He's a franchise now--writer of two books, star of a series of DVDs, seller of a wireless Texas hold 'em game, even the face (literally) of a set of poker chips offered for a $200 buy-in and now, along with Tobey Maguire, on the board of advisers of EdgeTV, the 24-hour gaming network set to debut next year. And for a mere $25,000 you can hire him to come to your house to give you head-to-head lessons, after which he will run a tourney for you and 200 of your closest pals. Act quick, though, as he's available only 20 nights out of the year. The poker boom, during which so many suckers have gone bust, has made stars of many players who just two years ago were rounders on the circuit; never did T.J. Cloutier or Doyle Brunson or Howard Lederer or Ted Forrest or Men Nguyen or Scotty Nguyen ever imagine they'd be more famous or feared than Ben Affleck around a table covered in felt. Of course, they hadn't seen Gigli or Jersey Girl or Surviving Christmas two years ago.
But it's been especially kind to Phil Hellmuth--ya know, the nine-time winner at the World Series of Poker, as he's quick to remind you, and the youngest ever to win the bracelet at the main event when he took gold in 1989 at 24. Even my wife knows who he is: "The crybaby," she'll point out when he turns up on the TV set, right before he folds his Q-A to Johnny Chan's pair of sixes and Howard Lederer's J-A during the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, only to see a Q-4-2 come down on the flop, all but giving him the nuts had he kept hold of those cards. (If that sentence reads to you like stereo instructions, sorry, but you are more than welcome to play in our game this Thursday night.) The man does throw an awesome temper tantrum, especially if you call a raise in a no-limit game holding Q-J and take the pot; it's as much a part of his arsenal as his unchecked ego and ability to read an opponent who's made it two big bets to go from middle position. It's part of his...well, charm's not quite the right word; let's just say appeal to be generous about it.
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Hellmuth's on tour promoting his new DVD, Phil Hellmuth's Million Dollar Poker System, and latest book, Bad Beats and Lucky Draws: Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories From the Professional Poker Tour. It takes longer to type the title than read the book, which is intended as a compliment. It's an easy, breezy read full of tales in which nobodies pocket lucky millions and green-felt heroes get drowned in the river. It's one of those books you thumb through a dozen times, only to realize the 13th time through you've managed to read the whole thing without paying attention--unlike, say, his first book, Play Poker Like the Pros, which is intended to be more educational than entertaining. (That, too, is a decent how-to, but far down the list, behind Super System, Total Poker and anything by David Sklansky and Ken Warren.) If you really want to play like Hellmuth, sans the crying jags and shouting fits, he's even giving lessons from 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Sunday at Gilley's, as part of the La Riata tournament benefiting Children's Medical Center. For $500 you can play in the tourney, where first (and only) prize is a seat at next year's World Series of Poker, and take the short tutorial. Or you can just pester Phil at the Barnes & Noble on Northwest Highway on Saturday night, when he'll be signing copies of Bad Beats. If you go to either, I beg you to ask him, "Did you learn your lesson yet?" as Lederer did at the Tournament of Champions. Swear to God, he'll love you for it.