This week, Phil Hellmuth did what he does better than anyone else: he won a World Series of Poker bracelet. Hellmuth raked in his 17th bracelet in Event #72 – a Super Turbo Bounty No-Limit Hold’em event. Again, Hellmuth has 17 bracelets – more than anyone else in WSOP history. There is a 3-way tie for second place with 10 bracelets between the recently deceased Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Ivey. That trio would all be in a discussion about the greatest tournament players of all time. Hellmuth has 70% more bracelets than each of them. As always for the Poker Brat, the path to bracelet number 17 was not without obstacles.
How Hellmuth Did It
Hellmuth outlasted a field of 642 players in this $10K buy-in event. For a WSOP event, Event #72 certainly was a turbo. It offered only 20-minute blinds with a starting stack of 60,000 chips. Hellmuth was on the ropes a couple of times during his run, most notably when he was down to 2 blinds at the 15,000/30,000 level. He went to the final table with only a middling stack, well behind the chip leader Chris Savage, who had half the chips at the table to start.
But fate smiled upon Hellmuth at the final table. He was able to win a couple of key all-in races and, most critically, picked up pocket aces when Ivey had shoved UTG with KTs. Hellmuth had Ivey covered, so Ivey was sent to the rail in sixth place. Later, Hellmuth sent a micro-stacked Tom Kunze out in third after Hellmuth hit top pair on the turn. Despite fairly equivalent stacks, heads-up play lasted exactly one hand as Hellmuth flopped bottom two pair and Justin Zaki flopped a straight flush draw (albeit a gutshot). Hellmuth turned a full house, leaving Zaki just one out. When it did not come Hellmuth was ebullient.
Hellmuth’s Longevity and Consistency
The first of Phil’s 17 bracelets famously came at the Main Event in 1989 when he beat the already legendary Johnny Chan who had won the previous two Main Events. Quite a way to kick off your WSOP career. Hellmuth proceeded to win eight more bracelets before 2004, the year the Moneymaker effect on WSOP fields began (following Moneymaker’s 2003 Main Event victory). Since 2004, Hellmuth has won another eight bracelets. He has won these bracelets over a quarter century when poker has gone from a game played at a high level by a few experienced players, to one where even recreational players are reading about Game Theory and using solvers to refine their play.
Hellmuth as Closer
Hellmuth’s ability to finish may be the most astounding part of this story. He is “only” 10th on the all-time WSOP number of cashes list with 201. So when he gets to the money, he wins the whole thing almost 9% of the time. The nine players ahead of him in all-time cashes account for 2,377 cashes and include such notables as Daniel Negreanu, Ari Engel, and Allen Kessler. Combined…combined…those nine players with all those cashes have 10 bracelets. That’s a win rate once in the money of 0.42%. Hellmuth’s win rate is 20 times higher than all of these players combined. Five of the nine have never won a bracelet at all. Negreanu accounts for most of the bracelets, with six among his 237 cashes (a 2.5% win rate).
Among the players in the top 100 all-time WSOP cashes, only Eric Seidel (9 for 143, 6.3%), Men “The Master” Nguyen (7 for 127, 5.5%), and Jeremy Ausmus (6 for 121, 5.0%), even approach Hellmuth’s win rate. Among the modern players with more than six bracelets (the win rates of Brunson, Chan, Johnny Moss, and Billy Baxter are phenomenal, but most of those bracelets were won in a very different time), Hellmuth is only looking up at Phil Ivey (10 of 82, 12.2%).
It’s hard to argue against the fact that Phil Hellmuth is the most achieved tournament player of all time. He has about $30M in live tournament winnings and has won many events beyond the WSOP. But what about Hellmuth’s “antics” at the table? Let’s face it: many of his verbal tirades directed at other players are nothing to be proud of. And yet, there are many all-time greats in a variety of endeavors who don’t necessarily rank high on likability. In tournament results? Hellmuth’s greatness is unquestioned and he continues to build on his impressive legacy every year.