One of a Kind: Hellmuth strives to be poker’s best

Russian banker and World Series of Poker newcomer Vladimir Schmelev won nearly $1 million as runner-up in the Poker Players Championship event, took seventh place in the Seven Card Stud World Championship a week later, and earned respect.

Schmelev also earned a Phil Hellmuth Jr. tongue-lashing.

For Hellmuth, the tirade directed at the rookie was mild compared to outbursts witnessed in past tournaments that earned him the nickname, "Poker Brat."

A profanity-filled beat-down of a relatively unknown player during the 2008 Main Event caused tournament officials to issue Hellmuth a reprimand. The incident led to the establishment of a new discipline system.

Schmelev brought on the wrath of Hellmuth during Day 2 of the Limit Hold’em World Championship. He eliminated Hellmuth with a queen-high flush and took the last of his 38,000 tournament chips.

Hellmuth was bothered by the way Schmelev played the hand. He dropped a few f-bombs as he left the Rio’s Amazon Ballroom, muttering to himself as he navigated the back hallways of the hotel-casino’s massive convention center. After a few minutes, he arrived inside the Pavilion Ballroom. Once there, Hellmuth found his seat and chips for Day 1 of a no limit hold’em event he entered.

Playing two events simultaneously is not uncommon for Hellmuth.

The incident with Schmelev was now in the past.

"Gentlemen, you’re in trouble," Hellmuth announced to the other eight players at his table who had looks of bemusement and intimidation. "I busted out of the other game and now all my concentration is here."

The players realized this World Series of Poker event had taken a new twist.

The atmosphere at a poker table changes when Hellmuth arrives.

"That’s the way it always is. I’m used to it," Hellmuth said

• • •

Phil Hellmuth Jr. wants to be known as the best poker player in the world. Ever.

With a record 11 World Series of Poker individual champion bracelets and more than $6 million in winnings, Hellmuth is on his way.

But for Hellmuth, who will be 46 on July 16, success is also measured through business. The brand he is selling is Phil Hellmuth Jr. It has allowed him to become a millionaire several times over and offers a quiet existence away from the gambling tables for his family — wife, Kathy, a doctor at Stanford University, and his two sons.

Outside the poker room, Hellmuth is not the Poker Brat.

"That’s my persona and there are times I have to get away from it," Hellmuth said. "Through all the craziness, what I know is that I’m a good husband and a good father and I do a great job with my kids. I wanted to be famous and I wanted to make a fortune, and I’ve done that. I enjoy the attention and I think I’m perfectly suited for it."

A few years ago, the attention got to Hellmuth and he "flipped out" during a family trip to Monterrey, Calif. He eventually took his family to Canyon Ranch Spa near Tucson, Ariz., and after four days, with the help of others, figured out his troubles.

"There is your persona and then there’s the real you," Hellmuth said. "I was living inside my persona too much. I’m really a family guy and that is No. 1 to me."

The blowups, he said, remain in the poker room.


Hellmuth discovered he was a brand at age 24. He became the then-youngest player to capture the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em World Championship Event in 1989 during the 20th World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe.

His youthful brashness and overconfident personality turned off hardened poker types. But Hellmuth kept poker legend Johnny Chan from winning an unprecedented third straight title. Hellmuth imagined poker would increase in popularity.

"I was the one guy in the mid-1990s who thought poker would get big, but I honestly didn’t think it would get this big," Hellmuth said.

He capitalized on the growth by becoming a brand.

Hellmuth kept on winning World Series of Poker bracelets, including three in 1993; authored a New York Times best-selling book on poker; landed endorsement deals; and drew legions of fans to his personal website and UltimateBet poker website, where he is the featured professional among several well-known names, including Annie Duke.

Televised poker on cable and late-night network television latched onto the Hellmuth train and fans watched to see his antics, such as one of his legendary temper tantrums.

On his personal website, Hellmuth sells updated copies of his poker self-help manual and logo merchandise bearing his personal PH logo and trademarked, "Poker Brat." He also sells items with the UltimateBet logo, including a hockey jersey similar to one he often wears during tournaments.

Unlike poker contemporaries, such as Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, Hellmuth shuns the legendary high-limit cash games found in the private room at Bellagio. He’d rather concentrate on tournament play and televised poker.

