Phil Hellmuth didn't berate anybody, spoke humbly about his poker skills and even apologized for spotty phone service during a 35-minute conversation earlier this month. Anyone who hoped to find him living up to his "Poker Brat" nickname would have been disappointed.
Hellmuth will come to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood next week to provide commentary for a first-ever event on Aug. 18: four poker tournaments concluding simultaneously, while being filmed by Poker Night in American and broadcast on CBS Sports.
"I'm going to be working hard that day," Hellmuth says. "To call all of the all-ins, the players might have to be patient."
There are plenty of sides to Hellmuth, who in June won a record 14th World Series of Poker bracelet. During the interview, he talked about his priorities, his image and his favorite professional sports team.
Charities are a big deal. Hellmuth has emceed tournaments that have raised about $34 million for charity, while often poking fun at stars such as Tiger Woods and Eva Longoria. But the Seminole Hard Rock event is real poker. So that means fewer jokes. He'll also be here Aug. 20-22 for a "Poker Night in America" taping at Paradise Live. Hellmuth will play Aug. 20-21. Other poker pros, including Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilly, are also booked to appear.
He says he really is a nice guy. Hellmuth, 51, grew up in Madison, Wis., and has been playing poker since 1989. He was hit with "the Poker Brat" nickname after repeated blowups during the World Series of Poker. But poker tournaments are edited much like "The Bachelor," in that a crumb of footage can be used to form an entire storyline. "I sit at a table for 12 hours, and lose it for, say, 10 minutes, and that makes TV," says Hellmuth, who describes his tirades as "kind of like John McEnroe." "I thought those inside the poker world would figure that out. It's taken 12 years, but by now I think a lot of people have." That said, he markets "Poker Brat" clothing, and has said that if it weren't for bad luck, he would win every tournament he has entered.
Last year, after losing a bet with West Palm Beach's Jessica Dawley, Hellmuth dressed as a baby, complete with bonnet and rattle, for a taping of "Poker Night in America." "He was a very good sport about it," Dawley says.
Poker is still important, but he doesn't practice much. Between writing poker strategy books, running a real estate business, booking speaking engagements and spending time with his family, Hellmuth doesn't take the time to play very much. "I'm not lazy, but I talked myself out of practicing," he says. "For five or six years, I didn't play in some of the good games leading up to the World Series of Poker, because with so many below-average players there, I reasoned it messed up my game. Now, I play a few times before the World Series, and it especially helps with my reads on players. I can get sharp in a few days."
The Golden State Warriors' NBA championship win was a big deal. Hellmuth, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., has been a longtime Warriors fan, sitting courtside about 10 times a year with owner Chamath Palihapitiya, whom he calls a close friend. Over the years, Hellmuth has become acquainted with all kinds of celebs, but one of his favorites is the multitalented Steve Martin, another Californian. "That guy is the renaissance man of the planet, and a really, really good poker player," Hellmuth says. "He just wins."
Phil Hellmuth will provide commentary for all the Big 4 final tables in front of a live audience at Hard Rock Live starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18. Admission is free. The action will also be streamed live at PokerNight.com and on Twitch.tv.