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Table Talk: Oh, Phil!

poker bratThis week, I’m living vicariously through the folks playing in and working the World Poker Tour Venice tournament. From various reports, it’s rather cold and rainy there, but it’s Venice! Having been there more than once, I find that the beauty of the Italian city transcends the weather. That said, I’ve never been there when it was necessary to wade through three-foot deep water.

So, let’s toast with something that would keep our toes warm if we were there. Limoncello? Or should we go straight for the Grappa? Let’s have one of each and stumble around without falling into a canal.

Speaking of canals, one player took advantage of the location of this latest WPT event to make a rather odd entrance to the tournament. Who could that be? For the few who may not know, it was Phil Hellmuth.

The man went to a lot of trouble to dress up in a cape and feathered Venetian mask, and arrange to arrive via a gondola to Casino di Venezia.

For those familiar with Hellmuth’s past, this may not have been a surprise. There was the Caesar costume, Army General costume, and race car driver outfit, all of which he used for grand entrances to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

At the time, he was a sponsored player for a now-defunct online poker site, and his escapades were filmed. There were women escorting him in their own matching outfits, a race car crash, and general mayhem surrounding each “scene.”

So, he chose Venice for his latest stunt. Everyone looked. People took pictures and talked about it on social media. But many European players were irritated, by some accounts, and felt that Hellmuth’s show made a mockery of a simple entrance into a poker tournament.

To be fair, Hellmuth is not the only one who does things of this sort to attract attention. Some players wear odd hats or sunglasses, funny t-shirts, or even the occasional costume upon losing a prop bet. Those occurrences are rare these days, however, and on a much lesser scale than the production that Hellmuth produces and directs.

The showy entrances used to upset me to no end, especially when I’d be working 16-hour days at a tournament like the WSOP to cover the actual poker, only to be interrupted by a spectacle of ridiculous proportions. I never understood his motivation, nor did I care to ask.

Today, I am less annoyed. When I see that Hellmuth has done it again, I say to myself, “Oh, Phil.” Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age, but I’d rather think that I’m simply jaded by such antics after working in the industry for so long now. If that is what he believes to be an appropriate entrance to a game that is his livelihood, so be it.

What I will say, though, is that other players have every right to be annoyed at the distraction. It takes away from their focus, the attention of the dealers and staff, and other players. But that is between them and Hellmuth.

It also seems to be distracting to Hellmuth himself. He chooses to spend a great deal of time and money planning a costume, purchasing the accessories, arranging extravagant transportation, and alerting the media. Meanwhile, he focuses less on his poker game. After making his grand entrance to the WPT Venice on Day 1b, he pushed all-in with 8-5 on a board of 8-6-2-7, but his opponent had J-8. Hope that gondola was still waiting for him.

Again, it was his choice. He’s an adult who has played this game for decades. He may even believe he has earned the right to make a spectacle of himself when he enters a tournament. As long as it doesn’t violate any tournament rules, he’s welcome to do it.

What is for sure is that the media will continue to cover it. Hellmuth will continue to be interviewed in full regalia and in character, when he chooses. If the spotlight is what he is after, he gets it. Mission accomplished. Better yet, Hellmuth still wins tournaments, impressively and with skills that he continues to improve through the years.

“Oh, Phil.”

Someone buy that man a shot of Grappa. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit back with mine and watch the show.

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