Is Phil Hellmuth the greatest poker player of all-time?

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 02/26/2021

Phil Hellmuth is a poker champion, Poker Hall of Famer, and has a resume that 99.9% of poker pros would give anything to replicate. But is he the greatest poker player in history?

If you ask him, that answer is a confident, “yes.” The “Poker Brat” certainly doesn’t lack confidence in his game, although many poker pros believe it’s overconfidence. Some believe the game passed him by years ago and his value to the poker community these days is more of as a public figure than a poker player.

Hellmuth, however, disagrees. He still says that he’s the best in the game even against the modern day GTO pros. Daniel Negreanu, among others, laughed at that claim. In fact, Negreanu recently scolded Hellmuth for disrespecting the younger pros whom “Kid Poker” claims are superior players.

Matt Berkey and Christian Soto addressed Hellmuth’s greatness, or lack thereof, on the recent Solve for Why YouTube podcast.

The poker pros brought up a recent hand from High Stakes Poker in which Hellmuth folded ace-king to a three-bet raise by Tom Dwan, an overly aggressive player whose raises are rarely respected for that reason.

Hellmuth’s fold was strange given Dwan’s range is so wide and Phil’s hand so big. The fold was also incorrect because “durrrr” had a weak J-7 hand. Berkey and Soto criticized the play and used it as an example for how overrated Hellmuth is at poker compared to the top pros of today.

“This is the reason that people say Phil Hellmuth sucks,” Soto said of the horrible fold. “It’s not that they hate him, or whatever. But this doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does, though,” Berkey chimed in. “From a live perspective, I understand where he’s coming from. There are just spots where people are just way too tight and don’t possess bluffs.”

You can add Olivier Busquet, Justin Bonomo, Daniel Negreanu, and many others to the list of top pros who don’t have much respect for Hellmuth’s game anymore.

The resume is impeccable

Put aside what you think about Hellmuth’s game right now. Perhaps he isn’t up to par these days with Bonomo, Stephen Chidwick, and the other high roller crushers. That’s a matter of opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

But one thing that isn’t an opinion is the fact that Phil Hellmuth is the all-time WSOP bracelet record holder, and it’s not even close. The “Poker Brat” has 15 gold bracelets to his name, which includes a 1989 Main Event title. Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, and Doyle Brunson are tied for second place with 10.

Another fact is that few would argue against the WSOP being the most important live tournament series in the world. So, he’s won his titles in events that matter more than others.

Hellmuth isn’t just the all-time bracelet record holder. He’s also tops all-time in WSOP cashes (162) and has over $15 million in World Series of Poker earnings. There is no doubt that he is the greatest performer at the WSOP ever, and it’s not even close.

Does that make him the best overall poker player?

Whether you agree with it or not, poker players will always be judged throughout history by their performances in WSOP events. That’s not to say events such as the World Poker Tour or crushing high stakes cash games doesn’t matter. But the general poker audience will always consider the WSOP crushers the best players.

Does that mean Hellmuth is the best ever? No, it just means that he’ll always be considered one of the best ever by many poker fans because of his WSOP success.

With that said, Hellmuth’s greatness goes far beyond the WSOP. He has over $9 million in live tournament cashes outside of World Series of Poker events, and he ranks 21st all-time in overall earnings. If you take away all those WSOP cashes, he’d still rank in the top 100 all-time.

Hellmuth took down the 2005 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship and finished runner-up to Mike Matusow in 2013. He’s also reached five WPT final tables, and has numerous other cashes around the world. So, he isn’t exactly chopped liver away from the Rio in Las Vegas.

But he lacks a solid online poker resume and he no longer dominates cash games against top competition. He might crush it against his wealthy famous friends in high-stakes home games that don’t allow many pros to play.

That just means he can beat the fish and doesn’t prove he’s capable of dominating top pros. It’s kind of like when an overrated college football team beats up on some directional schools in non-conference and then gets stomped when facing real competition later in the season.

Phil Hellmuth dominated the game during the 1990s and into the early 2000s. He was undeniably one of the three or four best players, if not the best, during that era. You’d have to be a fool or have an unhealthy hatred for the “Poker Brat” to disagree with that claim.

But not only is he no longer one of the best in the world at any form of poker, he isn’t the greatest all-time. Another Phil, in my opinion, is the G.O.A.T.

I’m talking about Phil Ivey. He is the best to ever play because no one has ever dominated an era quite like he did from 2004-2014, and he’s one of just a few players to crush it in live tournaments, online, and in the highest stakes cash games.

Ivey ranks second all-time in WSOP bracelets (10), has won more money online than anyone else (over $20 million on Full Tilt Poker), has over $21 million in live tournament cashes, and is one of the most feared high-stakes cash game players ever. No offense to Phil Hellmuth, who was a great pro for many years, but Ivey is the best all-time.

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