"The TV stuff is fun, but it also builds the brand," Hellmuth said. "Ivey and Doyle are amazing players. They both have won fortunes on the side games and my hat is off to them. They are doing it in poker and I’m doing it in business."

During the 2009 World Series of Poker, Hellmuth’s image was placed on 12 million cans of Milwaukee’s Best beer that were sold throughout the country.

Hellmuth recently struck a handshake deal with Aria President Bill McBeath to wear the CityCenter hotel-casino’s logo on his baseball caps during the 2010 World Series of Poker.

McBeath said the deal was easy for Aria. Hellmuth will command ESPN’s tournament television coverage. Also, his tables are drawing cards for poker fans.

The night he reached the agreement with Hellmuth, McBeath gave the poker superstar a suite at Aria. Hellmuth tweeted positive comments about the room to his more than 39,000 followers on Twitter.

"The next day, our casino marketing guys said they heard from customers that Phil was being sponsored by Aria," McBeath said. "It was like speed of light."

McBeath understands brand awareness, which is what Aria gets through Hellmuth. Some three dozen people stopped Hellmuth at Aria for an autograph or photo the night they were discussing the deal.

"Poker guys like Phil and Doyle and Ivey, are rock stars," McBeath said. "Take away Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, bar none, Phil Hellmuth is the most recognizable guy in sports."

Hellmuth’s entrances on Day 1 of the Main Event have become crowd-pleasing productions. One year he arrived in a military vehicle dressed as Gen. George Patton. Another year, he was outfitted as Caesar. The costume coincided with advertising campaigns for UltimateBet.

Whether recognition is enough to become poker’s greatest player is subject to debate.

Hellmuth’s 11 World Series of Poker bracelets are only in hold’em events, and his last was in 2007. Hellmuth says the tournament is the most important event he plays.

"I want more bracelets than anybody else," Hellmuth said.

Poker analyst Norman Chad, who has been calling the World Series of Poker since 2003 for ESPN with broadcast partner Lon McEachern, said Hellmuth needs to win a non-hold’em event to quiet critics.

"He’s regarded by many in the poker community as a one-trick pony," Chad said. "But Phil is better than he’s given credit for. He has made countless final tables in non-hold’em events. He needs that bracelet, though, to silence some of his detractors."

McEachern has been impressed by Hellmuth’s marketing abilities, which have won over the public despite his lack of a title outside hold’em.

"Phil wants to always show us that he is still relevant in the poker universe, and so far he has done that," McEachern said. "Watching Hellmuth is like waiting for a volcano to blow — you know it will but are never sure when. What I like about Phil is that he is what he is. He will not change who he is for media purposes or because it may not be popular with the other players and you have to respect that."


Hellmuth is an easy spot during the World Series of Poker, and not because of his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and his normally all-black attire. His table draws the largest crowd. If Hellmuth is in a good mood, he’ll banter with onlookers.

"I can’t believe a guy on the rail is questioning my hand," Hellmuth said as he contemplated action during a hold’em event. A player raised preflop and Hellmuth immediately re-raised all-in. The player looked perplexed.

"I’m just trying to double up on you," Hellmuth said while also conducting a media interview. He then took a minute to exchange greetings with 2001 World Series of Poker champion Carlos Mortensen.

After a few minutes the other player folded, showing Hellmuth a queen-10, off-suit. Hellmuth showed he wasn’t bluffing, flipping over ace-king of spades.

Most of the unknown players he faces learned poker on the Internet, which Hellmuth turned to in order to step up his game.

"I studied with the Internet guys and I learned everything they’re doing," Hellmuth said. "It was helpful to see the mathematics. To me, it’s more of an elegant way of deciphering poker. There are still some basic principles which they don’t seem to get, which is great for me."

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at or 702-477-3871.

