Phil Hellmuth: I Don't Want to be 'The Poker Brat' at the 2006 WSOP

Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth Jr. is in the hunt for golden WSOP bracelets, and he wants them badly. He turns down golf games with big time celebrities. He spends less time with his family. He forces himself to work out. "It's got to be about bracelets this year," Hellmuth said, but his start in the 2006 World Series of Poker hasn't been brilliant. Three starts - just one money finish. sat down with Hellmuth in the UltimateBet lounge and talked about his desire to win, his famous temper and friendship with another raging bull, John McEnroe, and much more.

What happened in the tournament ($2,500 No-Limit Hold'em Short-Handed) today?

A very frustrating day. I had $8,000 in chips early, and played risk free, never all-in, and I felt like I had a really good chance to make the money, because I know that people play badly, people are going to bust themselves out. The non-pros are playing way too fast; they play too many hands. There's a little bit of justification for that probably, because you get lucky early or go home, but lots of them are going home early.

Are you disappointed with your own performance?

I was unlucky today - I was disappointed with Day 1. Today I'm not particularly frustrated with anything. I didn't really play recklessly, but I played a little loose, and I got tagged good. It could have gone in the other direction easily. I didn't have to lose 10 out of 12 pots or whatever it was.

You didn't lose your famous temper?

No. I've been shaking everybody's hand every day. I've been in a good mood, and I think everybody at my tables really enjoyed playing with me. They've all said as much. That's not what they expect, because they see the two minutes a day when I act up. They don't know the real me. All the other top players in the world, they say that Phil is a great guy, but at the table he loses it a little bit. The public sees that, and they don't expect me to be fun, but actually I'm having fun.

Have you been working with your temper?

No, I don't really care about it. I'm trying to become less of a "Poker Brat" for myself, but actually all my agents and managers, and all the companies I represent want me to be "The Poker Brat." I'm the only one who doesn't want me to be "The Poker Brat." I think that as I get older I'll become more mature. For example, John McEnroe quit playing tennis when he was 32. How well-behaved would he have been at age 50? I'm sure he would have been a lot better.

But McEnroe is still throwing fits on the veterans' tour.

He is, but I was talking to John McEnroe the other day, and we were laughing. He said that if he doesn't throw fits they get mad at him. He said, "Phil, you and I are getting paid extra to throw fits." And he's right. But I never intentionally do it. It's always unintentional, and I'm getting better. I haven't thrown a tantrum yet this year. I've started talking a little bit once or twice, but I've been in control.

What are your hopes and thoughts for the rest of the 2006 WSOP?

I just have to continue to play well. There are a lot of people to beat every day, and I feel very comfortable in my abilities now. But no matter how good you are, you still have to beat a lot of people.

How many tournaments will you be playing here?

I don't know. So far I've played every one that I possibly could play in. Each day I've been out kind of early. The first day I made it all night, but didn't last long the second day. Yesterday I lasted 40 minutes and today five hours, so I'm not particularly burned out. That's good.

You're hunting bracelets. Is that a big pressure on you?

There is a pressure, but it's just poker. I mean, I'm rich, I'm famous, and I'm hanging out with some of the most famous people in the world. You know people want my time, they want to be with me, and I'm trying to enjoy that. But this year it's all about poker - it really is. There are a couple of big name celebrities who want to go golfing with me. I'm not even sure I'll go, even though I think I would have fun with them. The last three years I've been really focused on business, but this year I've committed to nothing with no one. It's got to be about bracelets this year.

What about the Main Event?

I see that I can win the big tournament. I always thought it would be impossible to beat 10,000 players, now I see that I can do it. I only have to beat 2,600 players, because as many as 7,000 players are going to be eliminated while I'm not even in the room. If you think of it that way, it becomes manageable, possible.

Do you have a new strategy for this year?

I know what I'm going to do this year. As I said, I've put the business stuff away. I don't have my cell phone, and I've changed e-mail addresses. I'm not very accessible, except for the UltimateBet lounge. And even here I'm cutting back a little bit, because I can't come out on a break and sign autographs. I have so little time to relax my mind, you know. Last year it got so crazy that I just wanted to stay at the table the whole time, and they let me stay there. But there were still lots of people waiting around for autographs and pictures.

Is it hard to say no?

I usually don't say no. When there are a lot of people left, I don't say no. When I'm out of a tournament, I don't say no. When I'm in a tournament, I have to say no, because I have to rush around. But even when I'm in a tournament, I've been coming to the UB lounge to sign autographs and take pictures. I'm supposed to have my breaks free at the lounge, but it hasn't worked out that way. But right now it's ok. I'll sign all the autographs and take all the pictures. I'm hanging out for a while just to do that, but you never get to the bottom. It never ends.

What do you do to relax?

Well, today I'll be out of here at 6:30, and the last two nights I've been playing the high limits slots over at the Bellagio or Caesars. I won $5,000 last night, and I lost $10,000 the night before. I've been working out, and that's something I'll do tonight. I'm going to force myself to do it, whether I feel like it or not, whether I'm tired or not, whether I'm hungry or not. There's no excuse; I need to work out to be playing at my best. After the work out I might get tired and go to my room and order room service and talk to my wife. I might have a very mellow evening, that's what I've been doing in general.

No slots today?

I might play high limit slots today, I might not. I kind of like being in the room by myself. It's a little boring, but tomorrow my wife and kids are coming. Last night I had dinner with my agent and played some high limit slots with David Chiu. It's fun and very mindless stuff. I suppose, lifetime, I'm probably an $18,000 loser at the high limits slots, which is nothing, because I've probably received $70-80,000 worth of comps.

For how long will your family be staying?

Four or five days. Last year I made my wife and kids stay with me all summer, for the first time ever, because I missed them. But that didn't work out so well for me. My energy was getting burned up. It gets boring to be here by myself, so I'll go out drinking a couple of nights. Maybe one night a week I'll go out with the guys and sit in the VIP booths at the clubs. And I have a whole rollerdex of people I can call, who'll want to go out to dinner with me, so I can do that if I want to. But there's something about being bored - your energy kind of builds, and you use it all the next day. So I just want to come to the poker room full of energy tomorrow at noon and see what I can do.

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