Is Phil Helmuth the Donald Trump of Poker?

6 years ago
Is 'Poker Brat' the Donald Trump of Poker?
29 Jun

Crass, arrogant, showboating, and – in their own mind – infallible Hellmuth and Trump seem almost avatars for each other, the one political, the other plays card games. The comparison is close enough to have its own Reddit thread. But how close are these two walking egos in reality? It’s try and answer the question that almost no one asked: Is Phil Hellmuth the Donald Trump of poker? Maybe.

When You’re Wrong, You’re Not Wrong

Both men undoubtedly think a great deal of themselves, they both believe that they are the best at what they do, and that what they do is important. They both hate to lose, and they both make a lot of noise when they do.

But here’s the difference: Hellmuth rages when something went wrong, he feels bad every time he makes the wrong call or someone calls his bluff. He’s sure he’s better than he is – which is not to say he’s not a great poker player but his self belief exceeds even his considerable talent. So when things go wrong for Phil it hurts because his sense of self is challenged. Like the mature individual he is, he just blames everyone else for playing badly, he rants, he raves. He’ll insult you and he’ll insult your game. Here’s Hellmuth when he gets bluffed:

Look at him, he feels the sting of defeat and even more so the howling of the crowd, always pleased to see a man laid low. Hellmuth lashes out angry and in pain.

Compare this to Trump. Just as likely to insult you, Trump won’t ever lash out, because he never feels the pain of defeat, of being wrong. He never feels it, because he doesn’t even realise he cocked up. A pathological liar and a narcissist to boot, he’s not only blind to his own fallability, he believes himself when he says nothing went wrong.

Here’s America’s next president of the United States responding to the accusation that calling Fox News’s Megyn Kelly a ‘bimbo’ may not have been a statesmanly thing to have said:

Not only was he not in the wrong, she should apologise for everything. Phil Hellmuth is a flawed human-being with a human-being’s emotions, upset when people make fun of him, he acts out. To describe what sort of animal Donald Trump is, would take a DNA sample and a professional background in cladistics.

“I Have a Very Good Brain.”

Trump and Hellmuth are also both the best in the world at what they do. According to themselves at least. They are both big brands in their fields – in Donald’s case literally, his name up in lights on whatever product he can get his tiny little hands on.

If it weren’t for luck Hellmuth, would never lose to anyone but Hellmuth. And Trump ‘can’t lose’ this election, after all in his own words he has ‘a very good brain’. A quote which comes from an interview in which he lists himself as his top foreign policy consultant. They both love to talk about themselves.

So they both talk a big game, the difference is that Hellmuth can back his talent up. He may not be the best in the world, but you can have a legitimate argument about whether he is or not. He has 14 WSOP bracelets and over $20 million in tournament cashes to back his ego up.

And although Trump seems pretty successful too in his own field, the Trump brand is a lot weaker than he lets on. Planet Money’s Adam Davidson did in a piece for the New York Times on how most of his wealth is smoke and mirrors. His successes are far fewer in number and value than he pretends and his failures are massive. Most buildings with the Trump name on them are not owned by any part of his empire. Instead the name is nothing more than a branding deal. In fact, Trump’s business failures come in so thick and fast that he treats bankruptcy as a success, in one interview he professes his love of America’s bankruptcy laws. A man then, who is very much prepared to fail.

Hellmuth give the lie to the old joke that the best way to make a small fortune in a casino is to go in with a big one. Trump just rephrases it, he went and bought the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City with his fortune. Now he doesn’t even own the casino. Who says the house always wins.

Bad Publicity

Hellmuth isn’t above a little corporate branding himself. He just is usually pimps other people’s products. Dressed like a teenager in track-suit and baseball cap both bearing the logo of whatever temple of Moloch he belongs to at a given time – Ultimate Bet for a long time, longer than he would probably like to remember – he throws the occasional hissy, just often enough to keep the cameras on him.

Trump on the other hand is selling himself, all the time. He doesn’t generate a personality to sell other people’s products, he co-opts other people’s achievements to sell himself, especially the illusion of his successes. Whenever I see that he put his name on a line of feminine hygiene products, or a new species of badger, I can’t help but think of Saddam Hussein’s plan to rebuild the hanging gardens of Babylon with his name inscribed on every brick.

I think Hellmuth would be happy I think if people just thought he was as good as he thinks he is. Trump seems pretty happy with himself all the time.

Trump Himself

So, maybe Hellmuth is a bit Trump-ish. But there are some significant differences. And when it comes down to it, there is only one true Trump of poker. And that, my friends, is Donald Trump his Trumpy self.

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Jon is a freelance writer and novelist who learned to play poker after watching Rounders in year 9. He has been giving away his beer money at cards ever since. Currently he is based in Bristol where he makes sporadic donations to the occasional live tournament or drunken late night Zoom session. He ...Read more


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