He is considered one of the best poker players ever. He won the 1989 World Series of Poker Championship which sealed his legacy. He has nine World Series of Poker bracelets and is recognized by his nickname the Poker Brat. He is also featured every year as one of the few and best on ESPN’s World Series of Poker telecasts. He is a legend in many ways, but Phil Hellmuth has a lot to still accomplish in the poker world.
Listen to the Phil Hellmuth CYInterview:
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Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Phil Hellmith: “Fantastic.”
CY: Tell me about the things you are working on and promote whatever you would like.
PH: “Well, I have a 2006 calendar at www.jfturner.com that is selling really well. It’s only $12.99. I think that is way too cheap. My books seem to be doing very well. I have a new DVD coming out of the first Camp Hellmuth. The cell phone game has been awesome. I have been blessed with many great projects.”
CY: Was there a hand of event that got you hooked on poker?
PH: “That was so long ago. I don’t think I can remember the exact hand.”
CY: Do you think internet poker has helped the industry because it’s given a chance for the more accomplished players to be spokespersons for certain sites like yourself with Ultimate Bet?
PH: “Absolutely. Online poker and TV with the whole card cameras have been the difference between now and then. I remember 2000 was a low point for poker and we had 35 people playing at the Bicycle Clubs Championship Event. When I won that championship in 1988, which is a long time ago we had 150 or something like that with a $10,000 buy in. Maybe 2001 was the low water mark. Then all of the sudden in 2002 there were TV cameras everywhere. Ben Affleck was in the room. I remember welcoming him to the tournament and he is like Phil. He’s one of the hottest actors in the world and he knows my name. It was just kind of freaky.”
CY: How different would you say the 1989 World Series of Poker was compared to today 16 years later where over 6000 people tried to become world champion like you did in 1989 and how many people were in it back then?
PH: “You had a chance back then. With 6000 people I still have a chance, but you have to play an extra two days and there are some crazy amateurs. You know they are going to put all their money in with weak hands. That means I am going to be a four and a half to one favorite or a two and a half to one favorite for a huge pot, but I am going to have to play that pot four or five times. Back then it was all professionals for all those years. No one wanted to put all their money in with the worst hand. That’s a huge difference right there. It’s become one of the most exciting events in the world which is great. I really am glad poker has got this big.”
CY: What do you remember about the final hand from the 1989 championship when you beat Johnny Chan heads up?
PH: ” Well, I was surprised he called. I raised, he re raised, and I moved all in. I think he knew that I had the best hand when he called with the ace and seven of spades. I am pretty sure that he knew. I was surprised he called 400,000 more. When he did call and I saw his hand I was surprised he called and I said uh oh. Why would he make this call? Obviously he feels that he’s going to hit an ace. I was little worried because I had seen Johnny Chan over 1988 and 1989 hit some real lucky hands. He had an ace and a ten and they would have an ace and a jack and he would hit a ten. I had seen it a bunch of times. I was like uh oh he’s going to hit an ace. There is a part of you that’s like well at least you got it in there with the best hand. When the flop came king, king, and a ten I was like well safe so far. There was a queen on the turn and I remember thinking I am a two and half to one favorite with one card to come now.
When the turn came and I saw the six it was like oh my God this was a lifetime goal that I achieved. I won the World Series of Poker and I am only 24. It left me with a great feeling. Last year I had a lifetime goal of having a best selling book. About a year ago I got called by Harper Collins and I was told Playing Poker Like the Pros was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for a how to book. There is another lifetime goal achieved and you walk around feeling great for a week.”
CY: Did becoming the 1989 World Series of Poker change your life or did you know that you had to stay focused?
PH: “Of course it changed my life. All of sudden there was a lot of press in Madison, Wisconsin. There was press at the national level. Winning $750,000 when you are 24 years old is a lot of money back in 1989.”
CY: How do you think you will feel when you win that tenth World Series of Poker bracelet since only Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan have ten also?
PH: “I was tied with Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson at nine for a long time. It felt pretty good. I wanted to be the first guy to ten. When I win number ten it’s going to be pretty awesome. When I win number ten I am going to have a chance to win number eleven. I wouldn’t be surprised next year if I win number ten and number eleven. The fields are getting bigger too. It’s going to be a great feeling. It’s going to be an amazing feeling if I can ever own the bracelet lead on my own.”
CY: What odds do you give yourself on winning the World Series of Poker main event again?
PH: “Well, if you think in terms of odds you screw yourself because you think there is going to be somewhere over 8000 people. It could easily be 10,000. I don’t like to think in terms of what are the odds. I would rather just like to think in terms of it’s going to happen. In the next ten to fifteen years you are going to win it again Phil. I don’t care what the math says or anybody says. Just do it.”
