I must admit, I was one of the doubters.
I must also admit that I am one of the many who have done a complete U-turn this year and cheered on Phil Hellmuth Jnr at the World Series of Poker.
He has answered most of his critics this year. Three non hold’em runner up places, including the most prestigious non hold’em event of the year, over $1.6 million in winnings, including his first seven figure score ever (Yeah, I was surprised at that too), and the player of the year award almost nailed on.
He has impressed me as a player, but more as a person. His attitude has been great this year, and his post-match interview with Kara Scott was a breath of fresh air. He was very complementary of his opponent, admitted he had made some errors along the way, acknowledged he had been too cocky in the past, couldn’t bring himself to say he was the greatest when asked, admitted the criticism has gotten to him at times, and generally conducted himself like a gent.
I think most people would be crushed to come second three times in one series, and amazingly, I think he took it much better than many of us would have. He was upbeat and jocular.
In The Mental Game of Poker we categorise different forms of tilt, one of them being what we call ‘Entitlement Tilt’, which we preface as ‘Classic Phil Hellmuth Tilt’. It is the tilt that comes when you believe you deserved to win more than someone else – because you think you are better than them, because you think you work harder than them, because you think you have been unluckier than them, because they are French etc. Entitlement tilt happens when you do not truly understand the role of variance in poker and/or are unable to make a proper assessment of yours and your opponent’s relative ability.
Hellmuth obviously has demonstrated entitlement tilt throughout his career, telling anyone who will listen how he deserves to win more than the rest of us mere mortals simply because he has 11 bracelets. If anything was going to spark off ‘classic Hellmuth tilt’ it would be coming runner up three times in a row, but not today. Yes he still moaned a bit, but who wouldn’t? He took it like a champ and I think we are seeing a new Phil Hellmuth, or perhaps, the real Phil Hellmuth?
It is no surprise to me that that Phil 2.0 comes after he parts ways with UB. Whether it has relieved him of some pressure, or more likely, he doesn’t feel the need to act like the Poker Brat. Let’s face it, if Phil endorsed your products, the next best thing to winning the main event would be him flying off the handle and acting like a prick on ESPN, giving your brand lots of TV time. Were most of his temper tantrums fuelled by loyalty to UB?
Perhaps as well, not being sponsored and the new vulnerability of the poker industry has forced him to work harder on his game? Pre Black Friday you would expect him to have his pick of seven figure sponsorship deals, and while I still think he has lots of potential to earn a living just for the name branded on his baseball cap, perhaps he is playing off his own dime a bit more, thus taking it a lot more seriously?
It could be one of many things. Whatever the reason, I love the fact that the new and improved Hellmuth the player has emerged at the same time as the new and improved Hellmuth the gent (And I presume one is causal of the other, rather than just a coincidence). I still think we will see the Brat emerge from time to time, an ego and temperament like that don’t vanish off the face of the earth, but if he keeps this up, he will certainly have a fan in me.