Inside the World of Champions – The Modern Stars of Poker
There is little doubt that the most glamourous of table card games is Poker. Such is the tension, excitement and allure of the top tables of the game that every online casino player dreams of dropping their working boots and drawing up a seat at the World Series of Poker and mixing it up with the players like Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth. These three poker stars are some of the best in the world and, the envy of every aspiring poker star, have even locked horns on various poker stages to create some of the most exciting poker the world has witnessed.
Phil Hellmuth is the eldest of the three, and in some ways the most distinguished. Having cut his poker teeth playing with his family, Hellmuth dropped out of university and headed for the lights of Vegas, although his first ten trips to Sin City were to prove fruitless. At this point, many would have given up on their dream of becoming a professional poker player, but Hellmuth kept returning to Vegas, bankrolling his visits by working as a field labourer in his home state. This persistence earned him the accolade of becoming the youngest player to win the main event at the World Series of Poker in 1989 at the tender age of 24 years old. This record stood for nearly twenty years, eventually superseded by Peter Eastgate in 2008 (although Eastgate himself was usurped this accolade a year later).
From this near prodigious start to his professional career, Hellmuth went from strength to strength, collecting a further ten bracelets at the WSOP, including three bracelets in 1993 alone. This, together with his record 75 WSOP cashes and 41 WSOP final tables, undoubtedly make Hellmuth one of the most decorated players in poker history, and earned him a place as a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.
However, as with many great stars, his temperament is responsible for his fame as much as his talent. The self-styled “Poker Brat”, Hellmuth has been known to ridicule opponents during matches and even came to blows with veteran poker player Sam Grizzle, while he also stormed off the set during the first week of the TV show Poker After Dark when he was parodied by fellow player, Huck Seed, and subsequently laughed off the table.
One of the ridiculers that day was Danish poker legend Gus Hansen, who, in 2007, is reported as claiming that Phil Hellmuth “is [not] a very good poker player. The best I can say about him is that he’s great against bad players.” Clearly not a Hellmuth fan, Hansen has more in common with his adversary than he may like to admit, in that he is also an aggressive poker player – the difference being that Hansen lets his cards rather than his mouth do the talking.
Also like Hellmuth, Hansen was a student when he was first drawn to the table at the Ocean View Card Room in California. A youth tennis champion and world class backgammon player, Hansen seemingly lives by his own code as he has beaten some of the biggest stars in world poker in some of the most prestigious tournaments of today. Most notable of these is the World Poker Tour, where Hansen has been crowned champion a record three times and is one of only three inductees of the WPT Walk of Fame.
Seemingly intent on defeating the best of the best, Hansen also won both the inaugural events of the London All Star Challenge and the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, where he defeated some of the biggest stars of world poker to walk away from the top table with the $1,000,000 prize.
During the sixth season of the World Poker Tournament in 2008 Hansen was denied a fourth title by fellow poker star, Phil Ivey, who picked up his first victory in the tournament after a run of seven WPT final places without a victory. Consistently placing highly, Ivey famously believed that he was jinxed after continually receiving the same starting hand during these final placings – an ace and a queen.
Ivey has also won many highly prestigious tournaments including seven bracelets at the WSOP, the Monte Carlo Millions Tournament – also with a $1,000,000 prize – and the Invitational Live from Monte Carlo, where he beat both Gus Hansen and Phil Hellmuth to the $600,000 prize. While no doubt revelling in his victory, perhaps as much retrospective pleasure could be derived by Phil Hellmuth from that particular tournament as he finished one place above his soon-to-be derider, Gus Hansen.
Whether it was this that was the origin for Hansen’s derision, or Hellmuth’s petulance during the filming of Poker After Dark, it is impossible to tell. Certainly these players face each other across the green felt so frequently that a rivalry naturally burgeons between them. Yet in a game like poker the winner takes it all, and, in that respect, ranked first in the table for all-time money winnings in tournament poker and widely regarded amongst his contemporaries as the greatest poker player of all time, it is Phil Ivey that has the last laugh.