You can call Phil Hellmuth the Poker Brat. Just don’t forget to call him the greatest champion in the history of the World Series of Poker, too.
Hellmuth was a 24-year old new kid on the block when he made the final table of the 1989 WSOP Main Event and shocked the world by winning it all. At the time, Johnny Chan was the biggest name in poker. He had won the Main Event in 1987 and 1988 and was aiming to become the event’s first back-to-back champion. He got as close as possible without doing it by getting to the final two only to lose to the talented young Hellmuth.
The final table was fairly dramatic, too.
When it was four-handed, Hellmuth got into a three-way pot with Steve Lott and Don Zevin. Hellmuth had ace-ten and made a pair of aces on the flop to eliminate Lott and Zewin on the same hand.
Hellmuth’s heads-up battle with Chan lasted 30 minutes, and he won the title when his pocket nines held up against Chan’s ace-seven.
That victory netted Hellmuth the first of his 15 bracelets, which is the most in WSOP history. That is well ahead of the second-highest total. Chan, Phil Ivey, and Doyle Brunson have won 10 bracelets apiece. Hellmuth also holds the record for most WSOP cashes with 166. He has made 57 final tables.
Hellmuth won three bracelets in three consecutive days at the 1993 WSOP to become the second person to win three in one year. He won two more in 2003. His most recent bracelet came in No-Limit Hold’em in 2018. All but two of his bracelets have been won in hold’em.
As great as Hellmuth’s career has been, his sometimes abrasive personality has made almost as many headlines as his big wins.
He’s known for uttering the phrases “I can dodge bullets baby,” and “If it weren’t for luck, I’d win them all.” He’s also known for his overreactions, usually after he suffers a bad beat by what he deems to be an inferior play.
One of the most famous instances occurred during the 2008 WSOP Main Event in a hand against Cristian Dragomir. Hellmuth folded to Dragomir’s bet on a flop of T-9-7. After Hellmuth folded, other players at the table urged Dragomir to show his hand. When he turned over T-4, Hellmuth became enraged because Dragomir had called his preflop raise with a bad hand.
Hellmuth called Dragomir an idiot multiple times and eventually was given a one-round penalty. After a meeting with WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, the penalty was overruled.
In another incident during the 2008 WSOP Main Event, Hellmuth made a set of eights on the turn when his opponent made a winning straight. Hellmuth bet on the river and got raised. After Hellmuth called the raise, his opponent turned over his cards to claim the pot.
Hellmuth popped out of his chair, looked toward the rail, and said to his wife, “He called a raise with queen-ten, honey.” He continued to talk to his wife from the table and then berated the player by calling him an idiot. Then he got up from the table and walked around the room while complaining to the spectators.
By making headlines for his wins and for his personality at the table, it is safe to say Hellmuth is one of the most recognizable players in the history of poker.
Phil Hellmuth stats
Total live tournament winnings: $23,717,333
World Series of Poker
57 final tables
Highest main event finish: 1st
Total WSOP winnings: $15,052,462
World Poker Tour
5 final tables
Total WPT winnings: $1,568,116