While waiting to meet up with Phil Hellmuth for a recent interview, I was ushered into the VIP room, where the big names go to take a break in a clandestine lounge near the back of the Rio Convention Center.
Phil was in between bites of a sandwich while keeping himself busy playing a gin rummy variant with a few buddies around a table. I looked up and two of these buddies were Barry Greenstein and Todd Brunson. This seemed like at least a semi-serious game too.
I got to sit and watch about five minutes of the gin rummy game while Hellmuth finished his sandwich, and after a couple of hands it became pretty apparent that this wasn't just a friendly game, at least not the type of friendly game most people are used to playing.
After a few rounds, Greenstein, Brunson and everyone else around the table decided to leave, but Greenstein made sure to keep the scorecard so the game could resume later. You have to wonder what kind of money is at stake in the VIP lounge games at the WSOP.
Away from the distraction of the rummy game but still very much involved with the sandwich, Hellmuth answered a couple of questions before deciding that I should meet him at his Omaha 8 table a few minutes later, so he could give me a longer interview.
Despite his reputation as the "Poker Brat", Hellmuth seems more than comfortable with his status as a poker icon.
A good-sized crowd had gathered as Hellmuth sat down at his table for the event (five hours late), and Hellmuth chatted with several of them, as his seat was right next to the rail.
He also gave the dealer a quick tutorial about how to arrange chips in the pot in Omaha 8 to make splitting pots easier. In between all of this and actually playing his cards, Hellmuth did the interview while I sat next to him at the table, and didn't seem the least bit bothered by any of the surrounding chaos.
Hellmuth comes off as a pretty cool guy. I've never been around in person to see him take a bad beat though, and I probably don't want to.