Stop comparing Phil Hellmuth to the great players of today

Jon Sofen
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Posted on March 14, 2021 3:58 pm EDT

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece by Poker.org author Jon Sofen. The views expressed here are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Poker.org or its staff.

Phil Hellmuth is a poker legend, and the disrespect his game is receiving is uncalled for and, quite frankly, needs to stop.

Few have done more to grow the game of poker than the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner. He promotes the game to a casual audience and brings personality to poker, something we rarely see from the high-roller crowd of today.

Purely from a standpoint of talent and fundamentals, of course Hellmuth is inferior to the new-school high-stakes pros, and it’s not even close. But that doesn’t even matter and it’s pointless to compare him to the top players of today in that manner.

Like in sports, greatness comes in two forms — raw talent and amazing accomplishments. Take Derek Jeter, for example. The soon-to-be New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop was never the most talented shortstop in baseball. In fact, for many years when Alex Rodriguez was on the Yankees playing third base, he wasn’t even the most talented shortstop on his own team.

That’s not to say Jeter wasn’t a talented ballplayer, but he never won an MVP, or a batting title or home run crown, and he was merely average defensively. But he’s considered arguably the best shortstop all-time and a living baseball legend because he put up some incredible longevity stats (3,465 hits, 358 stolen bases, etc.) and helped lead the Yankees to five World Series titles.

Hellmuth is the Derek Jeter of poker. Is he the most talented player in the world? Not even close. He doesn’t play a fundamentally sound game and denies the effectiveness of GTO, which is utterly ridiculous.

But he’s won 15 WSOP bracelets, far and away a record. Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and Johnny Chan are tied for second with just 10. His 164 cashes in bracelet events is also a record. And he was a poker world champion in 1989.

Winning World Series of Poker tournaments isn’t the only way to prove greatness in poker. But there isn’t a more important or prestigious series in the game. So, yes, Hellmuth’s wins at the WSOP do in fact make him an all-time poker great, much like how Jeter playing a key role in five baseball titles is the reason he’s considered one of the best ever.

Negreanu makes a valid point

Daniel Negreanu, who is partially responsible for the current Hellmuth bashing on social media, made a similar comment about the “Poker Brat” on Twitter.

“Jack Nicklaus was a legend and likely had the greatest record of achievement in golf history. Jack Nicklaus isn’t the best golfer today. I don’t think he could beat Bryson DeChambeau, but you have to respect what he did in his era,” Negreanu tweeted.

Negreanu’s right, and he was hinting at the disrespect for Hellmuth’s greatness shown by many younger poker pros.

The fact of the matter is, Hellmuth will long be remembered as one of the all-time greats. In 20 years, he’ll be looked at as one of the best ever, much like Jeter will be given the same recognition from the baseball community.

Stephen Chidwick, Justin Bonomo, Isaac Haxton, Ali Imsirovic — those are all extremely talented poker players, far more talented from a fundamental standpoint than Hellmuth. We’ll likely see them in the Poker Hall of Fame one day when they reach age 40.

But the casual poker fan will always show more respect to the game of Phil Hellmuth. And that is because he is the G.O.A.T. of the World Series of Poker and also an entertaining figure at the table.

Hellmuth deserves the respect of the poker community, not for us all to bring him down because he doesn’t understand GTO concepts and would lose to Doug Polk heads-up. There are multiple ways to be great, and it’s silly to talk down on one of the most important players in poker history.

Featured image source: Flickr