Aggressiveness: 7
Looseness: 7
Short-handed: 7
Limit: 6
No-limit: 7
Tournaments: 7
Side games: 3
Steam control: 2
Against weak players: 8
Against strong players: 5

Best game: Tournament no-limit hold’em
Weakness: Self control

Phil may go down as the pioneer in a method of playing a lot of hands and making small bets and raises that keep opponents in the pot, the theory being that he will make better decisions than they do on subsequent streets. This strategy guarantees large fluctuations and has a lot to say for it against weak opposition. This method would not work as well in a cash game where there is no rush to build up a chip stack and by virtue of playing too many pots opponents can easily take the betting lead away. In a tournament, the extra fear of going busted can keep your opponents at bay and the bad players are confused by what looks like mass hysteria to them. When Phil has his banter and his A-game working, he not only can control the table, but he can mesmerize the entire room.

Players who have been successful adopting a similar style are Gus Hansen, Layne Flack, Antonio Esfandiari, Alan Goehring, and to a small degree Daniel Negreanu.

Phil has assured me that he is a much better player than I give him credit for. He feels he has enough technical skill to win at higher limits, but when he has tried in the past, he often gotten derailed by his lack of self-control.

Amusing anecdote

I first played with Phil in a no-limit side game in Los Angeles in 1992. I didn’t pay attention to tournament poker back then, but I had heard that he was a cocky kid who had won a big tournament. He was playing fast and loose and showing his hands and needling people whenever he outplayed them. Well, I was pretty cocky too. Phil opened for a raise, I reraised and Phil called. After the flop, I bet, Phil raised and I reraised him all-in. He thought for a while, showed me top pair and then folded. I showed him Deuce-Three offsuit which bore no relation to the flop.

Phil stood up and said, “Nice play buddy, but that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Do you realize that giving me that kind of information is going to cost you all of your money? It’s because of players like you that I make millions of dollars a year playing poker.”

Phil Hellmuth’s Website:

Title: It’s My Party
Artist: Leslie Gore
Year: 1973

Reason for this song choice

When Phil is short on chips and wins a pot, he often sings, “Phil is back, back again,” an adaptation of the Eminem rap song Without Me. (The real lyrics are “Guess who’s back, back again. Shady’s back, tell a friend. Guess who’s back, guess who’s back, Guess who’s back, guess who’s back.”) I was going to choose this or give him his choice, instead of using something derogatory.

I don’t like picking on easy targets and Phil claims to have made himself one, to enhance his “bad boy” image. However, I couldn’t resist Howard Lederer’s suggestion that I use It’s My Party, because Phil often acts like he is the only one who loses with the best hand, which is so well stated in the line, “You would cry too, if it happened to you”