Phil Hellmuth tells us his greatest poker hits and disappointments: “The worst memory has to be busting the Main Event in 2001 when Carlos Mortensen won”

The all-time leading bracelet winner presents, Phil Hellmuth, the Poker Brat’s Greatest Hits!

Think of the World Series of Poker and what springs to mind? Gold bracelets? Life-changing prizepools? The $10k Main Event? Or possibly it’s that man Phil Hellmuth. If you ask yourself who are the WSOP’s all-time greats the chances are a few select names reverberate around your brain.

From three-time Main Event champ and original degen, Stu Ungar, to accountant turned  game-changer, Chris Moneymaker, the WSOP is the birthplace of legends. But in the land of bracelet winners and history makers, Phil Hellmuth is king. Ever since claiming his first bracelet back in 1989, the Poker Brat has grown into the most celebrated WSOP player of all time. And even now, two decades and twelve bracelets on from his Main Event debut, he’s still leaving his mark on poker’s ultimate spectacle.

So before the hordes made their way to Vegas for another year, we asked poker’s all-time bracelet winner what makes the WSOP so special? In typical Hellmuth fashion, we got more than we bargained for. Without further ado, here are Hellmuth’s greatest and most memorable WSOP moments of all-time!

My Worst Memory

2011 hurt. It would have been nice if I’d had three firsts, instead of three seconds. But the worst memory has to be busting the Main Event in 2001 when Carlos Mortensen won. I was down there with a lot of chips and I got all-in with Nines against Phil Gordon’s Sixes. If my hand held up I would have had roughly 1.6m in chips with five players left. Carlos is a great player and we would have battled with each other, so too Dewey Tomko, but the other guys were falling apart. Phil hitting a Six probably cost me the Main Event and, if I would have won, I would have become the youngest player ever admitted into the Poker Hall of Fame. It was a bit of a needle. But I had to wait a few more years to make it in there.

My Best Year

My father came out to watch me win my  first bracelet in 1989, and that was an amazing moment. But I have great memories of winning three bracelets in 1993, plus I was leading the Main Event after day one, not to mention a second place when I had Billy Baxter all-in and drawing. I was a slight favourite and, if he missed, that would have given me four bracelets in one year. That would have been amazing. It was a phenomenal year.

The All-Time Money List

Poker’s all-time money list is artificial. It’s like golf, you’ve got Tiger Woods who’s won an amazing amount, but maybe 15 years from now tournaments will pay $4 million for first. All of a sudden someone’s won $80m. I know the guys who are on poker’s all-time money list are proud to be there, but it doesn’t mean as much to me. Your skins on the wall, that’s what it’s all about.

My WSOP Changes

I would change one rule. When someone moves all-in on you, and you’re considering calling, you should be able to show your hand. Getting rid of that rule was a mistake. This is live poker. What do you want to do, play internet poker where you can’t look at each other? Or do you want to communicate and ask questions? It’s one or the other. If you want to play in the real world, don’t start taking this stuff away where you can’t even talk. It’s ridiculous. I agree with Daniel Negreanu 100% when he says that has to change. I think most people do.

My Worst Beat

It was down to me, Howard Lederer and George Rodis for a bracelet in 1994 and I had a huge chip lead. George kept moving all-in over the top of me and I finally said ‘that’s enough’. Then he limped, I raised with Aces and he shipped it with K-10o. That suckout cost me another bracelet. But that’s the nature of poker. You can’t say ‘how many bracelets should I have?’. Sometimes you get there too. I needed runner for bracelet eleven or twelve and I hit it. You can’t forget the lucky moments, But the Aces hand with Rodis was just a bracelet being ripped out of my hand. There’s probably another bust out or two in there that still leave me a little sick.

My WSOP Legends

You’ve got to look at the guys who have won, and you’ve got to look at the bracelets. Besides me, Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan are both on ten bracelets and they both still get there. Then you’ve got Erik Seidel and Phil Ivey. Who knows, Phil Ivey might rewrite the history books. But I’m not going to let him. I’m not bowing out! I’m going to keep making history. He’s going to have to catch me somehow and pass me.

My Greatest Memory

My greatest memory was winning bracelet number 10. It was a rebuy tournament and during the rebuy period I didn’t win a single pot. At the break I told my mum, my dad and my wife I had nothing left in the tank. And then my mum just touched me. It was weird. It was like she was trying to fi ll me up with gas. I went back in and started winning pot after pot. If I had Kings, they had tens. If I had Jacks, they had nines. Boom, boom, boom. All of a sudden I was chip leader. I was still super tired, but went on to take it down. I’ll never forget my mum giving me that touch. The interaction with my family is what made it special. My son was smuggled into the room, he was probably 16 at the time. To have my eldest son see me win my tenth bracelet, along with all the family, was a great moment. Family and a bracelet, it doesn’t get any better than that.

My Toughest Opponent

There have been a few times I’ve thought, ‘I’m not going to beat this guy’. The fi rst was against Dan Heimiller. He was crazy fast in the old days, and just kept beating me. Johnny Chan can be a great player, Lane Flack too. Drunk Lane, as I call him, could be a holy terror at the tables. Another player who has just been extraordinarly lucky against me is Phil Ivey. I know I’ll get them eventually.

WSOP Now Or Then?

I love both. The WSOP is like all four of golf’s majors rolled into one. It’s beautiful. It’s a theatre, it seems like millions of people have their eyes focused on you. There’s no other tournament that everybody plays in. The $25k WPT Diamond at the Bellagio is a very key event I’d love to win, and the EPT Grand Final has become bigger. But the WSOP is ahead of them all. In the old days you could go two or three days without being all-in, whereas now everybody plays like a maniac, threebetting every time they have two fives. It’s a new style of poker that doesn’t work well at the World Series, but it seems to be a European way of playing.

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