The People vs Phil Hellmuth

Prepare to be gobsmacked as Phil Hellmuth hits back at his critics in an epic interview with Paul Cheung

Diva. Crybaby. Arrogant. Big-headed. Egotistical. Self-important. Brat.
We’ve heard and used these words so many times in reference to Phil Hellmuth that it’s almost as though they were created with him in mind. It’s fair to say that no other player in the history of poker has ever copped so much flak. Then again, no other player has courted the bad press quite as well as he has – in fact he’s turned it into a multi-million dollar business. For much of his career, being the villain everyone loved to hate was fine because he had the results to back up his bullishness. Problem is, Hellmuth hasn’t won a bracelet since 2007 and his critics have been having a field day ever since.

At PokerPlayer we think everyone has the right to defend themselves, and on a recent trip to Las Vegas we wanted to give Phil the opportunity to hit back at the world. We presented him with some of the most biting comments from some of the biggest names in poker and let the tape recorder do the rest. Strap in and get ready for the most grandstanding, epic and honest Hellmuth interview ever…

‘I think Hellmuth actually believes he is the “best no-limit hold’em player in the world by far” (his words not mine). He’s either lying to the public when he makes those statements, or he genuinely believes that. Either way, he’s either lying or completely delusional.’

December 2009 – Daniel Negreanu expresses his true feelings about Phil in his blog

Phil says: ‘I have never had ill will for Daniel. I’ve been mad at him but I don’t wish negativity on him. I think Daniel has cost himself a lot in the poker world by the ridiculous crusades he’s been on. All the great players sit back, listen to Daniel, shrug their shoulders and say, “Wow, what happened now?” Daniel has lost a lot of respect among the great players for his attacks on Chris Ferguson, Annie Duke and me. Then he has to go into damage control mode, start saying, “Oh I meant this.” Daniel’s on a tough path because he’s a great player with a lot of talent and he’s turning himself into a bit of a joke.
‘I want to make sure that what I say is fair because I’ve never criticised him in public. He may not respect what he hears from me but when he goes and he talks to the other great players like Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel, Phil Ivey and says “Hey, have I crossed the line?” of course everyone will say he’s crossed the line multiple times.
‘But there’s a lot to respect about Daniel. He has high integrity, he has high honour and he reminds me a little bit of Joan Rivers… just laughing at everything all the time.
‘I want to make something clear. Daniel has a fabulous life. He has a fantastic life. Does Daniel want my life? I think he does want my life. Who wouldn’t want my life? It’s not just Daniel. In order to be truly happy, you have to have a wife and children. Or if you’re gay, a partner. I’m not discriminating against someone. I’m from the Bay Area. I don’t care about someone’s sexuality, race, nationality or any of that; we all play together and it’s a beautiful thing. But in order to be truly happy, I really think that having a primary relationship that’s stable, where you can draw a lot from that other person is key. My wife has been a tremendous help to me. I’ve won ten bracelets with her in my life.’

‘I am worried about his mental health.’

March 2010 – Tony g fears for Hellmuth’s mental constitution in his blog after Hellmuth broke down at the WPT Bay 101

Phil says: ‘If I didn’t have a great marital relationship, parents I could call, and my kids to take my phone calls, I would probably go off the rails a lot more than I have. I’ve never cheated on my wife. Yeah, I’ve been close. After 22 years of fame and fortune you always come close, but I’ve never cheated on her. Becoming an alcoholic, doing a lot of drugs, a lot of poker players do that.

There have been times when my ego has steered me off the path that I need to be on. I had one major incident in my life, where celebrity drove me right to the edge. And so I was actually in physical discomfort. Nothing serious, but an uneasiness, just a little bit of pain, nothing sharp or anything like that, and I was just bubbling over the edges. I went down for a full week to Canyon Ranch for a full detox, just figured it out. I ran into a lot of spiritual people down there.

It’s like I was living in my persona and there was too much pressure to be this guy. I live that life, and I don’t think people know it’s so unnatural to have everybody shouting your name as you walk through the street. I’m tall and I’m dressed in black, I don’t hide out, so they just stop in their tracks. They chase you down, they want autographs, they want pictures. And I do all of it, I take all the pictures, do all the autographs. I was at the Super Bowl, I must have taken 150 pictures in one night. I’ll do it all because I asked to be rich and famous. I can’t complain.’

