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Poker News: June 21st, 2009

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HEADLINE: Poker bracelet brought Hellmuth, father closer together

Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro learned to pitch knuckleballs from his father. Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana was schooled in passing by his dad. When Phil Hellmuth Jr. decided to drop out of the University of Wisconsin to play pro poker, he was definitely not on the same page as his dad, a dean at the school.

"In fact, he hated it," says Hellmuth.

But this Father's Day story worked out in the end with a father-son embrace in 1989 in Las Vegas when Hellmuth won the Main Event at the World Series of Poker.

Hellmuth, who's now won over $6 million playing at World Series events, has his own Las Vegas-based publishing company, Phil's House Publishing. It has a new book, Deal Me In, available at, which tells the stories of 20 top players. It was written by Stephen John and Marvin Karlins.

In the chapter on Hellmuth, he discusses the initially strained situation with his Phil Hellmuth Sr., now a retired associate dean in the Wisconsin-Madison College of Arts and Letters.

"He had a Ph.D. He had an M.B.A. He had a J.D. Now that's incredible, all those letters," says Hellmuth.

"So me being the oldest of five (children) and a guy, the amount of pressure he exerted on me was incredible. … I was supposed to set an example for all the other kids, and I went a different direction, and it was real tough on him and I for a couple of years."

Hellmuth says his mother was "initially more supportive" and that his father began easing up a bit in 1988 after seeing how focused his son was on poker and how he was developing as a pro.

In August of that year, Hellmuth offered to take his dad on a vacation anywhere in the world. He hoped he would choose Australia or New Zealand. Instead, he said he wanted to come and watch him play in the 1989 World Series.

"I was like, 'What?'" says Hellmuth.

He wasn't really comfortable then with anybody in the family watching him play.

"I'm like, 'Dad, you can't even be in the room when I'm playing. Why do you want to go there?' He said, 'You're going to win it,'" says Hellmuth

Hellmuth's response at the time: "Yes, I am."

Despite his effort to talk his dad out of it, he made the trip to Las Vegas in 1989.

"I said, 'All right, look, I can see I can't talk you out of it. So if I win, I'm going to buy you a car,'" says Hellmuth.

When his dad got to Vegas, Hellmuth was at the table playing in a tournament before the WSOP Main Event. "He sits down and tells a joke. I'm like, "Dad, you're not supposed to be talking,'" says Hellmuth.

They worked that out for the Main Event and began each day the same. Every morning his dad would wake him up at 11 a.m. with food and he'd go over to play.

Hellmuth played his way to the title. At his moment of victory, he started looking around for his dad, who had stayed in the background well enough that he couldn't find him.

"I'm looking over my shoulder, Where's my dad?'" says Hellmuth. "He's coming running up the aisle and security guards are laughing because there's a million in cash on the table. … I wave him through. 'That's my dad.'"

They embraced. In the book, Hellmuth says his dad told him, "Son, I was wrong. This poker thing is pretty (darn) cool and you are incredible at it."

Hellmuth, whose parents still live in Madison, recently had a son graduate from high school in Palo Alto, Calif. Phil Hellmuth III is headed for college. What if he wants to be a poker pro?

"It's just a very tough life. … My life has been very smooth and easy but … I know it's a tough profession," says Hellmuth.

"So I would tell him, 'Look, if this is what you're going to do, I don't want you drinking and I don't want you doing drugs ever. There are going to be tough times, and when you have tough times you can't just come leaning on dad.

"Maybe your mother and I are blessed with a ton of money, but we're not going to support you. If you really want to do this for a living, then we'll help you once and once only. And when you go broke, because almost everybody goes broke when they first start, you're going to have to fight your way back."

Hellmuth's 1989 story about his dad didn't end with the hug in Vegas. "I bought him a new Mercedes," he says. Bonus

Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on June 21, 2009

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