February 02, 2013

The Mystery of Phil Hellmuth’s Success

If you were to ask a random person on the street to name a famous poker player, the odds are
pretty good that they wouldn’t be able to answer. If they could, however, there are about 4
names they’re most likely to respond with: Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil

Brunson, Ivey, and Negreanu have received far less critique from serious players than Hellmuth
has over his career. His “poker brat” reputation and occasional outbursts while playing obviously
play a role in that. More importantly, the statistics-based players who grind online with
rakeback have done the math and determined that he consistently makes decisions that are not
mathematically correct.

If he’s really doing so much wrong though, how is it possible that he’s won more major poker
tournaments than any player ever? 13 World Series of Poker bracelets surely can’t be an
accident, right?

Although it’s probably correct that Hellmuth’s decisions are not always optimal according to
game theory, he more than makes up for his shortcomings in other ways.

Many qualities of great poker players that used to be considered important are now vastly
undervalued by modern players. Likely due to so many players learning the game online, it’s
easy for people to forget that picking up on physical tells and putting your opponents on tilt can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Phil Hellmuth is the absolute master of these skills.

The younger generation surely hasn’t left him behind, after all – he finished 2nd in the World
Series of Poker Player of the Year race in both 2011 and 2012.

Phil Hellmuth is a prime example that even the world’s best players have room for improvement.
Who knows how great he might be if he were to sit down with some top online players and learn
to play their style as well?

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