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Phil Hellmuth is almost as well known for his explosive temper as he is for the record 13 WSOP gold bracelets he's won. But behind the Poker Brat personality is a poker mind that few seem to understand. To find out what makes him tick we went straight to Phil Hellmuth himself. We also chatted with 2012 WSOP Main Event runner-up Jesse Sylvia and PokerListings.com reporter Alex Villegas to get two more perspectives. Love him or hate him it's impossible to deny that Phil Hellmuth is one of the greatest poker players in the history of the game.
Announcer: Welcome back to the World Series of Poker, Asia Pacific, right here in Melbourne. Ever since the poker boom, this game's growth has been fueled by personalities and no personality is bigger than Phil Hemllmuth. He's got 13 gold bracelets and two main event wins but still not everybody's a fan. Today we're going to talk to a few people to find out why he is such a polarizing figure in the poker world.
Jesse: Yeah, I think that anyone who like still thinks that Phil Hellmuth is not a good player...we're getting to the point where he just has too many accomplishments, you can't argue with that any more. He's clearly doing stuff right. I think its kind of scary that he's doing stuff right and people can't put their finger on what it is, and that probably speaks volumes about why he's doing so well.
Alexander: And its interesting because you see how Daniel Negreanu tweeted about Phil Hellmuth never changing his game and not adapting, but Phil Hellmuth still wins a lot. And it goes against what everyone's saying, because people are saying that he's not as good and he shouldn't have, like, win as many times as he does but he keeps doing it day after day. Even the other day he made the final few tables of the accumulator. So there's something about it that he knows that he's definitely doing better than a lot people.
Phil: Like magic. I mean, I play a style based on my reading abilities. So I don't do things that other people do. They might snap call, I might take a minute or two and then fold. I don't agree with the way that the mathematically solved short stack strategy is. I don't agree with that. I think that you can use your white magic to give you a few extra lives.
Jesse: Having personalities in poker is really important and this is one thing that whenever people say anything bad about Phil, the one thing that I always say in that conversation that's nice about him is he's the best thing for poker. He is literally the best thing for poker because when he speaks everyone...the cameras are there and everyone wants to hear it, whether they hate him or they love him or whatever. He causes people to be interested.
Phil: Call the race with a queen ten. Man, what the?
Tournament Announcer: Well done.
Phil: [inaudible 00:02:32] a race with freaking king eight. I knew it and I just didn't do it. I knew it. I got the dead read on him twice and I just didn't act.
Alexander: People love watching Phil Hellmuth because he's Phil Hellmuth, and he is very polarizing but I think that's great for the game because no one's like apathetic towards Phil Hellmuth. They either hate him or love him.
Jesse: What's better than that, you know?
Phil: Oh, I'm a big game guy. Yeah, absolutely. It started, actually, it started when I was young. I was the oldest of five and I was a guy and all my brothers and sisters had great grades and I had horrible grades, and so I had to beat them at every game. And so at least that was my salvation was winning every game. Scrabble, whatever we played, monopoly, dice, whatever we played, I had to discover the optimally perfect way to play it and when I lost that's where the Poker Brat kind of personality developed, because I'd be screaming and yelling because I didn't have anything left if I couldn't beat them at a game.
Alexander: Some of it is definitely a show because he knows who he is and when I see him win bracelets he, you know, he takes the microphone straight up and then he's just addressing the whole crowd and playing it and he loves it. But some of his outbursts, there's genuine anger in there. There's an upset man inside that larger man.
Jesse: I've talked to a few people who seem to know him pretty well and they've said that's not Phil at all, it's just an act. When he's at the table he acts crazy and then away from the table he's the nicest guy, and I've talked to other guys who have played in private games and they'll be like he's like that at the table all the time.
Phil: One hundred percent of the way I act unfortunately is natural- unfortunately. But, you know, I've improved the last few years, I think I've gotten really better at dealing with it. I think three second places just crushed me but I managed to shake hands and not make excuses and just shut up and move on. And yeah I went out drinking but at least I didn't go off in that moment. So I feel like I've come a long way and the Poker Brat unfortunately is just me and it's this competitive drive, the spirit. You know I have so many critics all the time no matter what I do. I can win like ten bracelets in the next seven years and no one else wins four and I still have all these critics. But they drive me and I listen to them, unfortunately, but that's good because I think I don't ever really wanna be happy in poker. I always wanna be driving, I always wanna be grinding, I always wanna be learning, I always wanna be moving forward and winning.