As famous for his antics and bad beat tirades as he is for his incredible record as a tournament player, Phil Hellmuth Jr. will always be (and always be known as) the Poker Brat.
A living legend Hellmuth joined Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson in 2006 as one of only three poker players in history with 10 WSOP bracelets to their names. Since, he's gone on to win 5 more and put an almost-permanent claim on his title of winningest WSOP player of all time.
While he once held the distinction of being the youngest player to win the WSOP Main Event, after beating two-time defending champion Johnny Chan in 1989 at just 24 years old, that record has now been surpassed. But his 138 total career WSOP cashes is still second-to-none and he's the only player to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WSOP Europe Main Event.
Who is Phil Hellmuth?
Born on July 16, 1964 in Madison, Wisconsin, Hellmuth is the son of an assistant dean and professor at the University of Wisconsin and the oldest of five siblings.
Hellmuth was raised in a middle-class Madison neighborhood. The entire family shared just one bathroom, where his mother had posted a sign on the mirror that read, "You are what you think. You become what you think. What you think becomes reality."
Hellmuth said he read that sign every time he brushed his teeth or took a shower and was inspired by his mother's belief that he and his siblings could all achieve great things in life.
Competition Over Everything
Growing up in a big family, Hellmuth says he always played a number of different board and card games with his brothers and sisters and was desperately competitive, feeling like he had to win because he was the oldest.
He learned the game of poker while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin and moving up from cash games at the student union to higher stakes poker with the professors before eventually dropping out of school to play professionally -- much to the chagrin of his academic father.
When he beat Chan to take that 1989 WSOP title, he delivered on his promise to buy his father a Mercedes and his father never bothered him about playing poker again.
After his win at the 1989 WSOP Hellmuth spent the next decade and a half accumulating more tournament victories than any other professional poker player before him. In addition to his 15 WSOP bracelets he has more than 50 tournament titles, five World Poker Tour Top 10 finishes and has amassed tournament winnings in excess of $22 million.
In 2012 he became the first player to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WSOP Europe Main Event - an accomplishment not likely to be matched any time soon.
While many young professionals and poker fans have lambasted Hellmuth for his unorthodox, "non-optimal" and decidedly non-mathematic playing style, his results still speak volumes.
His most recent WSOP bracelet win came in a $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the 2018 WSOP. He also has proved his mettle beyond Hold'em with a 2015 WSOP bracelet in a $10,000 buy-in championship Razz event.
A Poker TV Icon
While Hellmuth's reputation for having a huge ego and a less than professional attitude when he loses has earned him the "Poker Brat" nickname, it has also made him a favorite of poker television producers across the globe.
He once boasted that if luck weren't involved, he'd win every pot he played; told opponents, "I can dodge bullets, baby!" during the 2005 WSOP Main Event after laying down A-K to pocket aces; and even accused another player of not being able to spell poker after taking a bad beat.
Hellmuth is often compared to tennis star John McEnroe because of his antics, and the cameras are always on him at televised tournaments because you never know when the Poker Brat's next tirade is coming.
The Brat claims his temper tantrums only last a few minutes and in interviews following his public rants he is often calm and rational. He says it drives him crazy when opponents make mistakes only to be saved by the luck of the cards, and he can't control himself.
While many find it entertaining and good for poker ratings, Hellmuth claims none of it is intentional.
The one knock on Hellmuth is that he may not play cash games as well as other top pros. Hellmuth disputes the charge, claiming he simply doesn't play in as many cash games in order to pursue other business interests and spend time with his family.
In his defense, his business interests are many. Hellmuth writes for poker magazines and has penned a number of best-selling poker books including Play Poker like the Pros and Bad Beats and Lucky Draws.
Greatest Poker Player of All Time?
A screenplay based on his life story has been optioned and his autobiography was released in the summer of 2017, aptly titled Poker Brat.
Hellmuth lives in Palo Alto, California with his wife, Katherine, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. He has two adult sons.
Despite his "jetset" lifestyle in which he circulates among Silicon Valley tech stars and Bay Area athletes, Hellmuth is a dedicated family man who often remarks that the athletes, movie stars and other poker players he admires most are the ones who can balance family and work.
While he's no longer the central figure in poker he was at his peak, Hellmuth remains one of the best poker players in the world - just ask him if you don't believe it.
