Zachary Elwood has revisited a strategy article he wrote earlier this year to dissect Phil Hellmuth’s white magic style of play. Let’s take an in-depth look and dissect Phil’s poker strategy approach.
The poker author delved into what exactly it is that the “Poker Brat” does different, and tried to assess just how good some of his strategies are.
Lies! 1.) The atmosphere when I’m at table is 99% SUPER positive, ask the guys that play w me everyday at @WSOP. 2) I won 24-of-25 televised cash games 2014-2020 (easy to confirm this). I lost ZERO times in mixed games for 3.5 yrs, (2x in 2021). Ask David Gray, Eli Elezra & Mikey
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) November 25, 2021
Phil Hellmuth is comfortably the most successful player who regularly receives criticism of his play. His fellow high-stakes tournament regs constantly bombard him with negative reviews, implying that he is a poker dinosaur from another era.
What Does Phil Hellmuth Do Differently?
One of the reasons that it has been so difficult to pin down why Phil Hellmuth’s style might not be optimal is because much of it is based on psychological factors.
“Hellmuth is known for his belligerent mannerisms: his whining and his berating of players. This is what earned him the nickname “The Poker Brat.””
Elwood explains how Hellmuth has finely tuned his ability to assess how his opponents will react to his outbursts. It is basic psychology that people will react differently based on how they feel about you in general, not just what they think about the play.
Psychological warfare to pick up tells
This is not just psychological, too. Professional players are always thinking in terms of hand ranges and it is this ability to adjust on the fly based on feeling rather than hard calculation that makes him different.
There is also Hellmuth’s celebrity status to consider.
“And when you’re a celebrity poker player, many recreational players like to have a story of playing with you, something they can tell their friends, something to remember later. And this means that many recreational players will often err on the side of looseness when playing with Hellmuth”
Doyle Brunson spoke about this situation not so long ago. He told how Phil Hellmuth is the world’s best at dodging bullet from recreational players and this is why he does so well in large field tournaments.
Phil Hellmuth’s unorthodox style has also proven effective at luring his opponent’s into making big mistakes.
“He makes very small bets and min-raises when other strong players wouldn’t, he often takes very “trappy” lines, checking strong hands that other players wouldn’t.”
“And I think these spots can induce his opponents to react badly because they represent less-played and less explored branches of the game tree.“
Elwood clarifies that it’s not that Hellmuth is excelling in these rare spots, it’s just that his opponents are also much less likely to have studied and mastered themselves.
Phil Hellmuth is an incredibly patient poker player
There is also the factor that Hellmuth is an incredibly patient player. This can lead players into playing too aggressively against him which is a recipe for disaster.
This is all just a smattering of what we have come to know as “white magic”. One thing is for sure, though: Phil Hellmuth is unique as a player and after almost 40 years in the game nobody has yet managed to figure out exactly what he is up to.
To conclude we let Phil Hellmuth himself explain what he means by White Magic:
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