There isn’t a more polarising figure in poker today than Phil Hellmuth. The 17-time WSOP bracelet winner has been there and done it all over his 35-year career but still doesn’t get enough credit from much of the community.
Yes, he blows up from time to time, embarrassingly so in many cases, but time after time he shows up and performs in all manner of formats and against world-class players. $29,893,754 in live tournament earnings tells a story that is impossible to deny.
In a career spanning so many years, it’s difficult to pinpoint all of the great moments but the three we’ve chosen below are definitely worthy of being considered among Phil Hellmuth’s best.
1989 World Series of Poker Main Event - Youngest Ever Champion
Phil Hellmuth's first registered cash in a poker tournament came all the way back in 1987. After dropping out of university to become a full-time poker pro, he must have been confident about his abilities but surely didn’t expect to become one of the very best in such a short space of time.
Less than two years after posting that first cash, Phil Hellmuth stunned the poker world by defeating Johnny Chan heads-up to become the youngest winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event at the age of 24. This record stood until 2008 when Dane Peter Eastgate won the tournament aged 22.
Although the next WSOP gold bracelet didn’t come until 1992, the 1993 series saw three arrive in as many days.
High Stakes Duel Whitewash
Heads-up is often thought of as the purest test of a poker player. There is no time to retreat and nit it up; it is real combat against just a single opponent.
Now, Phil Hellmuth is often criticised for overly tight play in many of his televised tournament appearances but there was none of that in the PokerGO series High Stakes Duel. Here, Phil Hellmuth demolished not one but two elite opponents 3-0.
In July 2020, Antonio Esfandiari stepped up to face Hellmuth with both players stumping up $50,000. Hellmuth won the first round and the rules stated the loser can rematch for double the buy-in. Hellmuth won once again and also the final round for a $400,000 prize pool before taking advantage of being able to cash out at this stage.
In 2021, Daniel Negreanu was next up. Surely he could find more success, being a much more active player than Esfandiari. Nope. Hellmuth demolished the Canadian 3-0 as well.
Another great moment in Phil Hellmuth’s career.
World Series of Poker 2021 - Performance of a Lifetime
We all know just how much effort Phil Hellmuth puts into trying to win WSOP bracelets. He turns up every year fully motivated to pick up more wins. But only two out of his total had come since 2012, giving more ammunition to the haters who think he’s washed up and not the same player.
To be fair, even Phil’s most ardent fans will have been surprised at what transpired in Las Vegas during October and November 2021.
A total of nine cashes came throughout the festival, but the consistency of hitting final tables was shocking. A win in the $1,500 No Limit 2-7 Lowball (Event #31) gave Hellmuth a record 16th bracelet but it was backed up by two runner-up finishes plus a fourth, fifth and a sixth.
A very clear message to anyone who thinks that Phil Hellmuth’s career as a tournament player is on the wane.