"Even Doyle and I were out drinking"

Von Interview: Anant Agarwala
Dienstag, 20.04.2010 | 11:57 Uhr
Phil Hellmuth wurde im Juli 2007 in die Poker Hall of Fame aufgenommen
© Getty

Phil Hellmuth gehört zu den erfolgreichsten Pokerstars der Welt - und zu den schillernsten Charakteren. Wegen seiner aufbrausenden Art am Tisch ist er auch als Poker Brat - der Poker-Rüpel - bekannt. Im Interview mit SPOX spricht Hellmuth nicht nur über seine Leidenschaft fürs Pokern, sondern auch über Ausraster vor dem Laptop, sein heißes Rennen mit Ivey, Chan und Brunson sowie seinen süßesten Bad Beat. Das Interview im englischen Original.

SPOX: Hi Phil, I'm reaching you in the middle of the night. You twittered earlier today that you played some poker on the internet. Still on it?

Phil Hellmuth: I played until the minute you called. At 1 o'clock I played my last hand, and the phone rang. You're just in time. So let's do it!

SPOX: Great. Let's start way back. You grew up in Madison in Wisconsin, a state known for lakes, beer and the Packers. Not really the place you'd expect a poker superstar to come from...How did you get in touch with the game?

Hellmuth: At the University of Wisconsin I had a friend, Tuli Haromy, who grew up in Las Vegas. He brought Hold'em to the Memorial Union. So I also started playing poker.

SPOX: How was this "early poker" quality-wise, were there good players around?

Hellmuth: Yeah, there were some pretty good players. Actually, probably not too good. I started in the Union game and won some money, so I was invited to the bigger game, the "doctor's game", where professors, doctors and lawyers were playing.

SPOX: How much money was at stake at these tables?

Hellmuth: They had a 50 Cent Ante and no Blinds (laughing), but somehow it worked (still laughing). I won between 100 and 1000 dollars a night and that kinda started it for me. It wasn't too long before I had payed off my student loan and had almost 20.000 dollars in the bank.

SPOX: That's a lot of money for a student...

Hellmuth: Yeah, but then I found Las Vegas (laughing).

SPOX: That doesn't sound good...

Hellmuth: Not at all. At first I lost nine trips in a row and all my money - which was about 60.000 dollars. I was broke. But each time I kept getting better at poker. Back then, in Vegas the 20/40 dollar limit Hold'em tables were full of hometown champions. So when I came back to Madison I won more and more money because my game was sharp. Over the next year I won thirtythousand dollars in Madison, maybe even forty.

SPOX: That means you didn't move to Las Vegas but kept shuttling back to Madison to rebuild your bankroll, only to try it in Vegas again?!

Hellmuth: Exactly. I just felt that my future was in Las Vegas. I already wanted to become the best poker player in the world. And I kept having visions: me, sitting at a table in Las Vegas, my head under a hood, like a monk in his frock, and the chips were just flying to me.  I think, back then this hood represented to me the need to develop discipline.

SPOX: Is it true that a fortune-teller predicted that you'd become a famous superstar?

Hellmuth: She wasn't a fortune-teller. The woman's name was Rose Gladden, she was a psychic.

SPOX: What did she tell you?

Hellmuth: I think I was 16 years old when she read a bunch of peoples hands. When she read mine her head just turned blue. She said, "You're gonna be known throughout the world, and you're gonna be infamous." I'm not totally sure it was "infamous", but she used a word other than "famous". I thought, "What the heck is she talking about?", but then I watched her reading some other people's hands and she'd tell nothing similar to them. I realized she predicted only to me to be rich and famous and that gave me fuel for my fire!

SPOX: That means you believed her?!

Hellmuth: Sure I believed her. I looked for something to latch onto.

SPOX: Eight years later you became world champion in the WSOP '89. Was this triumph the point when you finally realized you could achieve anything you wanted?