And while many professionals lament his antics at the table, there's no doubt he's earned their respect (begrudgingly, as the case may be) as a player and a person.
Hellmuth has said he wants to be known as the greatest poker player of all time. In his own mind, at least, he's already almost there. And time is certainly helping his cause.
Barry Greenstein on Phil Hellmuth:
"Phil may go down as the pioneer in a method of playing a lot of hands and making small bets and raises that keep opponents in the pot, the theory being that he will make better decisions than they do on subsequent streets.
This strategy guarantees large fluctuations and has a lot to say for it against weak opposition. This method would not work as well in a cash game where there is no rush to build up a chip stack and by virtue of playing too many pots opponents can easily take the betting lead away.
In a tournament, the extra fear of going bust can keep your opponents at bay and the bad players are confused by what looks like mass hysteria to them. When Phil has his banter and his A-game working, he not only can control the table, but he can mesmerize the entire room.
Phil has assured me that he is a much better player than I give him credit for. He feels he has enough technical skill to win at higher limits but when he has tried in the past, he often gotten derailed by his lack of self-control.
I first played with Phil in a No-Limit side game in Los Angeles in 1992. I didn’t pay attention to tournament poker back then, but I had heard that he was a cocky kid who had won a big tournament. He was playing fast and loose and showing his hands and needling people whenever he outplayed them.
Well, I was pretty cocky too. Phil opened for a raise, I re-raised and Phil called. After the flop, I bet, Phil raised and I re-raised him all-in. He thought for a while, showed me top pair and then folded. I showed him Deuce-Three off-suit which bore no relation to the flop.
Phil stood up and said, 'Nice play buddy, but that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Do you realize that giving me that kind of information is going to cost you all of your money? It’s because of players like you that I make millions of dollars a year playing poker.'"
Top 5 Phil Hellmuth Quotes
Phil Hellmuth might be the most emotional poker player alive. As he put it so fittingly during one of hundreds of television experiences:
"To you it's just poker; to me it's my life."
When he's on, he's on top of the world; when he's not, he's spiteful and angry - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. Unfortunately for those around him at the table when it happens, they just might get caught in the crossfire.
Truth be told, though: even if a player does become the subject of a Phil Hellmuth tirade they feel honored rather than shamed. It's an experience you can only get in poker - being berated by one of the world's most famous players.
Hellmuth also is apt to come back and let them know he feels bad about it later.
Ah, Phil. He's a special fellow. So, in tribute, here are some of his more infamous moments. Since there are just too many awesome Hellmuth quotes to pick only five, it's more of a "Top 5 Hellmuth Rant Categories" instead.
5) The Classics. "Honey, honey, I was supposed to go broke on that hand: Honey. But they forgot one thing: I can dodge bullets, baby!"
From the 2005 WSOP Main Event this is from Hellmuth doing what does best - making a big fold. This fold was right on the money and as a result he's on top of the world ... baby!
4) The Out of Line. "This fricking donkey stuffs $15,000 in with king-jack. I mean ... the guy can't even spell poker."
Also from the 2005 WSOP Main Event. Phil absolutely berates this poor guy. Granted, the guy made a mistake, but the way Phil reacted was totally out of line.
3) The Narcissistic. The first two favorite narcissistic Hellmuth quotes has to be:
"When I watch myself on TV, I am a bit compelling ..."
It's classic Hellmuth that he can arouse such strong interest in himself by watching himself. This is almost as close to the definition of narcissism as you can get. The other:
Couldn't dodge his local SuperCuts outlet though.
"What's my name? You know what my name is? I forgot my name even. Who am I?... Am I Phil Hellmuth?"
2) The Best in the World of All Time Ever. After getting knocked out of the WSOP Main Event in 2004 Phil came out with this little nugget, soon to turn into one of the most famous poker quotes of the decade:
"If there weren't luck involved, I would win every time."
Later Phil went on to produce some math that he may have thought was ironic:
"Poker is 100% skill and 50% luck."
And that quote is 50% bulls**t!
1) The Nonsensical
"I'm like the Matrix, I can dodge knives: Jiu-Jitsu."
In 2005 Phil could dodge bullets, now a few years later he can dodge knives! He's like the Matrix? Not just Neo either; no - he's like the whole damn thing!