hold ‘em final tables including mixed games.
In Hold ‘em – wow. He has made twenty-four Hold ‘em (Limit, Pot Limit and No Limit) final tables and won... hmm, how many bracelets does he have again? He’s so humble about it I can’t keep track. He has won eleven of the twenty-four Hold ‘em final tables he has made. That is incredible; you simply won’t find a close-out rate like that in any players’ game, online or live. That’s eighty cashes, over half of which become a final table, over a quarter of which become a victory.
The man simply crushes live, large-field events and there is no denying that. I hope he wins number twelve this year.

Tags: Editorial, Matt Perry, Phil Hellmuth, John Juanda, Chris Moorman