Phil Hellmuth – he’s a bit naff isn’t he?

Posted by on Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

“Phil Hellmuth Jr. is the greatest poker player to ever play the game.” Well that’s what it says on anyway. I suppose it would really, wouldn’t it?

That set me thinking – not about whether he’s the best ever, but whether he’s actually any good at all? He’s a bit of an enigma, Phil, isn’t he? Everything about him screams that he’s… how shall I put it?… a bit naff. But he holds all those records at the WSOP, so he can’t be… he can’t be, can he?

So I’ve done a bit of digging to try to find the answer.

Let’s start with the pros. Phil Hellmuth is a great player because:

  • As of 2011, he has won the greatest number of WSOP bracelets (11)
  • He has made the most WSOP cashes (78)
  • He has made the most WSOP final tables (42)
  • He has won almost $8m at the WSOP.
  • His career live tournament winnings exceed $13m.
  • He says so.

Now for the cons. Phil Hellmuth is a bit fishy because:

  • Some would argue that his WSOP results are so good because he has entered so many of them for the past 23 years. Most of his wins have come in small field (<200) tournaments.
  • He makes so many terrible plays, particularly when short-stacked. Basic errors like raise/folding almost half his stack, folding QQ pre with 15BB behind. He seems to have little understanding of Nash, ICM or short-stacked play in general.
  • He accuses others of making terrible plays, when they aren’t. e.g. berating Beth Shak for calling with KQs in the BB when Phil was short-stacked.
  • (video link: )

  • He seems to broadcast the strength of his hands by his bet sizing, betting actions, demeanor and comments.
  • He may have been considered to be loose aggressive when he started out but in modern poker terms he seems to be perceived as weak-tight.
  • He cannot control his emotions, suffers from tilt and seems to believe in bad beats rather than equity percentages.
  • Most top players seem awfully eager to play against him.
  • His book ‘Play poker like the pros’ has generally been slated by reviewers. His subsequent book ‘Texas Hold’Em’ fared even worse, but of course, that may have been because he just copied the chapters from the first book.
  • Although claiming to be the greatest player in the world and “if it weren’t for luck I’d win ’em all,” Phil has not followed through on his alleged acceptance of Tom Dwan’s challenge to play heads-up and also failed to take up Daniel Negreanu on his challenge.
  • His soul reads do not appear to have moved with the times. Phil’s reads still seem to produce hands rather than ranges.

But who am I to judge someone whose career earnings are approximately $13m. more than mine? After all, I’m just a micro-hacker nobody. So I thought I’d try to track down the opinions of some respected professional players who actually play against him.

Daniel Negreanu: “It’s that same stubborn attitude that impedes Phil from ever being a successful cash game player. He allows ego, stubbornish (sic), and flat out tilt to get in the way of him learning the other games. He sees someone makes a play he doesn’t agree with, and automatically, “They play so bad.”

Perry Friedman: “Phil is so proud of being able to lay down big hands (this has been discussed numerous times), that he can’t help but show them, and then he wonders how someone can make those “crazy” plays against him. Go figure.”

Daniel Negreanu: “He is extremely good at taking advantage of bad players in huge fields and the mistakes they make, but playing against great players and all these great young players, his old-school thinking when it comes to winning tournaments just won’t cut it. I think Phil will be outclassed.”

What does Tom Dwan think? Just watch his face:

The only positive first-hand comment I could find from a pro was from Phil’s friend, Scott Matusow in a blog post unashamedly entitled “Why I consider Phil Hellmuth to be the greatest poker player of all time.” It turns out that Scott’s reasons are: (my comments)

  • Bankroll management. (seriously)
  • Live cash game results in which he “knows for a fact… that Phil is just way ahead.” (I know for a fact that he can’t know this for a fact)
  • Tournament results.

The open-minded Scott then adds, “No one will convince me otherwise, Hellmuth is the best who has ever played poker to date, cash and tournaments, over many years with proven results.” (seals it for me)

So, Phil Hellmuth?
Poker legend in his own mind? Without any doubt.
“The greatest poker player to ever play the game”? Sorry, no way! He’s far too flawed.

My interpretation would be that with his record he can’t be quite as bad as the good players think he is, but he’s certainly not anywhere near as good as he thinks he is. He benefits from his image when playing newcomers, nervous and fishy players, but gets picked off as the mark when playing thinking players.

Yes, of course Phil thinks he’s the greatest but this is the same Phil Hellmuth who informed us, “’I’m the one who’s known to have perfect honor and ethics for 15 years in the poker world.” And he’s the same Phil Hellmuth who unashamedly promoted and supported the scamming, cheating, thieving UltimateBet for ten years. Pinch of salt, anyone?

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