“Counter Punching” is Hellmuth’s new “White Magic”

Jon Pill
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Posted on: July 15, 2021 8:48 pm EDT

“White magic” is getting old. Phil Hellmuth‘s latest catchphrase is “counter-punching.” In a recent interview with CBS Sports, he hit the topic like he was selling “counter-punch” merch.

“I have always been a counter puncher,” Hellmuth told the interviewer. “When you have great reads, you will always be able to make great folds and great calls.”

What is “counter-punching?” Like most Hellmuthian coinages, it’s a new word for something the poker world already has a perfectly good lexicon for. Where “white magic” is the ability to read opponents, “counter-punching” is knowing how to exploit their patterns. Poker 101 stuff, rebranded like Phil invented it.

“Regarding counter punching: whatever the masses believe to be the correct strategy of the day—they stick together,” Hellmuth says in the interview. “I look for flaws and exploit them. For example, if someone is playing too loose versus me, I look for a moment to call them, or bluff them.”

The rest of the CBS interview serves largely as a puff piece. With CBS Sports taking over from ESPN as broadcaster de jour of the WSOP, they want to promo the series. Who better to do that than the man who has won more WSOP bracelets than anyone else.

Hellmuth explains, once again, why we should all be calling him the GOAT. He chats a bit about his WSOP history and what he’s planning this year.

“I have earned the title of G.O.A.T. in poker tournaments,” he says. “I may lose that title in five years or 10 years or 30 years, but I hope to retain it. 99 percent of the poker world feels I have earned that title.”

The Hellmuth brand

Phil Hellmuth has always had an ear for a soundbite. To the poker-watching public, Hellmuth’s whole career is carefully rehearsed one-liners.

“They can’t even spell poker,” is a classic Hellmuth insult. “I can dodge bullets, baby” is an iconic line on beating an opponent’s pocket aces.

The most complete self-description he’s ever delivered is: “I guess if there weren’t luck involved, I’d win every time.” That’s just good writing. If a character in a movie said that, you’d know her deal right away.

His Trump-ian habit of giving his gimmicks nicknames, on the other hand, almost always falls flat. The animal names doled out in Play Poker Like The Pros were an attempt to rename established types in poker. In that, he describes his style as being that of an “Eagle.” No one calls a player a jackal or an elephant unironically.

Phil, stop trying to make “lion” happen.

The eagle language is echoed in his more recent self-chosen nickname of “apex predator.” That one was born out of the Heads Up Duel battle with Daniel Negreanu. Counter puncher is not a lot better than that. The term also suffers from being just a little too close to the title of the Kick Puncher franchise out of the Community universe.

There’s something bizarre about one of the most established pros in the world, touting basic strategy as if it is ground-breaking. But it fits with Hellmuth’s mission to put himself at the center of everything. It is gauche as they come, but it is also part of what makes Hellmuth such good entertainment.

“Counter-punching” is a phrase he has used to describe exploitative play before. However, now he’s decided it is time for the phrase to shine. It might stick, if it doesn’t he’ll throw something else out there.


Featured image source: Flickr by WPT