Phil Hellmuth’s Stubbornness is Baffling

Phil Hellmuth is one of the best poker players ever, arguably the greatest tournament specialist in history. No one can ever take that away from him even if he never wins another WSOP bracelet.

But, at this point in his career, he’s simply not that great of a player. He’s become poker’s version of post-2008 Tiger Woods. And, quite honestly, I’m not quite sure why he’s allowed the game to pass him by when he’s perfectly capable of adjusting his game to modern poker strategy (i.e. GTO concepts).

I don’t get why Hellmuth, whose results the past few years are less than impressive, still refuses to acknowledge that his “white magic” philosophy is about as useless in today’s poker game as the triple option is in 21st century college football.

Daniel Negreanu refused to accept that the younger players in today’s game have figured out a strategy that is superior to old-school poker tactics. It took him over a year to finally come around and start learning GTO principles. And look how well that decision has paid off for Kid Poker. Since January, he has eight final table appearances, including a 2nd place finish for $3 million in the Super High Roller Bowl.

Negreanu has admitted he’s a better poker player now than when he was arguably the best player in the world during the poker boom era, yet he doesn’t have as much of an edge as he used to.

The fact of the matter is the competition these days is much tougher than 10 years ago. Even at the low levels, but especially at the highest limits, poker has become a difficult game to dominate.

I watched Hellmuth at a Day Two table in the WSOP $1,500 NLH Shootout last night and have watched him play quite a few times the past couple of years.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think he’d even be one of the better players in the $2/$5 games I play in Las Vegas. His “trust live reads” strategy just isn’t paying off for him and his results in recent years prove that. He has just $181,000 in cashes this year, but he’s in for a minimum of $400,000, and probably closer to $500,000.

I know that basing an opinion of a player on short-term results, especially in high-variance tournaments, is silly. But I’ll go back even further to last year where he cashed for $1.13 million and, based on the tournaments he played ($300,000 buy-in SHRB, $111,1111 WSOP High Roller for One Drop, etc.), I’d be surprised if he so much as broke even.

If you don’t think two years of tournament results are enough to evaluate a player, fine. Let’s talk about his play. Last night, he finished 3rd at his table (17th overall) and was denied a shot at winning his 15th career WSOP bracelet, extending his current record.

There were many plays he made that simply made no sense. In one hand, for example, he called a pre-flop raise in the small blind with A6 and flopped top pair on a wet board (AKJ, all hearts). He check-called the flop and then folded to a turn bet in a heads-up pot against an aggressive chip leader.

His opponent was bluffing with a small pocket pair. Even worse, he showed that he folded an ace, which essentially tells his opponents that he’s easy to bluff. In that situation, he trusted his “live reads,” and, as is the case often when all you rely on is your instincts, you’re going to be wrong.

Hellmuth also led out on many flops, often into the pre-flop raiser, which is usually a terrible idea. But to make matters worse, when he did that on a bluff, he rarely fired a second barrel on the turn. This strategy is easily exploitable.

If I pick up on someone playing like that, I’ll float the flop nearly every time in position with any two cards knowing that I will have a golden opportunity to bluff the turn when he checks it back.

To Hellmuth’s credit, he mixed up his lead range. Sometimes, he was bluffing. Other times, he flopped the goods. But since he rarely fired a double-barrel bluff and usually continued betting when he had it, that style of play is easily exploitable.

Phil’s main problem isn’t that his poker strategy is outdated. No, his biggest problem is that he is so stubborn. Ranges, GTO, blockers…those are foreign terms he refuses to learn.

He’s stuck in 2004 where 90 percent of the players at any table were clueless. He used to dominate the game because he was one of the few who weren’t completely clueless. Now, he’s the clueless one. Get it together, Phil. You’re better than this. Stop denying the game has passed “white magic” by.

You are an important member of the poker community. People love watching you play. You draw ratings, which is good for poker. If you got back to crushing the WSOP and winning some more bracelets, that would make for some interesting stories.

Have an open mind. It’s okay to admit your style of play is outdated and that you need to adapt. Negreanu did and look at how much better he is now. You’re equally capable. We already know you’re one of the best ever. Now prove to us you can still compete at the highest level. You aren’t going to do that until you get with the times.

 

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