Phil Hellmuth On The Verge of a Break Out (or Freak Out) In Pursuit of #16

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Phil Hellmuth is off to his career at the 2021 WSOP.

We’re only a week into the 2021 World Series of Poker and it’s clear that this year Phil Hellmuth means business. There’s no indulging his inner Colonel Kurtz on a celebrity-fueled trip in the jungle or any other early-series shenanigans. Instead, Hellmuth has been at the Rio, in his seat, at the tables, and off to one of the best WSOP starts of his career.

At stake for him, a record-extending bracelet #16 and yet another chance to give his doubters a lesson in #POSITIVITY and White Magic.

Just take a look at his early receipts. In the first seven days, Hellmuth has made a deep run in three different events. None of which are a No Limit Hold’em tournament, the format that he won 12 of his 15 bracelets in. The smallest of his cashes came in Event #7 ($1,500 Dealers Choice 6-Handed) where he made the final three tables and finished in 18th place for (a paltry) $4,429. In the first days of the series, Hellmuth tackled the $25,000 H.O.R.S.E. (Event #2) in which he made the final table. He fell just short of taking it down when he busted in sixth place for $95,329.

His latest feat is his effort in Event #9 ($10,000 Omaha 8 Championship) in which he grinded a short stack to the live-streamed final table but ultimately fell in fifth place for another $80,894.

Hellmuth’s results are not only good for a person’s fantasy team, but it’s an indication that Hellmuth is playing at the peak of his poker powers. It’s important to have momentum, which is an undeniable force in the game – just ask Michael Addamo. Hellmuth’s coming so close that should the stars align, he could be taking another winner’s photo soon enough.

At the same time though, you can see “The Poker Brat” lurking in the background. Like Dexter’s “Dark Passenger”, Hellmuth is seemingly always just a trigger (or bad beat) away from unleashing the beast. And we’ve already seen it once in this series, in Event #2.

In a hand against the eventual winner, businessman Jesse Klein, Hellmuth fired on multiple streets of a Razz hand but couldn’t shake Klein. In the end, Hellmuth lost the hand and lost his temper. PokerNews described it that he “walked away from the table with plenty of swear words to be heard.” A big of a badge of honor for Klein who said that he enjoyed the outburst and it made him laugh. But in the aftermath, Hellmuth posted a bit of an emo photo and expressed his disappointment at missing out.

With as much confidence and momentum that Hellmuth is likely feeling, he’s also been peppering his fans with the notion that his #POSITIVITY is being tested by the fact that he’s falling short after getting so close.

After his elimination in fifth place in the $10K Omaha 8, Hellmuth walked over his longtime friend Mike Matusow on the rail, understandably visibly frustrated.

“What the ****, I never caught a break,” he said. “I watched Ari [Engel] win every hand for hours. I can’t wait until I play against him next time. I let him steal, steal, steal…he plays so fast. It’s so frustrating.”

“I deserve better,” he continued. “But it doesn’t matter….deserve is a bad word, right? Because I mean I have 15 bracelets…let’s not get too negative, let’s stay positive. They don’t really play the game that well, it’s very frustrating.”

Of course, every poker player knows how it feels to finish in any position other than first. It’s not a good feeling.

But for Hellmuth, his frustration isn’t about not winning more money. It’s not about the money at all. He has pulled in a nice haul of more than $180,000 in seven days, but that amount is likely negligible to Hellmuth.

His real bread and butter is in the clout. Everything that comes to him by chasing – and winning – bracelets. It’s what his reputation is built on, it’s how he gets his Brain-Food-Altcoin sponsorships, and it’s what gets him invited into the (presumably) soft Silicon Valley cash games. It’s brought him legions of fans, put him on beer cans, and, ultimately, is part of his identity.

It’s an understatement to say that winning bracelets is hard. It’s difficult to even have the opportunity – let alone two in a week. And when winning a bracelet, literally means more advantages will come your way than can be bought with the money, there’s even more pressure. The kind of run Hellmuth is on would overwhelm mere mortals with joy. But Hellmuth’s playing an entirely different game.

“I have the biggest deal of my life…I’m going to be meeting with a guy today,” he told Matusow. “I was hoping to have a bracelet on my wrist when I met with him.”

Hellmuth’s on a heater right now and for those following his WSOP journey closely, it feels like it’s just a matter of time. A matter of time before he breaks through and wins another historic bracelet or breaks down for another historic tantrum.

Both would be preferable.