WSOP 2021: WSOP addresses Phil Hellmuth final-table F-bomb situation

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 10/12/2021

What might have been a quiet Monday at the 2021 World Series of Poker turned out to be anything but quiet at all. The unusual began when high-stakes Minnesota player Thomas Hammers entered the Ladies Championship, but the social-media storm of the day centered instead on Phil Hellmuth, one of the game’s most famous players.

Hellmuth unleashed one of his worst F-bomb tirades in recent memory after a hand against Anthony Zinno at the final table of Event #19, the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship. Hellmuth came to the final table with the lead, but faded to a fifth-place finish in an event Zinno would win. A big hand between the two that went Zinno’s way finished with Hellmuth unleashing a string of curses about how Zinno played the hand.

The tirade didn’t stop there. Hellmuth also uttered comments including, “I think I’m going to fucking burn this place down if I don’t win this fucking tournament.” A short while later, the slightly delayed comments aired on PokerGO’s near-live stream of the final table, and the avalanche of criticisms targeting Hellmuth began.

Famed poker broadcaster Norman Chad had this to say earlier today:

WSOP floor directors were unaware of Hellmuth outburst

Some commenters also criticized the WSOP for not immediately issuing Hellmuth a penalty for his outburst, particularly the threat regarding the Rio. However, as Poker.org has learned, the floor staff was not even aware of Hellmuth’s outburst until early on Tuesday.

Online viewers of PokerGO’s WSOP streams may not be aware of the entire layout of the feature-table set. The table is set atop a slightly elevated stage that’s designed as a self-enclosed sound-recording area. The players and the dealer can hear each other easily, but their words do not travel far beyond the table itself. The tournament director that supervises the feature table is only rarely near the table itself.

Otherwise, no one goes closer to the table than the podium where the winner’s bracelet is always on display. It’s an unofficial demarcation line roughly 15 feet behind the dealer. Staff, media, and other workers don’t go beyond the podium, because it’s where one comes into view of PokerGO’s overhead cameras. In addition, sometimes the area’s tournament directors (there can be either one or two) are busy with happenings at the secondary feature tables, which are even farther away. Hellmuth’s words were also largely directed across the table, toward Zinno, instead of outward from the set, where they’d have been more likely to be heard.

As to whether any tourney directors should have been aware of Hellmuth’s outburst from his movements, that’s also a no. First, the “burn this place down” comment came while Hellmuth was seated. Second, he stood up later in the tirade, but Hellmuth stands up a lot while playing.

WSOP tournament director Charlie Ciresi clarifies situation

Veteran World Series of Poker tournament director Charlie Ciresi spoke with Poker.org early on Tuesday after learning of Hellmuth’s tirade. Ciresi confirmed that Hellmuth’s outburst went unheard by the floor. Ciresi is a WSOP tournament shift manager and is one of the highest ranking TDs at the WSOP.

Ciresi explained, “Regarding the Hellmuth situation that was brought to our attention, there was some profanity used and some inappropriate behavior on the final-table TV sets. The floor personnel stands behind the cameras and is not up on the set, so for us to hear a conversation doesn’t always happen; we can’t hear the players talking on the set.

“When somebody becomes animated, and they’re standing up or moving their hands around, we can obviously see that and then we will walk in and intervene. But we didn’t see anything during the Hellmuth situation that would [lead] us to interact during this procedure.”

Ciresi also inferred that the WSOP would look further into the situation, though it’s very difficult to assess someone a penalty for action in an event that’s already concluded. Ciresi also indicated they’d check with the dealer about the situation. Dealers are instructed to immediately notify the floor if one player verbally and directly assaults another player, as in “F*** you,” but F-bombs otherwise usually bring nothing more than a warning, given the colorful and competitively intense nature of the game. “The dealer at that moment maybe didn’t feel like it was meant to be brought to our attention, and we will have a discussion with him, but I don’t think that was the case,” Ciresi explained.

Hellmuth himself has issued one of his notorious half-apologies for his behavior:

PokerGO has also excerpted the Hellmuth tirade into its own short video:

Featured image source: Haley Hintze