Holding All the Records, Phil Hellmuth Enters 2019 WSOP Wanting More

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Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth enters the 2019 WSOP in chase of his 16th gold bracelet (photo: WPT)

The 2019 World Series of Poker is almost here. It’s the 50th annual WSOP and there’s a lot of anticipation of what’s to come this summer. One player who always looks forward to the summer is Phil Hellmuth. He’s the poker player with the most WSOP gold bracelets (15) and most WSOP cashes (134), plus it’s 30 years since he won the 1989 WSOP Main Event.

“I love it!” Hellmuth told PocketFives when asked how it feels to have the WSOP right around the corner once again. “It’s 30 years since my win in the WSOP Main Event.”

In 1989, a 24-year-old Hellmuth shocked the gambling world when he defeated two-time defending champion Johnny Chan to win the WSOP Main Event for $755,000. Hellmuth topped a field of 178 entries and launched himself into poker stardom. It was the first of his 15 gold bracelets, one of which was the WSOP Europe Main Event title in 2012, and 30 years later he’s still hungry for more.

“It would be nice to win a no-limit 2-7 tournament – I have two second-place finishes – as I’ve always seen myself winning one,” Hellmuth said when asked what he’s most looking forward to this summer, other than the Main Event. “It would be nice to win another razz tourney. That would solidify me as the best razz tourney player in the world, based on WSOP results. I would love to win a seven-card stud eight-or-better tourney or an eight-game mix or 10-game mix. Finally, winning a huge buy-in or field size no-limit hold’em tournament or heads-up tourney would be spectacular.”

In addition to those events, Hellmuth recently took to social media to proclaim, “I want to win a WSOP PLO bracelet in the next few years!” Of all the bracelets he’s won, he has yet to earn one in the great game of pot-limit Omaha. His best WSOP performance in this exciting, four-card variant was a fourth-place finish at the 2000 WSOP.

“I’m behind the curve in two tourney games: pot-limit Omaha and 2-7 triple draw,” Hellmuth said. “I keep improving, which is wonderful, and who knows where that will lead. No one thought I would become the best razz tourney player in the world, and yet, I have shredded the WSOP razz tourneys since 2012 like no other. It’s been a historic run, with two firsts, a second, a fifth, and a 13th. So, I need to improve at PLO tourneys. I need to learn something from Jason Mercier and Shaun Deeb.”

Speaking of Mercier and Deeb, Hellmuth included these two players, who hold five and four bracelets, respectively, when mentioning who might be able to catch him in the great bracelet race.

Daniel Negreanu says he will catch me in cashes,” Hellmuth said. “A little known fact is that Negreanu has actually played more WSOP tourneys than I have. Others have said they will catch me in bracelets. Phil Ivey says his goal is to win 30. I was shooting for 24, until Ivey went public going for 30, then I changed my goal to 30. But 24 would still be amazing. Let me get there first. So, Ivey. Maybe Negreanu, Deeb, Mercier, John Monnette, or John Hennigan. In hold’em, of which I have 13 so far, maybe Joe Cada, Dominik Nitsche, or Adrian Mateos.”

Hellmuth is currently top of the charts in most WSOP gold bracelets and most WSOP cashes, two records that he holds by quite wide margins. In the bracelets category, the next closest are Ivey, Chan, and Doyle Brunson, who each have 10. For cashes, Hellmuth is first with 137 and then Chris Ferguson is second with 120. Negreanu currently sits third entering the 2019 WSOP with 108.

“Let’s not forget that I hold the record for most WSOP final tables,” Hellmuth added. “It would be nice to own the money list title, but to me, it’s all about the bracelets.”

Hellmuth’s last gold bracelet win came last year when he won the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em 30-Minute Levels tournament for $485,082. For final tables, the last time he didn’t make one at the WSOP was in 2013.

Having played the WSOP for so long and racked up so many accolades, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Hellmuth to slow down and take it easy a bit, just as most athletes can get their titles and then take it a little easier. But every WSOP, whether in Las Vegas during the summer or elsewhere in the world some other time of the year, Hellmuth is grinding away and looking to add another few lines to the record books that are already littered with his name.

“It’s in my nature, it’s in my DNA,” Hellmuth said when asked what continues to drive him. “I’m super competitive, and I’m competing against the best players in the world, in this era, and last and future eras, for greatest poker player of all time. Right now, I have all of the records, but 15 WSOP bracelets is not enough to keep the record. So I stay focused, I stay determined, I pay attention, and keep abreast of new strategies. I stay away from drugs, away from drinking too much, and I take care of myself; watching my weight and sleeping in almost every single day. Long-term health is a factor in this race.”

With decades of experience at the WSOP, Hellmuth has undoubtedly seen a lot over the years. For that reason, there are few better to ask what the biggest differences are between then and now.

“The numbers,” Hellmuth said. “The WSOP was special back then, and a lot more like a convention for all of the best poker players in the world. But now, it’s out of control with huge numbers, and I love it. Also, back in 1988 and 1989, we had a lot of one-day tournaments.”

While excited for what’s to come poker-wise, Hellmuth has been quite busy as of late, but not necessarily in the poker realm. If you follow him on social media, then you’re likely aware of some of the off-the-felt moves he’s been making.

“I’m doing a lot of business deals right now, both as an investor and as someone that’s honored to be joining advisory boards (just joined LassoGear.com advisory board). In the last six months, I have invested in b spot (online slot machines), TravelSmarter.com (direct-to-consumer hotel room rates, airfare, and a lot more), End Game Talent Agency (esports talent agency), and STEAM Role (mentoring site).

“I love business, but all of the founders understand that I will disappear into poker on May 25,” Hellmuth said. “I really need to cut off all communication for a few months and focus on playing great poker. For the 2019 WSOP, I’m adding back mediation.”

Lastly, with the WSOP Main Event seeing a rise in attendance over the previous year in each of the last three years, Hellmuth needed to be asked to give a prediction for the 2019 WSOP Main Event.

“I think we will crack 10,000 players!” Hellmuth said. “The ESPN coverage, thanks to PokerGO and Cary Katz, has been spectacular, with 14 days of coverage, and the economy is crushing!”