Phil Hellmuth has 13 WSOP gold bracelets and almost $18 million in earnings but according to the living poker legend, if he doesn't stay at the top of his game it could all go away.
“You can't feel too cool,” Hellmuth told PokerListings.com in Las Vegas. “You can't feel too cocky.”
“You always have to remember that the reason your life is so fun and you have all these great opportunities is because of poker and the minute you stop playing at that level all that stuff can go away really quickly.
“You can never take success for granted. So it's about not letting ego get in the way,” he said.
Hellmuth has been at the center of the poker world since becoming the youngest world champion ever in 1989 when he was just 24 years old.
Hellmuth defeated Johnny Chan heads-up at a time Chan was considered the best in the world and had just won the Main Event back-to-back in 1987 and 1988.
Since then Hellmuth has made 49 WSOP final tables and been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. After all that it's no surprise he's struggled with keeping his ego in check.
We caught Hellmuth on a break from the $3,000 Shootout event at the 2013 WSOP to learn more about how one of the most successful poker players on the planet stays at the top of the game.
PokerListings.com: For the last couple of years the WSOP has felt like your tournament. How does it feel coming back?
Phil Hellmuth: I think I had two amazing years in a row where I finished second in Player of the Year both times.
One of those times the guy (Greg Merson) had to actually win the Main Event to beat me. I posted more points than anyone in the history of the POY but I still finished second!
I feel like having three great years in a row is really tough and I've never really had three in a row before.
You really have to deal with ego.
PL: Do you mean as far as managing your expectations coming into the WSOP?
It's more like the problem is everyone's telling you how great you are and you're reading about it and everything. You really have to ignore all that and keep your head down.
If I've got my head up then I'm looking at Tiger Woods over here and Michael Jordan over there and everyone I'm hanging out with and I'm exposed to, I start to feel kind of cool.
But you can't feel too cool. You can't feel too cocky.
You always have to remember that the reason your life is so fun and you have all these great opportunities is because of poker. And the minute you stop playing at that level all that stuff can go away really quickly.
You can never take success for granted. So it's about not letting ego get in the way.
I think I've done a pretty good job of doing that and keeping ego out of the mix now that I'm a bit older and wiser.
PL: How hard is it to keep your ego in check when you're winning the WSOPE main event and winning your 13th bracelet?
Winning the WSOP Europe main event was the most humbling win I've ever had.
Yes, I played the best tournament of my life and yes I was only all-in one time on the third hand of the tournament – I had to hit a one-outer to win that but I never got all-in again – but even when you're playing at that level it doesn't mean you're going to win.
So I just felt so lucky that somehow I managed to get there.
PL: It seems like over the last few years a few people have really distanced themselves from the rest of the poker world in terms of results. I'm talking about you, Ivey, Daniel Negreanu over the last while. Do you feel like there are a couple people who are really raising the bar?
Well, Negreanu is the hottest player in the world right now but he didn't do much for a few years and then all of a sudden he's doing everything.
But that's poker. I didn't do anything for a few years and then all of a sudden boom, boom, boom things are coming together.
What can you really say about Ivey? He's amazing.
He and I have a fun rivalry going on. He sent me a joke text with a picture the other day. I said “I'll race you to 20 bracelets.” He wrote back and said “I'll race you to 30.”