Phil Hellmuth is known as a lot of things, some of which can’t be repeated here. There’s no denying the fact that he has skills at the poker tables, having amassed 15 WSOP bracelets and more than $22 million in live action. However, when he recently moved from the poker table to the poker booth, his skills apparently didn’t get the memo and his reception as a poker commentator was not received all that well by the community.
Hellmuth was tapped to sit down with Lon McEachern and Norman Chad to provide commentary for the WSOP Big One for One Drop tournament in Vegas. While he fortunately didn’t throw any of his famous tantrums, Hellmuth was still called out for what came across as condescension and a lack of decorum for comments made about players’ decisions.
Most notably, Phil Galfond took to Twitter to chide The Poker Brat for comments he made regarding the world’s winningest poker player, Justin Bonomo (who would eventually take down the One Drop tournament for $10 million). Galfond tweeted, “I don’t post much negativity, but I really am bothered by the way @phil_hellmuth is commentating on such a prestigious event. Implying that @JustinBonomo is on this amazing run with an inferior strategy and a lot of luck undermines poker as a skill game & robs viewers of a hero.”
Hellmuth read the tweet and said that he would try to “do better.” It didn’t exactly work. He began complimenting players and individual plays, but did so with a certain air of superiority that isn’t exactly keeping with the high standards of ESPN’s broadcasts.
Hellmuth also touched on the subject of game theory optimal (GTO) strategies of playing. He said he had just learned GTO nine days prior and that the strategy was the reason he was able to win his 15th bracelet at the WSOP $5,000 NLHE event. Nine days was not very much time to fully understand any strategy, and the comment was viewed as a virtual slap in the face to those players who have been studying it for years.
Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer, posted a poll on Twitter regarding Hellmuth’s performance. There were only four choices: super, incredibly, remarkably and unbelievably annoying. Out of 18,348 votes, 49% of the respondents indicated that Hellmuth was unbelievably annoying. Super and Remarkably annoying each garnered 21% of the vote, and 9% went to Incredibly annoying.
Not all of the comments on his performance were bad—Hellmuth has his loyal fans. However, he was quick to promote himself, instead of spending time discussing moves, and showed a general lack of respect for how players are playing the game these days.
The Poker Brat might make a good commentator—he knows the game, knows how opponents think and can definitely not be accused of being quiet. However, Hellmuth can only succeed at broadcasting if he stops being Hellmuth.