Hellmuth: I don't know. It was my lifetime goal in poker to become world champion. But I had many goals. One of them was to meet and marry an amazing woman. I've been lucky, I'm married for 20 years now. Then I wanted a gorgeous house and some nice cars. I had achieved all goals at the age of 25. I also had the goal to write a "New York Times" bestseller and I didn't do that until 2004. But I did finish it.

SPOX: So what goals are left?

Hellmuth: Phil Ivey recently said that he wants to pass me in bracelets. I have to stay ahead of him. Me and him, Doyle [Brunson] and [Johnny] Chan are racing for poker history. And the race is on!

SPOX: What is possible for you?

Hellmuth: I feel like I'm going to have 24 bracelets when I'm done. I don't know why I feel that, but I do. Write that: "I feel it". I don't know if Ivey can beat that. Right now I have 11 and he has 7 so I just have to keep on getting bracelets.

SPOX: You're talking about a battle between the four of you: What is the "balance of power"?

Hellmuth: I look at the four of us and think: 'Well, who's the greatest?' I've won 11 bracelets, and no one else does. Regarding the WSOP I also have the most cashes and final tables. I won five "Hall of Fame Champions" in the 90s. At that time they were worth a bracelet. So I feel almost like I have 16 bracelets already. Doyle has ten bracelets, but he's been in the game for 50 years. And Johnny Chan has ten bracelets and has been in the game for thirty years. Phil Ivey has seven bracelets and won so much money in the cashgames: online and in the real world. I don't think Ivey is there yet, but he is on track. And I'm on track as well. But I think, Doyle is still the guy. I'm not saying I'm the greatest poker player of all time - yet. But just to be able to talk about the four of us is big.

SPOX: What goals do you have aside from poker?

Hellmuth: I want to write another bestseller, two would be better. One of them is my Autobiography. I've written 66,000 words, I'm almost done. It ends when I'm 24 years old - with my win of the Main Event.

SPOX: Do you already know the title - and a release date?

Hellmuth: Probably "Poker Brat", but I'm not finished yet. I think it will be published around Christmas this year. We already published "Deal Me In", a book I'm very proud of.

SPOX: It's not available in German yet. Are there plans to translate it to other languages?

Hellmuth: I think that's a good idea, but first we need more sales in the US. But I think especially Germany is a good market, because the Germans read a lot of books.

SPOX: I read something about a biopic, probably in connection with the autobiography. Is it still in the pipeline?

Hellmuth: Yes, but it's taking longer than I want.

SPOX: Already an idea who will play "Phil"?

Hellmuth: We had Hayden Christensen attached, but at the moment no one. We need a big name for international distribution. There'll be another movie released earlier, "Quest for Twelve" which tracked me in the WSOP 2008. They still cut the footage, I think it will be pretty exceptional.

SPOX: You've been a superstar for quite some time now. On the one hand, you play for millions of dollars and go to celebrity parties, but on the other hand you always point out the importance of your family...

Hellmuth: I think it's possible to be great in life and to go after greatness in life and still keep family number one. Golfer Jack Nicklaus, he has four or five children, is still married, he is 70 years old now, has won 18 majors. You look at Erik Seidel, who's been married a long time, Doyle, who is married for almost 50 years, I think Johnny Chan is still married to the same woman. That are the top four bracelet guys and they all have been married for a long time. You just need stability.

SPOX: Speaking of Jack Nicklaus: One of your hobbies is playing golf. What's your handicap?

Hellmuth: I think my official handicap is 11.4. But: I'm actually worse than that. I was playing a PGA Tournament, and I didn't want anybody to accuse me of being a hustler, so I turned in better scores than I actually shot. My real handicap is probably around 16, 17.

SPOX: Unlike many of your pro friends, you don't live in Vegas. You reside reclusively in Palo Alto in the Bay Area...

Hellmuth: (interrupting) I wouldn't call it reclusive. Tonight I went to a restaurant with a movie star (Greg Grunberg of "Heroes") in Palo Alto, the other night I went to a Stanford basketball game. So I wouldn't call it reclusive, but it's definitely outside of the normal poker realm.

Part 2: Hellmuth about his image as a brat and drinks with Doyle Brunson

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