Nothing can take away from the fact that Phil Hellmuth is one of the greatest poker players of all time. The Madison, Wisconsin native has won 14 World Series of Poker bracelets and has been one of the sport's biggest names for nearly three decades.
When one is in the limelight for so long, however, observed patterns of behavior can end up painting the picture of your legacy in unfavorable shades. In Hellmuth’s case he’s earned a reputation and mantra that he embraces, “the poker brat”, due to his tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
In what some are calling the most outrageous outburst of his career, Hellmuth was unable to keep his feelings in check at the 2018 World Series of Poker Main Event this past weekend, leading to a healthy bit of controversy.
Generally, being upset at your hand and even being a little verbal about it isn’t that contentious. It can in fact be very common. But the main problem with a rant that Hellmuth launched into over the weekend during a key moment was its timing.
With a flush draw and a small stack, James Campbell pushed all-in trying to lure Alex Kuzmin and Hellmuth into calling and potentially winning big. His equity was slashed, however, when Hellmuth spoke out of turn, spewing some profanities and tipping Kuzmin that he likely wouldn’t be calling:
“This mother f***ing guy … f***cking got away with murder all day against me. How in the f*** does this happen?”
This drew the ire of commentators, who believed that it was not a respectable move by Hellmuth and that a player of his stature and level of experience should probably know better given that particular circumstance.
Announcer Shaun Deeb explained why exactly the profane yet seemingly innocuous rant by Hellmuth actually had a major implication on the outcome of the hand and was a disappointing display of sportsmanship in the moment.
“This is so wrong by Phil. This is where Phil deserves penalties. You cannot talk in a multi-way pot and give away your weakness with an opponent still to act. It’s so wrong he gets away with stuff like this. If I’m sitting with a king-high flush draw I know that Phil is not continuing if I call. That totally affects this action and totally hurts his opponent’s equity.”
By not being able to control his reaction to Campbell’s move, Hellmuth essentially gave Kuzmin a major advantage over Campbell who was already fighting an uphill battle against Hellmuth and Kuzmin’s bigger stacks.
As another commentator noted, Hellmuth appeared to realize shortly after the outburst that he’d stepped over the line and seriously hurt Campbell’s chances. With that in mind and in the wake of plenty of criticism, he presented a peace offering to Campbell via Twitter.
@JCamby33 I lost some sleep over my outburst. I believe you lose the hand anyway, but maybe I am wrong. You handled yourself well, and played well. As a gesture of goodwill, and because I respect policeman and firefighters: I’m going to buy you into 2019 $10,000 @WSOP Main Event— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) July 8, 2018
Campbell graciously accepted despite voicing his previous displeasure with the stunt and stating he believed Hellmuth deserved a penalty for his actions. All the same, it appeared the situation had been resolved and there would be no hard feelings between the players.
“I would be truly happy if I was still in the 2018 WSOP, but what’s done is done and that’s in the past. I am happy Phil Hellmuth made a generous offer from the equity I lost by freerolling me into 2019 WSOP main event. I hope he realized the mistake he made and learned a lesson.
Hellmuth ended up bowing out of the event and falling short of a 15th bracelet on Day 3. He shoved all-in with Ace-King high and appeared ready for a big win, but busted on the river to a last-second pair of nines from Jans Arends.
Hellmuth bowed out as a 67 percent pre-tournament favorite, joining the likes of Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu in their early exits. The field is looking more and more open as the battle for a seat at the final table rages on.