‘Phil has assured me that he is a much better player than I give him credit for. He feels he has enough technical skill to win at higher limits, but when he has tried in the past, he often gotten derailed by his lack of self-control.’

Barry Greenstein analyses Phil’s game on his website

Phil says: ‘Who do they think I won my first seven bracelets against? All the great players. So I laugh at that. The evidence is preponderous, it’s right there in their faces. When I play the Tournament of Champions and it comes down to Annie Duke and I, or another TOC and it comes down to Mike Matusow and Hoyt Corkins [and me]. I played against the great players in no-limit; they’ve always been a step behind me. Always. ‘People are wondering if I’m a great player or not. Not the great players, they know I’m a great player. The guys behind the internet sites know I’m a great player, they know that I am going to continue to win. Especially watching Erik Seidel win this year, you know that I’m going to come back. Everybody knows it.

Except, it seems, the young internet kids who don’t want to wake up and smell the roses. Or someone like Daniel. He doesn’t want me to brag about it, but he wants me to be a great player. He gives me more criticism and heat than any other player on the planet and writes negative stuff about me all the time, but deep in his heart he wants me to be a great player. And he knows it’s good for the game.

But he’s a little bit off track in some of his criticism. But I’m going to shut all the critics up, and I’m going to shut ’em up soon. I’m now playing just the way I want to play poker and I’ve studied every strategy. I studied almost every strategy before the internet kids came along to get where I’ve gotten in life.’

‘Phil was once a great player. But his game has stood completely still. His ego won’t let him accept change, and I feel he’s rested on his laurels.’

November 2010 – Dusty Schmidt tells it like he sees it in the press release for his new book, Don’t listen to Phil Hellmuth

Phil says: ‘My problem has been that I’ve over-adapted. I’m playing too fast on day one. I’m busting myself out trying to play like the superstar internet kids, putting in six-bets and reraising and going crazy on draws and playing T-9 suited for 30% of my chips. Never read your own press when you’re great at something, never read about your critics. Somehow that seeps through.

‘So I learned what they did and it was a little crazier than me at my craziest. And then I would come in bored on day one, when the blinds are 25/50, not playing fundamentally right, just trying to get doubled or tripled up. I didn’t mind playing coinflips, didn’t mind having the worst of it because it would save a day of my time. Bad, bad, bad, bad attitude. ‘I had never played like that until 2008, 2009 maybe. In the past I invariably outlasted all [the pros] because I always played hard. I always respected the structure, I always played good fundamentals. But I got away from that. I’ve always had all the moves, when to go all-in, when to bluff. I’ve always had all the speed. Now I’m back.’

‘He makes love to himself three times a day.’

September 2008 – Mike Matusow teases Hellmuth on an episode of Poker After Dark

Phil says: ‘I wake up happy. Life is amazing. I’m blessed with fame and fortune. The fans seem to love me more than ever now and I’m feeling that love. I had an epiphany recently – it’s very interesting and I don’t mind sharing it.

I caught myself saying, “It’s time you asked for more out of your life.” Immediately I said, “No, you’re so blessed, why should you ask for more?” Then I said, “Wow, you’re blocking yourself Phil, you are blocking yourself!” Because, of course I’m allowed to ask for more. I haven’t won a tournament since 2007!

‘Why not me? I’ve raised $13 million hosting charity events. I’ve never cheated on my wife, in 22 years – not one time. So I’m like, it’s now time for me to use all the abilities I have in order to win. Whatever those abilities are it’s now time for me to kick ass. Why shouldn’t I use all my power? I inspire millions of people in life. I have to rise up and use all my powers and do what I do. I have to be me. I was inspired watching Michael Jordan. I was inspired watching Tiger Woods. I was inspired watching the greatest do what they do.

For some reason, I lost my swing. I feel like Tiger Woods when he lost his swing. When Tiger Woods was coached by Butch Harmon he was just the best. He just blew everybody away for a couple of years. I’ve found my Butch Harmon swing. I can see the path! 99% of the world can’t see the path. I’ve always been able to see the path. I haven’t been able to walk it. And now, for the first time in three years, maybe since 2007, now finally I seem to have found my cachet. I’m not taking anything away from Doyle Brunson or Johnny Chan or Phil Ivey or Erik Seidel, but I feel like right now, I’m being the greatest – the first time I can say that in years.’

