Two days on from the first episode of PokerOrg’s new recurring feature, ‘The Interview’, and the buzz around the poker world has been about little else.
Despite going into detail about many aspects of his life and career – more on that below – the most discussed aspect of Phil Hellmuth’s extended PokerOrg interview has been his take on Ike Haxton’s use of a covid mask at the table. At a time of heightened tensions and beefs between various high-profile players, some have understandably chosen to focus on one particular and divisive element in what was a far-reaching interview.
Hellmuth took to X to further explain his belief that non-essential face-coverings should be banned in competition.
The stance has attracted both support and criticism from across the spectrum, with many such as Mike Matusow standing by Hellmuth, and others including David Lappin supporting Haxton’s freedom to wear a mask if he chooses to do so.
For his part, Haxton has continued to focus on the medical implications and principles of his decision, while pointing out his distaste for some of the coverage.
And, as can happen in the poker world, some have deemed the entire debate to be more about egos and reputations than anything else.
With the issue of masks already a politically-charged topic in the US, Hellmuth’s comments have obviously touched an already sensitive nerve. But to focus on one small part of The Interview is to miss a lot of great insights from the former ‘poker brat’. To pick one example, Hellmuth provides some great context on his relationship with other big names and longtime opponents.
Hellmuth on his biggest rivals
We’ve picked a few highlights below – check out the full interview at the bottom of this page for much more.
Hellmuth on Daniel Negreanu
“Daniel is one of the most talented poker players on the planet, I mean, he’s top five talented of all time, and you can make an argument for higher than top five. He had this amazing way, just great reading abilities, and he went away from that… Daniel comes to me and he’s like, ‘Dude, you know you have to learn this, you have to learn that’. No, I don’t.
“Daniel, deep inside of his heart, he loves me, he really does, and I think that he wants me to perform so well, he’s really rooting for me. But it’s a little twisted, because he also wants to be known as the number one, the greatest, and the only way to get to the greatest is to cut me down and stand on my shoulders. And so I got relentless attacks from him for decades about the way I play poker.
“He tried to take away my legacy, he tried to take away my greatness, and he p*ssed me off from a poker point of view… Here’s a guy that’s criticized me more than anybody, but I know he loves me, and so we see each other, we laugh… I have nothing but respect for him, and so I think the Daniel and Phil love is kind of like in full bloom right now
“Daniel has so much talent that, if he doesn’t get in his own way, he’s just going to keep winning. And I think now he might be out of his own way.”
Hellmuth on Doug Polk
“I said, ‘Doug, you could be so huge if you were just honest’. I’m not calling him a liar, but he stretches the truth… Doug is fantastic, he delivers the news well, people want to hear what he has to say, but then he turns a bunch of us off and we’re, like, ‘Oh, we can’t take him for real, we can’t take him seriously because he’s exaggerated this, he’s exaggerated that, he’s always exaggerating’, so now when he says something you take it with a grain of [salt] where he could just be so huge if he just spoke truth. Truth is so powerful.
“Doug deserves some of this, what I’m giving him right now, he deserves this and he knows he deserves this… He’s crossed the line several times, and I think there’s hope for Doug, you know, I think there’s hope for him.”
Hellmuth on Shaun Deeb
“Shaun is a very interesting guy. He told me once, we were talking about all-time greats for bracelets, and he was basically hinting that he wasn’t gonna live, you know, a super long time; that he had to accomplish the bracelets to pass me at an earlier age. And I was, like, ‘Whoa, wow, what is that?’ I think unfortunately there are some things that can happen to people that can hurt their longevity in life, and some of it we don’t really have control over, and some we do, and [his recent body fat bet] is gonna change his life, and I’m very happy for him.
“He’s a competitor of mine but I’m very happy for him, I love having him around… I think that his results put him on the main stage, but he’s so mean that no one’s hired him. He could have all these endorsement opportunities, except that he chooses to call people out for debts… Shaun decided to take it upon himself to call out people that are guilty; the problem is when you start calling out all these guilty people, inevitably you’re going to call out an innocent person.
“I asked him once, ‘Shaun, do you care if somebody’s 70% guilty?’ He said, ‘If it’s 70% guilty, I’m gonna fry him’, and I just thought to myself that’s so diametrically opposed to the way I think. If someone is 99% guilty, I’m not going to call them out, because there’s a 1% chance.
“Now he has a chance to change it all, and I told him, ‘You want endorsements, no one wants to hire the guy that’s spewing negativity about everybody’. I’m rooting for Shaun, I like him a lot, I think that maybe he and I are the two greatest all-around poker tournament players in the world right now… Shaun is fantastic, witty, fun. I’m always laughing when I’m with him.”
Hellmuth on Johnny Chan
“A couple years ago [Johnny Chan] saw an interview I did on positivity, and he called me up and he said, ‘Phil, I just want to tell you how proud I am of you’. This is Chan, he never gives a compliment, he never complimented me in 20 years… That was meaningful for me, to come from him.
“He and I had some great battles. He and Doyle and I were battling for the bracelet lead, I think we won six bracelets in one year, the three of us: he won two, I won two, Doyle won two. The next year, we won five. It was just incredible, it was just, like, us, and then everybody else, and we just kept winning and winning.
“What I really appreciated about Johnny is, when I won the bracelet – we were all tied on 10 – and when I won number 11 Johnny and Doyle honored me. They came on stage with me, and they congratulated me, and it was a very meaningful moment to get praise from those two greats.
“[Chan] and I played a lot of high-stakes poker together, a lot of mixed games, he just always plays so perfectly. I can’t imagine how much money he has won. One interesting story: we played in a in a tournament and got heads up, it was, like, four in the morning and he said we should just split the prize pool. We split it according to chips, maybe I got $53k, he got $42k, and I remember running into him downstairs and he was betting the whole $42k on roulette!”
The Interview is PokerOrg’s new feature that brings you an in-depth conversation with the poker world’s most notable names. The full Phil Hellmuth interview can be viewed below, and don’t forget to check back soon for our next episode.
Images courtesy of the WSOP