Phil Hellmuth is the most successful player at the World Series of Poker of all-time. With a record 15 gold bracelets he currently leads Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey who both hold 10. That’s some record, and one that is unlikely to be broken for a long, long time, if ever at all.
The 57-year-old American is also one of the most talked about players in history, for various reasons. Many see him as a dinosaur in a young man’s game who has failed to keep up with a fast-evolving strategy.
But here he is today, still going strong in live tournaments at the highest level, and always chasing more bracelets to add to his tally.
Hellmuth’s recent record in the High Stakes Duel is fantastic. He demolished Antonio Esfandiari and Daniel Negreanu 3-0 in both matches, and only came unstuck against Tom “durrrr” Dwan recently.
Play Poker Like Phil HellmuthThis article probably needs a disclaimer, because the main reason why Hellmuth is such a polarising figure in the poker world is that people disagree with so many of his plays. The reader can take the following as an observation rather than advice if that suits them better.
Dodging bullets:Doyle Brunson said it himself: there is no better player when it comes to avoiding trouble against weak, recreational players in large field tournaments. People can argue all they like about the subtleties of late stage play, but Phil Hellmuth is a master of staying out of trouble during the early-mid stages to ensure he gets his shot at glory when it’s close to final table time.
The modern tendency is for players to claim that they had to call because of reasons such as balance and to avoid being exploited. Hellmuth doesn’t get himself bogged down with this and steers clear of trouble when there isn’t much of an edge to be had.
Table awareness:It’s no surprise that with so much live poker experience Phil Hellmuth is a master of table awareness. So often we see him acutely aware of when the timing is right to lay a trap. According to GTO many of these moves will be unapproved, but, of course, that’s only taking into account an opponent who plays perfectly. Hellmuth is taking into account his sense of timing which can never be replicated by a computer.
To improve your own sense of timing is a matter of practice. Concepts such as table image for both yourself and your opponents must always have a say in every decision at the table. This is also an inexact science. Very often you will make the right play but it doesn’t come off. Don’t be results oriented.
Hand reading:Phil Hellmuth’s hand reading skills are second-to-none. His ability to combine body language with what his gut is telling him is impressive when you consider that he eschews modern theory. He does it his way and it works for him.
This is not really an area where it can be recommended to try and copy him. The game has moved on a lot and while we can appreciate Hellmuth’s uncanny ability to put his opponent on a hand it’s just not how the game is taught any longer.
SummaryWe admire Phil Hellmuth for his staying power in what is an incredibly tough game to master. He had already won the World Series of Poker Main Event before many of today's players were even born.
Six of his fifteen bracelets came after the poker boom started, so it’s not wholly true to level the common criticism that all of his success came before anybody knew what they were doing. Post-2003 the standard was raised a lot even if that’s still nothing compared to where we stand today.
Live players have the most to learn from him because that’s a world where the heavily theoretical online style is still not practiced as widely.