Technology reshapes the pawn shop industry
Devin Battersby attaches a black-colored device to the back of her iPhone and snaps several of the inside and outside of a Louis Vuitton wallet. The device, installed with artificial intelligence capabilities, analyzes the images using a patented microscopic technology. Within a few minutes, Battersby receives an answer on her app. The designer item is authentic.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Nevada for one year
Exhale Nevada CEO Pete Findley talks about the one year anniversary of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Young adults aren't saving for retirement
Financial advisors talk about saving trends among young adults. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump’s tariffs could raise costs for real estate developers, analysts say
President Donald Trump made his fortune in real estate, but by slapping tariffs on imports from close allies, developers in Las Vegas and other cities could get hit hard.
Las Vegas business and tariffs
Barry Yost, co-owner of Precision Tube Laser, LLC, places a metal pipe into the TruLaser Tube 5000 laser cutting machine on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Nevada Film Office Connects Businesses To Producers
The director of the Nevada Film Office discusses its revamped locations database and how it will affect local businesses. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Opendoor isn't the typical house flipping company
Unlike most house flippers, the company aims to make money from transaction costs rather than from selling homes for more than their purchase price.
The Venetian gondoliers sing Italian songs
Gondolier Marciano sings a the classic Italian song "Volare" as he leads guests through the canals of The Venetian in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Building In Logandale
Texas homebuilder D.R. Horton bought 43 lots in rural Logandale. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter announces plans to retire
Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the LVCVA, on Tuesday confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that he is preparing to retire. Richard N. Velotta/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Cousins Maine Lobster to open inside 2 Las Vegas Smith’s stores
Cousins Maine Lobster food truck company will open inside Las Vegas’ two newest Smith’s at Skye Canyon Park Drive and U.S. Highway 95, and at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive. Cousins currently sells outside some Las Vegas Smith’s stores and at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices to continue to rise, expert says
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, gives homebuyers a pulse on the Las Vegas housing market. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NV Energy announces clean energy investment
The company is planning to add six solar projects in Nevada, along with the state's first major battery energy storage capacity. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
3 Mario Batali restaurants on Las Vegas Strip to close
Days after new sexual misconduct allegations were made against celebrity chef Mario Batali, his company announced Friday that it will close its three Las Vegas restaurants July 27. Employees of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, all located in The Venetian and Palazzo resorts, were informed of the decision Friday morning. Bastianich is scheduled to visit the restaurants Friday to speak to employees about the next two months of operation as well as how the company plans to help them transition to new positions.
Nevada has its first cybersecurity apprenticeship program
The Learning Center education company in Las Vegas has launched the first apprenticeship program for cybersecurity in Nevada. It was approved by the State Apprenticeship Council on May 15. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas union members voting to authorize the right to strike
Thousands of Las Vegas union members voting Tuesday morning to authorize the right to strike. A “yes” vote would give the union negotiating committee the power to call a strike anytime after June 1 at the resorts that fail to reach an agreement. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Small businesses struggle to find qualified candidates
A 2018 survey found that over two-thirds of small businesses in Nevada find it somewhat to very difficult to recruit qualified candidates. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Nevada secretary of state website offers little protection against fraudulent business filings
Property developer Andy Pham tells how control of his business was easily seized by another person using the secretary of state website.
Caesars may be going solo in its marijuana policy
Several Southern Nevada casino companies aren’t following Caesars Entertainment’s lead on marijuana testing.
How much is the Lucky Dragon worth?
Less than a year-and-a-half after it opened, the Lucky Dragon was in bankruptcy.
Gyms and discount stores take over empty retail spaces
Grocery stores used to draw people to shopping centers. But many large retail spaces have been vacant since 2008. Discount stores like goodwill and gyms like EOS Fitness are filling those empty spaces, and helping to draw shoppers back in. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Funding source of Las Vegas stadium for the Raiders is sound, expert says
The stadium is funded in part by $750 million of room taxes, the biggest such tax subsidy ever for a professional sports stadium. Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute at UNLV, says that is a good use of public funds. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas needs light rail, expert says
Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute said he is afraid of a "congestion mobility crisis." Las Vegas needs a light rail system, he said, to accommodate the city's growing number of attractions. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three takeaways from Wynn Resorts' Earnings Call
Matt Maddox came out swinging in his first earnings conference call as Wynn Resorts chief executive officer, boasting of record Las Vegas quarterly revenues and applicants lining up for work.
Star Wars VR Comes to Las Vegas
Sneak peak at the new "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" VR experience at the Grand Canal Shoppes.
Elaine Wynn continues her fight to change Wynn Resorts board
Elaine Wynn, the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts Ltd., is seeking to kick a friend of her ex-husband Steve Wynn off the company’s board of directors. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zillow is getting into house flipping in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Review-Journal real estate reporter Eli Segall says flipping houses has waned in popularity after the housing bubble burst.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like