CY: Do you think 2003 World Series of Poker Champion Chris Moneymaker helped poker because it brought interest from other normal average joe people who think they can just be like him and with that brought more revenue to the poker industry?
PH: “Absolutely. Chris Moneymaker was huge for our industry. He came along right when the TV came along. Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer have been great for the game.”
CY: You have had the opportunity to meet and I guess have a few sports personalities including Michael Jordan and Andy Roddick who really enjoy what you do. What’s it like to be accepted by those guys and them be fans of your poker play?
PH: “I invited Andy Roddick to the NBC Heads Up Championships and he’s planning on playing right now. That will be cool. He has some talent. I only met Michael Jordan once. He wanted to play poker with me and I didn’t have enough money. The next time I am at the Kentucky Derby I will bring a few dollars with me just in case he wants to play.”
CY: What do you think of all the news reports of Alex Rodriguez playing poker and how some people might be making a bigger deal about it?
PH: “Yeah. It just seems to me that they made a mountain out of a mole hill.”
CY: What is the biggest hand you ever bluffed?
PH: “Well, there has been a lot of big bluffs in my life. Sometimes you just get a feeling that the other guy can’t call. Probably the biggest hand I ever bluffed was shown on TV in 2003. When Tony D had a jack and a ten and the board was a two jacks and a four. I had two sevens. He check raised me and I just moved him all in and he just threw his hand away.”
CY: Do you wager on sports or enjoy any of the other casino games at all?
PH: “I haven’t bet on sports for about two years. I kind of like betting on football. When I bet on sports I call the best sports handicappers in the world and get their picks. I think I won seven games in a row before I stopped betting. The last game I bet was LSU versus Oklahoma in the National Championship game in 2004. Then I went to Australia and just kind of stopped betting.”
CY: How much do you think ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker events has created a poker fad where everyone thinks they can play and do you think this poker fad or craze will end in a few years or is here to stay?
PH: “I think people enjoy poker. They watch it and understand the game. I think we are going to see poker around for a long time. I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger. Will it be as hot in the media as it is right now? I am not sure. I don’t think it’s ever going back to where it was. Especially with so many people loving the game.”
CY: How important do you think it is to be fan friendly and shake everyone’s hand when you join a poker table and sign autographs?
PH: “Well, I am the bad boy of poker. I don’t really have to shake anybody’s hand. I can just be like John Mcenroe in his hey day and say forget it, but I do. Everyone who asks for an autograph I give them one. Anyone who wants to shake my hand or pose for a picture I do it. When I am in an airport I will have my sunglasses on. I will have my noise canceling head phones and I am walking really fast. The real fans will run after me and tap me on the shoulder and I will give them an autograph. It becomes a different world when you sign so many autographs and get mobbed all the time. I am not going to ever complain. It’s nice. It’s kind of a job to shake hands and do autographs. I feel blessed and lucky so I get to do it.”
CY: Why do you think everyone makes a big deal of your burst outs and behavior at the tables?
PH: “Well, they make a big deal about it because I behave badly at the tables. Sometimes I am kind of the poker brat. Hence my name poker brat. People enjoy watching that on TV. I laugh at myself when I am watching it on TV. Who is this idiot? Sometimes I can’t even relate to myself when I am watching. It’s not the way I act most of the time in my life.”
CY: I don’t know if it’s a connection. But your wife is a psychologist. Does she say it’s good to let those emotions and the anger out and not keep them bundled up inside?
PH: “Well, first off my wife is a psychiatrist. She went to medical school and can prescribe drugs. No. I don’t take any drugs. There has never been any discussion between her and I. If anything, she is embarrassed by my conduct. She doesn’t want me to act that way. I don’t want to act that way. Sometimes I just lose it.”
CY: Finally, what do you have left to accomplish in the poker world and that you want to accomplish?
PH: “I think I need to win another sixteen world championships. See if anybody can catch it. I will be winning world championships in my 70’s. If Doyle Brunson has won poker championships in his 70’s that’s a good sign for me. I am not going to retire from poker ever. I will always play the World Series of Poker. There are other things that I would like to do with my life. There is a movie about my life called The Madison Kid in Hollywood. It had Hayden Christensen and Joe Ruben as the director. I think that’s going to happen. I would like to have my own reality show. I really want to write a book on how to achieve great things in life. I have some crazy high goals. I am probably going to buy my own jet and throw the Phil Hellmuth logo on the tail. There is some fun stuff like that I want to do as well.”
Check out Phil Hellmuth’s official site at www.philhellmuth.com