‘Don’t listen to Phil Hellmuth’

November 2010 – Dusty Schmidt’s new strategy book mocks the brat with its tongue-in-cheek choice of title

Phil says: ‘My initial reaction was “Are you kidding me?” Then I thought, I’ve written 500 articles over 12 years, so is the guy going to find something that contradicts? Of course! Is he going to find something he doesn’t agree with? Of course! That’s not good, but if it comes to a body of work in poker, I think I have the best information out there by far. To be honest I don’t know who Dusty Schmidt is. I really don’t. It’s not a knock on him, but I don’t know what he’s won or what he’s doing.

‘Once I thought about it I was honoured because when people are very critical of you, it means you have accomplished a lot. If I want to be the greatest poker player of all time, I think I’ll get there, but I’m going to take a lot of heat. People are going to try and chop me down. Daniel [Negreanu] likes to chop me down at the knees to try and stand on my shoulders. But it’s not just Daniel. It’s easy to swing at the all-time greats, especially one who has an egotistical television persona like me. Especially someone who has done the antics that I have. I accept that and am going to just walk down this path and they can just say whatever they want to say.’

‘[Phil] is more inclined to go party with Jay-Z or leverage his celebrity by making paid appearances around the world.’

December 2010 – Dusty Schmidt airs his views in phil in an interview with

Phil says: ‘Yes, my life is filled with wonderful adventures. I went out of the Bay 101 tournament and one of my friends called me and said, “Hey, I have floor seats for the Golden State Warriors game. Do you want to go?” I said yeah and I remembered that Bill Clinton was going to be in San Francisco. I emailed his people, saying I’d like to come up and see him, but I thought there was no chance because I knew that he had a dinner in LA that night and I had a Golden State Warriors game at 7.30.

When they emailed me back and said “He’d love to see you – come on up,” I hopped in my car and drove up. I drove up to San Francisco, I got to hang out with Clinton. Did I like hanging out with Bill Clinton? For a few minutes, yeah! Then rushing off to the Gold State Warriors game where one of the Indian owners also called me and said, please come to my Bollywood party. Do I like all the people coming behind me telling me, “We love your game, you’re the greatest?” It’s fun, my life is fun. Do I like running into Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the club? Yeah I like it. Do I like it when George Bush and Condi Rice are talking to me, really engaged in the conversation? I like it.

Do I like it when I go to Hollywood clubs and the A-listers come flocking to me? I like it, it’s actually weird. Do I deserve that attention? Not necessarily, but what I’ve accomplished is very unique. To climb to the top of a game using your mind to beat other people around a table, that’s very unique. So I think a lot of the billionaires and the superstars are impressed by that. They’re like, “Who do we have to look up to?” So they look at people like me.

For whatever reason, my life has been absolutely fabulous. And would I rather be hanging out with Jay-Z and Steve Martin and Michael Jordan, all of these guys? To be honest, I would rather have been in the Bay 101 tournament that day. Poker’s number one, but when there’s no poker tournament, am I going to go hang out with superstars? Yeah, why wouldn’t I?’

‘The big difference between Phil and me, is that I can see how the game has changed and that I have to adjust my game as well to be able to continue playing. Phil thinks that it’s enough to brush his teeth, do some yoga and eat healthy food in order to continue being a winning player. He really believes that it’s enough to have a positive attitude. Instead one should learn to play better poker.’

March 2010 – Daniel Negreanu attacks Hellmuth in yet another blog post

Phil says: ‘I give Daniel credit because he’s trying to move his game with the times. He’s talking to the young kids and he may or may not be able to see the path. He’s done some great things in poker and he’s searching hard for that path, I respect that. He’s right that you need to get better. That’s what I’ve done, I’m getting better. He implied in his comments the fact that I think I’m so great I don’t have to do anything. For the record, I’ve never done yoga! I have not been meditating nearly enough and I haven’t been working out. I haven’t done those things since July anyway, which is bad because those things do help a little bit.

‘But what I get from the statement is that he’s saying, “Phil thinks he’s going to wake up in the morning and kick everybody’s ass.” I have been very cocky. I think that when you don’t win anything for four years that it does start to eat at your confidence and then you start to change and get better. I hope I never have to go through a low like that again, but I probably will. That’s what happens. Ivey didn’t win a tournament for five years. Ivey knows the path, I know the path, five or six players on this planet, maybe ten, know. But it doesn’t mean they are not going to be knocked off the path. The young kids don’t get it. They don’t understand that slumps happen. Mizrachi didn’t win anything forever then came back and was player of the year, for me at least, at last year’s World Series.’

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