In the past, I have compared Phil Hellmuth to the late Dale Earnhardt. It seems that, like Earnhardt, people either love him or hate him. Many people who don't like him, however, seem to base their opinions on his past "poker brat" reputation that follows him even today. I found, when sitting down for a phone call with one of the greatest poker players in the history of the game, that there is much more to the man besides his perceived reputation!
To list all of Phil's achievements would take an article in its own right. Briefly, however, he is at the top of the major lists in career performance at the World Series of Poker, tied with legendary players Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most bracelets and at the top of the list in career earnings (yes, Greg Raymer has the lead officially, but Phil leads those who have a long standing career record at the WSOP). He has won major championships around the world and, in March, returned to the top of the poker world when he captured (SPOILER ALERT!) the National Heads Up Poker Championship that is currently running on NBC.
I caught up with Phil on the phone recently and got a new view on the man whom many consider one of the greatest players to ever grace the felt. There is much more to Phil than meets the eye!
PN: Hello, Phil! How are you doing?
PH: Very well, Earl, thank you. I am just sitting here going through my e-mail and taking care of some business before I go get the kids from school.
PN: Sounds like everything comes to a halt for that...
PH: Definitely! My family is the most important thing in my life. If I am in the middle of things or the schedule starts to infringe on that, then I stop immediately what I am doing and take care of the kids or my wife. Nothing is more important to me than them.
It's something I think came from my upbringing. My mother and father was always there for us when I was growing up, so I think it probably made me follow in their footsteps and do the same. Whatever I am doing, be it poker or business, it comes to a halt when I have responsibilities to my family.
PN: Sounds like you have everything in perspective there. On another front, how was golfing at Pinehurst? I saw on your schedule you had a chance to play there recently.
PH: Oh, it was beautiful! I had a chance to play a corporate get-together and we played Pinehurst #2, the same course where they'll compete for the U. S. Open this year. A few years back they competed there, too, and the course was brutal! Even though it isn't in form for the Open yet, it was a challenge to play it!
I remember one shot I chipped onto the green, it hit and ran thirty yards down off the green into a catch area. I tried to putt it back up onto the green and it continued to run along until it was thirty yards off the other side! Well, after I completed the hole, one of my partners said it was the same hole that John Daly completely went off on (Daly is remembered for a blowup during the last U. S. Open there, when he took around thirteen strokes to complete the same hole and, once completing it, immediately picked up his ball and walked off the course). I told him I could completely understand why!
PN: I've been there myself, it is vicious because it is beautiful and difficult!
PN: Oh, yes!
PN: Let's be honest, Phil. 2004 was not a great year for you. Were you concentrating on other things more than poker last year?
PH: Most definitely. I had so many things going on, with my family, books, other business and such that I never got comfortable playing poker. I even left the World Series twice last year to take care of some business ventures, which is something that I had never done before and will never do again.
I also didn't play that much. I played more in the last half of the year, but it never quite came together. I will have those streaks, though, when I get on those times when I am playing simply fantastic poker, it will last for nine months to a year. It's something that even the best professional realizes...
PN: Kind of like Tiger Woods?
PH: Exactly. Tiger plays what, twelve or fourteen tournaments a year out of how many? (We eventually settled on forty between us.) In every event he goes into, he is recognized as the greatest player there. So, like his streak that he had when he didn't win, it eventually comes around. Poker is the same, except that you are much more winning dependent and luck will occasionally take you down.
PN: I hate to ask this, but did the passing of Andrew Glazer have an effect as well?
PH: Not a problem, Earl, because yes it did. He was one of my best friends and was truly an amazing guy.
I remember when I heard about his death, my family and I were in London getting ready for our first European vacation. I was going to play in the WPT event there in Paris, but we were going to travel as well and enjoy the time for ourselves. When I heard about it, I immediately turned to my wife and said, "I have to attend the funeral." She immediately came back at me with, "I'm going with you!" We came back to California and then headed off to New York soon after that for his funeral.
I just don't let people get close to me, but Andy did. I even let him stay at my house, with me and my family, for quite a while. The house is large and, with the rules we had and all, I saw less of him than if we weren't living together and just meeting up at tournaments and such!
PH: Yeah, I have a tremendous amount of memories of Andy, and I miss him even today.
We'll have more with Phil when, in the second part of our interview, we find out what is going on in the poker life of Phil Hellmuth.
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