Where Is The Line For Phil Hellmuth’s Persistent Misbehavior?

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The world of tournament poker often seems to have one set of rules for big name pros, and another set for everyone else. That was on full display when it comes to Phil Hellmuth’s behavior at the 2021 World Series of Poker this week.

Upon losing a bracelet opportunity on Monday, Hellmuth went on a profanity-laden rant on live stream. He has repeatedly apologized for it on Twitter. WSOP hasn’t imposed any consequences on him, however, and recreational players likely won’t be afforded the same luxury. Swearing can get you a warning or a one-round penalty. Some of what Hellmuth said could have, for another player, resulted in a disqualification or even a lifetime ban.

Hellmuth admits on Twitter that he made threats to burn down the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, where the series is taking place. He insists that his comments, which were cut from the final table video, were a joke:

“This is a joke: I’m afraid I’ll get called out for it: if I don’t win, I will burn the place down.”

The rant came after Hellmuth, initially a chip leader, lost a large portion of his stack to Anthony Zinno at the final table. Hellmuth, who was chasing a 16th bracelet to add to his record, eventually busted in fourth, two hours later.

Let Hellmuth be Hellmuth?

Meanwhile, the 57-year-old “Poker Brat” with more than $25 million in live earnings, according to the Hendon Mob database, is largely getting wink-wink, nudge-nudge attention from his fans. The video PokerGO posted yesterday on YouTube of his Monday rant had racked up 114,085 views on YouTube as of this morning. PokerGO is live-streaming the tournament.

PokerGo itself sounded excited about Hellmuth’s behavior, with this summary below the video:

“Phil Hellmuth had a chance to win his 16th WSOP Bracelet at the $10,000 Seven Card Stud final table but boy did that go wrong! This might be the biggest meltdown you’ll ever see out of the Poker Brat!”

So late author Nat Hentoff‘s 1992 book title is perhaps more apt: Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee.

WSOP officials didn’t immediately respond to Online Poker Report‘s request for comment today about Hellmuth and the 2021 WSOP Official Tournament Rules.

40 profanities, but who’s counting?

PokerGO bleeps most of Hellmuth’s language from the YouTube video, but it’s clear in context that most of the censored words are the “F-bomb” or variations thereof.

OPR counted 40 bleeped words, with a clear video edit cutting out part of the play. Hellmuth also tweeted that his “joke” was cut out of the video.

A dozen of Hellmuth’s profanities came before he even began the main rant that’s been the focus of attention on social media and poker blogs.

That episode lasted about two minutes and involved the other 28 bleeped words.

“Listen, motherf–ker,” Hellmuth says to Zinno.

Then Hellmuth primarily complains about Zinno’s hand and how much money he’s losing by being elimintated. Hellmuth then gets up and leaves the table.

Meanwhile, the dealer is answering a player’s question:

“It goes live.”

When the video cuts back in, Hellmuth is back at the table.

Zinno ultimately won the tournament, collecting $182,872 and his third bracelet.

Hellmuth apologizes, then gets back to business

Hellmuth repeatedly tweets comments like this one from yesterday:

“I apologize for going too far last night.”

At one point, the poker pro seems to passive-aggressively blame others for his behavior:

“My rant was out of line. I have been encouraged by many to be the ‘Poker Brat,’ but I went too far.”

Hellmuth retweeted sentiment from former fan, @HunterGrouse:

“@phil_hellmuth [F–k] you Phil. I supported you and now feel like a chump after watching your [bulls–t] yesterday. If I said half of what you did, I’d be banned for life. [F–k] you. Entitled [pr–k] …”

After that, though, Hellmuth quote-reweeted an admirer, @Jason:

“Allow me to introduce myself, my name is …”

“PokerGo needs to give @phil_hellmuth $10k per blowup [YouTube link]”

The video to which angel investor Jason Calacanis linked was Hellmuth talking himself up to other players before his loss.

Late Tuesday night, @jaydenbreynolds tweets to Hellmuth:

“@phil_hellmuth What tournament(s) do you have your eyes on next? Us fans would like to know which ones you’ll likely be competing in …. and then likely final tabling in [Money-mouth face]”

Hellmuth replies:

“Taking the day off today. My current plan is to play tomorrow in either the $1,000 NoLimHoldem at 3 PMish (11 AM start) OR the @WSOP $1,500 buy in HORSE at 6 PM (starts at 3 PM). The $1K is attractive because it’s NLH, it’s a 2 day tourney, and I’ve won a bunch of NLH tourneys”

What do the 2021 WSOP tournament rules say?

The 2021 WSOP Official Tournament Rules are 31 pages long and cover everything down to player hygiene.

Reading through them, it appears as though Hellmuth violated Rules 40, 46, 47 and 48.

Those read, in part:

  • All Participants are entitled to expect civility and courtesy from one another at every table and throughout the WSOP area.
  • Rio prohibits the use of obscene or foul language in any public area of the casino at any time.
  • Any Participant who taunts another Participant through theatrics or gestures or engages in any form of inappropriate behavior intended to disrupt other Participants in an Event will be subject to penalty.
  • Participant or staff abuse will not be tolerated.

Regarding that last rule, Hellmuth did throw his cards in disgust. However, he claims that he didn’t intend to throw them at the dealer, merely onto the table.

Tournament officials have a large amount of discretion in how they apply the rules. Swearing at the table usually only elicits a warning from floor staff. However, outrageous behavior like Hellmuth’s would, for most other players, result in at least a one-round penalty. Hellmuth gets away with a lot in part because his opponents and the tournament staff are used to it.

Even harsher penalties are possible, but rare when it comes to verbal misbehavior.

The last time the WSOP took place in person was 2019. Poker player Ken Strauss was ejected from that series after he exposed himself and threw a shoe at a dealer.

The only time in recent memory a player of Hellmuth’s stature has received a disqualification from a major tournament was Antonio Esfandiari at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event. He had urinated into a bottle at the table to avoid a trip to the bathroom, on account of a proposition bet.