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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Phil Hellmuth

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Of all the stories we’ve done in the “Where Are They Now,” series, no one player has a more recognizable name than Phil Hellmuth. More than a few poker players are well known throughout the entire poker community, however, it’s arguable that Hellmuth has become one, if not the only, “household names” of poker.

Hellmuth is an all time leader with 11 World Series of Poker bracelets, which puts him one in front of poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. What makes Hellmuth’s achievements so noteworthy is that he is decades younger than either one of the other two, and that gives him decades longer to totally obliterate many of the tournament poker records in existence.

Hellmuth didn’t discover the game in his early youth like many of his counterparts. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin into an above middle class family, which saw his dad as the dean of a local college.

When Hellmuth first arrived at the University of Wisconsin he started playing some low-stakes games with friends around the college campus. Before too long, Hellmuth was moving up in stakes, leaving his friends behind. Hellmuth then proceeded to seek out games with campus professors, which often included local businessmen, doctors, and lawyers. Predictably enough, Hellmuth found success in this game as well. Somewhere in his first couple of years in college Hellmuth decided to go to Vegas to see if his luck on campus would translate to the big time poker world.

The topic of gambling never came up in Hellmuth’s early childhood because up until college he had never even thought about gambling before. He did know that his parents didn’t gamble, so it was quite a shock to them a few years later when Hellmuth announced that he would be moving to Vegas to become a professional poker player.

Las Vegas was a whole new world, and Hellmuth would soon find that out just like many would be poker players. Hellmuth went to “Sin City” with a roll of around $20,000. After losing the majority of it in poker, then the rest to backgammon and blackjack, it was back to the University of Wisconsin to build up the roll. Despite this early setback, Hellmuth knew he was hooked on poker for life, and would spend his remaining time at college thinking of ways to become great at the game. Hellmuth wasn’t just sent back from Vegas to Madison with his tail between his legs once. It is estimated that on ten different occasions Hellmuth built his roll up to a sizeable amount on the college campus, only to lose it on the real “poker campus.”

Despite the multiple attempts at beating the game in Vegas, and going busto, Hellmuth still was able to save enough money to pay off all of his college debts, and live a lifestyle that was much grander than most of his peers. Finally, around his third year of college, Hellmuth went to Vegas and actually returned with money. It was around this time that Hellmuth had that tough conversation with his parents, announcing his intentions. Predictably enough his parents all but disowned him, but as you can see from his parents frequent visits to the crowd watching their son play now, they got over it.

Hellmuth almost immediately justified his career choice by placing 5th in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Split event at the 1988 WSOP, just a short time after dropping out of college. His prize of $15,400 immediately gave him some breathing room, and the opportunity to continue to play at the higher stakes. Just a few days later after his fifth place finish, he finished 33rd in the WSOP Main Event, giving the poker world just a taste of the future.

Despite the names Hellmuth and the World Series of Poker seemingly going together, it was another tournament victory that had showed Hellmuth had arrived on the scene. In August of 1988 Hellmuth won the fourth Annual Diamond Jim Brady Tournament, pocketing $125,000. What is so significant about this win, other than it being his first major victory, is that the buy-in was $10,000 dollars, the same as the WSOP Main Event that he would take down in just his second attempt.

In 1989 Johnny Chan was attempting to win his third Main Event bracelet in a row, but standing in the way was a young, brash kid named Phil Hellmuth. Needless to say, Hellmuth bested the experienced pro heads up, becoming the youngest WSOP Main Event Champion in history, at just 24 years old. It is also my guess that when Hellmuth called his parents to tell them he won $755,000 also happened to be around the same time his parents forgave him for his career choice.

One of the things that makes Hellmuth one of the few household names in poker is his attitude at the poker table. At times Hellmuth has reminded fellow poker players as a person who was picked on as a child, but now that he has all the toys he wants, he feels he can do anything he wants.

Hellmuth is as lucky as he is good at poker, because if he wasn’t all he would be known for is his lengthily diatribes after a bad beat, and his whining at a bad beat, as if it is only he who has had one.

With all of the apparent negatives of his lack of poker etiquette, it would be naive of the poker world to not think there is a method to his madness. It undoubtedly has put players on tilt just looking at Hellmuth. Opposing players may actually hope not to give Hellmuth a bad beat, so he or she isn’t greeted with that special side of Hellmuth’s personality. While good players wouldn’t fall for this trap, lesser players might, and their money is worth the same as the players that are more experienced with this side of “The Poker Brat.” Some suggest that all of this is just an act, and it’s hard not to agree with this side of the argument. Hellmuth has made way more money outside of a card room then he will ever make inside of it.

It has been said that Hellmuth successfully predicted the poker boom that was yet to come. Whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter, because Hellmuth cashed in on his name starting after his first WSOP bracelet, and hasn’t stopped since then. He is an author of three books, and has contributed to many others. He has also been a part of many online poker sites at one time or another, with the most recent being with Ultimate Bet. He is also the host of poker fantasy camps throughout America, and even hosted Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” for a season.

What makes Hellmuth’s record 11 bracelets unique is that all of them have come in No Limit Hold’em events. You can look at this in two ways. The first way is to say that he is potentially the greatest no limit hold’em player in tournament poker history. Another way to look at it is that he has been unable to change his game enough to be considered one of the best all-around players. If this latter statement is true, then it doesn’t have appeared to bother Hellmuth too much. While it might not be true that “If it wasn’t for luck…,” he would win every one, it is true that if your money is on Hellmuth, you’ve probably made a safe bet.

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