I first saw Phil Hellmuth play back in the late '90s when he came over to the U.K. to play on Late Night Poker, one of the very first shows to use hole cams to show players' cards.
Hellmuth turned up in a suit and was generally friendly with all the other players, occasionally trading banter with mostly old-school British players like the Hendon Mob, Surinder Sunar and Dave Colclough.
Hellmuth ended up winning one of the seasons, for a £50,000 payoff. He appeared confident without ever seeming aloof, and of course there was no doubting his ability in No-Limit Hold'em.
Since the poker boom of the "Moneymaker year," though, Hellmuth has become well known for his constant, eminently quotable diatribes directed mainly at the newbies who've come to the game after having seen Moneymaker's historic victory.
Like many singers and celebrities, Hellmuth has marketed himself as a product - arguable more so than anyone else in the industry.
As does tennis player Roger Federer, he has his own personalized logo. It's his "trademark" to enter an event late and more recently to turn up in a specific style - last year there was the rally crash and the 11 models, and this year he came dressed similarly to General Patton.
This, plus his tirades, seems to make him more akin to a WWE star than a poker player. The problem is, no one seems to take him seriously anymore; in fact, his actions could be viewed as hurting poker.
When he gets into one of his rants, then sure, the cameras lap it up and some viewers at home get a giggle out of it, but for every nine spectators who laugh at his antics, there's always one guy who'll decide that acting loudly and obnoxiously is the best way for him to get 15 minutes of fame, and will proceed to do so at the next WSOP.
And for those who might want to get into poker, how can it continue to grow when its biggest star is seen to get upset and act like a spoiled child over the turn of a card?
Even so, there are always some signs that Hellmuth can win and lose with great class, like when he placed third in the H.O.R.S.E. event this year: there was no kicking or screaming, just a handshake and a good luck wish for the remaining players. No doubt this high-place finish clearly meant a lot to him, especially in a mixed event - it's well-known that the other games aren't his forte compared to Hold'em.
But the Hold'em players are catching up, or at least, the online players are moving across to live poker with great success, meaning the fields of the big-buy-in events are getting tougher. Hellmuth doesn't have the greatest record against the very top players, such as in High Stakes Poker. Perhaps he still thinks he can fold a small +EV spot for an even bigger +EV spot later on, but against the very top players, his edge, if any, is minimal.
With the constant swarm of new Internet kids coming through every day now, though, we may eventually reach a point where poker doesn't need Hellmuth as much as Hellmuth needs poker, which is clearly not the case at the moment. But the monosyllabic nature of so many of these kids, who say next to nothing and win pots nonstop, means that Hellmuth will likely never become a relic.
If only he could continue to entertain and yet treat some of his fellow pros with a bit more class.