Phil Hellmuth packed what would be a lifetime of accomplishments for most players into the first three weeks of the World Series of Poker.
He made five final tables and extended his own record with his 16th WSOP title, giving him six more than anyone else.
But it was hard for Hellmuth to be satisfied after just missing his 17th when he finished second in a marathon final day in the $10,000 buy-in Dealer’s Choice event early Thursday at the Rio.
“It’s taken me a whole lifetime to learn to play all these games perfectly. Perfectly,” he said minutes after his loss, as the clock neared 3 a.m. “And then I get tired, I blow it, I don’t take enough days off, I get emotional. And so I’ve blown a lot of tournaments, more than anybody else on the planet.”
His 16th bracelet gave him even more breathing room on Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey, who each has 10.
Beyond his accomplishments, Hellmuth serves as the face of poker to a worldwide audience, along with fan favorite and six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu.
“Phil is the greatest. I don’t know how else to put it,” WSOP vice president Jack Effel said.
Hellmuth has an almost gravitational pull when playing in the Amazon Room at the Rio Convention Center. At 6 feet, 7 inches, he towers over nearly everyone around him. His voice carries, whether laughing or complaining — sometimes loudly and profanely — about a bad beat from a competitor.
He’s a poker player, a celebrity and a NASCAR-style pitchman, wearing a hat promoting Bitcoin Latinum and working the energy drink Breinfuel into an interview. He seems to accommodate all fan requests for selfies and autographs.
A youthful 57, the Palo Alto, California, resident bounces around the room, greeting his supporters between hands and dancing with his headphones on during a tournament break. (He said on Twitter he was listening to the Bee Gees’ greatest hits.)
But in the end, it all comes down to results, and building a resume that he says makes him the greatest poker player of all time.
That’s why he was so sullen early Thursday after losing the chip lead heads-up to Adam Friedman, who created his own WSOP history by becoming the first player to win the same event three straight times.
Hellmuth blamed a lack of sleep. After a series of 10-hour days, he played more than 12 hours Wednesday into Thursday morning in the Dealer’s Choice finale.
“I am exhausted,” Hellmuth said. “It’s frustrating when you play perfect poker right until the end. I slipped a little bit there for a minute, but I really thought I was going to come back and beat him.”
Friedman, a confident player and now four-time WSOP bracelet winner, said of his heads-up comeback: “I simply outcarded Phil. Phil played great the entire time I played with him.”
Amid Hellmuth’s frustration, he acknowledged the bright side of what he has already accomplished this year and what he could still do over the last four weeks of the series.
“I’ve never played this good before in my life,” he said. “… I thought I was supposed to win 17, but I have time.”
Hellmuth vowed to take some days off and recharge. Before he could head to his hotel room, one more fan came up to him and asked for a photo.
“Phil, you’re my idol, dude,” he said.
Hellmuth stopped, smiled and posed for the camera.
And that vow of rest? Late Thursday, Hellmuth hopped into the $1,500 Razz.
“I’m on less than 4 hours sleep, completely exhausted, can’t even see straight, blood shot eyes, and prob should NOT play, but I can’t fall asleep,” Hellmuth said on Twitter. “Just sat down, hello Razz!”
Man! I guess @AllenKessler is right, I need to play @WSOP $1,500 Razz. Razz is my BEST tourney. I’m on less than 4 hours sleep, completely exhausted, can’t even see straight, blood shot eyes, and prob should NOT play, but I can’t fall asleep. Just sat down, hello Razz!
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) October 22, 2021