Monday, October 08, 2012

Hellmuth and the WSOP

Last week I published a post just as the WSOP Europe Main Event final table had reached a break and only four players remained. As we all know, Phil Hellmuth ultimately emerged as the winner at that table, topping a field of 420 players to earn another gold bracelet to go along with the 12 he’s won at the WSOP in Las Vegas over the last two-plus decades.

After Hellmuth’s win, Grange95 wrote a post titled “Hellmuth & the Hobgoblin” reminding us all of the “Should a WSOPE bracelet count?” debate that started when the WSOP Europe began in 2007. He even pointed to an item I’d written for Betfair Poker almost exactly two years ago in which I brought up the debate.

Both Phil Laak and Gus Hansen had just won bracelets at the 2010 WSOPE (the last in London), and perhaps as a result there had been a revival of discussions over whether or not the bracelets won in Europe were as valuable or coveted as the ones won in Las Vegas. I’m guessing we’ll start hearing similar debates -- though perhaps pursued less energetically -- when the first World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific (“WSOP APAC”) kicks off in April 2013.

In that Betfair item I mentioned Matt Savage (who served as a tourney director for the WSOP in the past) suggesting the WSOPE bracelets were “like a real bracelet” and WSOP VP Ty Stewart firing back that yes, indeed, they were.

The piece also quotes none other than Phil Hellmuth having discussed the issue just a few days before on a podcast, The Hardcore Poker Show (the 9/27/10 episode). There Hellmuth maintained that a WSOPE bracelet was “not the same thing” as a bracelet won in Las Vegas, even going so far as to say that “everybody knows it's not really a bracelet.”

When Hellmuth made that pronouncement a number of people quickly responded by saying as soon as he won a WSOPE event he’d be changing his tune. Such seems to be the case, and Grange95 has some fun in his post pointing out the irony of the Poker Brat’s situation.

There was a lot more reaction to Hellmuth’s win last week, almost all of it coming in the form of praise for his accomplishment in Cannes and expressions of awe at his having added yet another big win to a storied career. The €1,022,376 first prize (equal to about $1.32 million) represents his second-biggest score ever, only exceeded by his prize for finishing fourth in the “Big One for One Drop” where he won about twice that ($2,645,333).

If we count those WSOPE bracelets (and I think we all are at this point), Hellmuth extends his record total to 13, now three ahead of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. And, of course, he’s the only player to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WSOPE Main Event.

Among the reactions to Hellmuth’s victory came a few voices bringing up another idea some have been floating pretty much since Hellmuth parted ways with UltimateBet at the end of 2010. In fact, it’s an idea some were talking about even before Hellmuth had officially cut ties with UB when he’d begun turning up at events during those last couple of months no longer sporting UB gear, something I wrote about in November 2010 in a post titled “Signs of the Times: Hellmuth & UB.”

The idea I’m referring to is the possibility of Hellmuth signing with the WSOP itself as a sponsor. Speculation about such usually has been linked to further conjecture about the WSOP getting seriously involved with online poker, perhaps even in the U.S. (should legislation and other factors align properly).

Somewhat ahead of the curve, B.J. Nemeth briefly sketched out this scenario in a post back in November 2010. The announcement that Hellmuth was no longer to represent UB then came on December 30, 2010. Black Friday arrived a few months later, after which the whole discussion of site sponsorships quickly receded to the background.

Like I say, though, the thought of Hellmuth becoming some sort of spokesperson for the WSOP hasn’t gone away, as evidenced by a few people articulating it once again in the wake of his WSOP Europe Main Event win.

Of course, the whole idea of the WSOP ever wanting or needing a spokesperson might well be a bunch of applesauce. (Indeed, I’d be one to favor not having such a figure at all, at least not among active players.) But if we were going to speculate about the selection of a spokesperson, would Hellmuth be a candidate?

He’s won the most bracelets, he’s made the most final tables, and he has the most cashes. Whenever one goes to search players in the WSOP database, his name is the first listed, right at the tippy-top. He’s obviously one of only a handful of players non-poker people sometimes recognize as a “poker pro” (as currently understood). And he’s known not just stateside but around the world for his accomplishments at the poker table.

If it ever does come to pass that the WSOP is looking for someone to represent them as a kind of spokesperson, then, wouldn’t Hellmuth be a reasonable choice?

I say no way. A couple of reasons spring to mind.

For one, his long-term association with the UB/Cereus crowd, including continuing to promote the site and essentially turn a blind eye while insider cheating scandals rocked the poker community, should make him much less attractive as a potential spokesperson.

In that “Signs of the Times” post from a couple of years ago I noted how “the UB patch has become a unique symbol. It yields various interpretations, but for many it evokes certain, specific themes, including greed, fraud, self-interest, and other negative and/or detrimental associations for poker.” I also noted how Hellmuth’s long-time connection with UB meant that even if he were to stop wearing the logo he’d still always be linked to the site and all of the destructive influence it brought upon the poker community. He “always will be... UB.”

That said, some will argue that since Hellmuth hasn’t been linked to any of the cheating scandals directly, we shouldn’t hold his UB past against him. In other words, that we should overlook his overlooking the scandals.

Even so, the WSOP could do much, much better than to hire the world’s whiniest winner and poker’s poorest sport. (That photo up top of Hellmuth in the fetal position is from the 2010 WPT Bay 101 Shooting Stars event, taken just after his being eliminating in sixth.)

There’s not much need to catalogue all of the many examples of the Poker Brat’s being bratty, although for a few recent additions to the list check out Jen Newell’s “Table Talk” column (for in which she describes some of Hellmuth’s bad behavior at the WSOPE final table.

“Congrats to the best tournament poker player that ever lived!! Phil Fking Hellmuth” tweeted Doyle Brunson (@TexDolly) a short while before the WSOPE Main Event concluded. Like others, I couldn’t help but react similarly to Hellmuth’s win and acknowledge a remarkable sequence of performances at the WSOP and now the WSOPE.

But as far as electing Hellmuth spokesperson for the WSOP/Harrah’s is concerned, I can think of hundreds of candidates for whom I’d rather vote.

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