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Around the WSOP: A chat with a proud Phil Hellmuth Sr.

2 July 2008

LAS VEGAS – Phil Hellmuth Sr. woke up Tuesday morning at his home in Wisconsin expecting it to be just another ordinary day in the life of a retiree.

"I was planning on going for a swim and then going out to dinner with the wife," he says.

PhilHellmuth1

Phil Hellmuth Jr. prompted his parents to make an impromptu trip to Las Vegas on Tuesday to see him compete in the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. final table. (photo Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

Instead, Hellmuth and his wife Lynn got a call from their oldest son just after 7 a.m. asking them to come to Las Vegas. Phil Jr. was sitting in second place of the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event heading into Tuesday's third and final day and wanted his parents to come out and see him make a run at a 12th World Series of Poker bracelet.

"We usually come out at least once during the World Series to see him play and since he was right there in the running for this one we decided to catch a flight and get here as fast as we could," Mr. Hellmuth said of he and his wife's impromptu trek to the Strip. "It's always fun to come here and see him go to work."

Unfortunately for the Hellmuth cheering section – which included Phil's wife Kathy – there was no victory to celebrate. Hellmuth, who at one point in the day was the chipleader, fell back into the pack and was eventually ousted by Tommy Hang, some 10 hours after Day 3 play began. The third-place finish helped Hellmuth pocket $93,168, but leaving the table without that elusive 12th bracelet was still a bitter disappointment.

Nonetheless, the elder Hellmuth, who was decked out in an official Phil Hellmuth black cap and golf shirt, was happy to be there for his son.

"Heck, he takes good care of me," laughs the elder Hellmuth, who at 6-foot-4 bears a strong resemblance to his oldest son, who stands in at around 6-foot-5. "It's the least I could do."

If you're looking for the classic case of a proud father, this is it. But once you start talking to him, you realize that Phil Jr. isn't the only member of the family that has given good reason for his parents to beam with affection.

"All five of them hate to lose and it comes from watching Phil all of their lives because he was the oldest," Mr. Hellmuth explains. "It's that confidence in themselves and that fierce competitiveness that has helped them achieve the great things that they have done with their lives."

Mr. Hellmuth begins listing off all of his kids' achievements and with each explanation his face glows brighter and brighter. There's David, the highly acclaimed founding partner at Hellmuth & Johnson Attorneys at Law in Minnesota. Then there's Molly, a research scientist at the Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, and her sister Kerry, a former professional cyclist in Italy who is now a full-time mother.

Mr. Hellmuth seems to get the most pleasure when he mentions his daughter Ann, a former Special Olympian who won 12 gold medals and competed in two World Games. She currently works for a childcare center in Wisconsin.

"All five of them have reached the top in whatever they have decided to do," he says, once again with a great sense of pride. "Phil just happens to be the most famous."

So famous that when Mr. Hellmuth, a former Associate Dean of Liberal Arts at the University of Wisconsin, goes back once a year to conduct a seminar for the Management School, the first thing he does is tell the class that he is Phil Hellmuth Sr., not the poker player junior.

"I always get a few students who tell me they were kind of hoping to see my son instead of me when they walked in," Mr. Hellmuth says with a laugh.

As he watches his son, sitting 10 feet behind him, Mr. Hellmuth is calm, cool and collected. Mr. Hellmuth has done this before many, many times during the course of his son's 20-year career as a professional poker player that has seen him win more bracelets and land more cashes (67) than any other player in WSOP history. Overall, Phil Jr. has accumulated more than $5 million in career earnings.

Mr. Hellmuth is asked if he gets a kick out of seeing maniacal poker fans cram the rail just to get a glimpse at his son, whose star shines brighter than nearly anybody else in the game today.

"I used to back in the day, but I'm kind of used to it now," he says. "What I enjoy now is seeing the younger players get to a final table and then watch their parents or wife or friends get so much joy out of it. It brings me back to when that's how I would react when Phil was first starting out. It's fun to watch."

Mr. Hellmuth says the biggest misconception about Phil Jr. is that people "buy into that whole 'Poker Brat' mystique that he conveyed back in his younger days."

"That's not Phil, but I realize it's all part of the show," he says. "But what bothers me is you take a guy like John McEnroe in tennis. He was obviously at the very top of his game, just like Phil. But he was never really accepted by the fans and the media because of his antics on the court. I think unfortunately that's what's happened to Phil."

After a marathon Day 3 that lasted more than 10 hours, Mr. Hellmuth is asked if he and his wife will remain in Vegas for the Main Event, which begins Thursday.

"No, I'll be back in November for the final table," he replies.

"So, you're assuming that Phil will be at that final table," he's asked.

"Oh yeah, most definitely," he smiles. "You don't think small when you're walking around with 11 bracelets on your wrist. You think big."

Suddenly, it becomes crystal clear exactly where Phil and his siblings inherited that confidence and competitiveness that helped make them so successful.

Around the WSOP: A chat with a proud Phil Hellmuth Sr. is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT