Las Vegas, NV
I almost tried to pull a fast one on my readers. It was late and I told my girlfriend that I was super tired and didn't want to stay up until sunrise penning 3,000 words about the wanton and querulous nature of Phil Hellmuth, particularly, his entrance into the Main Event. Again. For the sixth year in a row. She suggested that I go to bed early and cut and paste last year's post about Phil Hellmuth's grandiose entrance, only adding a different picture and changing a few details.
But my readers are smarter than that. Then again, I hate repeating myself. That's why you should re-read last year's post titled The Psychedelic Circus before you read the remainder of this post. It's OK, I can wait until you catch up on last year's coverage.
Now that you're up to speed, you can understand why I could pass off last year's scribblings. It's essentially the same story -- except a little more absurd and a lot more people waiting for his arrival.
Outside of poker, my friends think we live in this glamorous universe with rainbows and strippers where everyone is richer than God. How do I explain to my friends what happened on Sunday? That I waited for thirty minutes with a rabid menagerie of fans and international media for a performance of epic proportions as a grown man, a professional at the top of his field, carried into a convention center by four other half-naked men, while a cavalcade of eleven women in body paint trailed behind while the hallway was adorned with one hundred scantily clad women who clapped at the one and only Phil Hellmuth's stately entrance.Last week, word leaked out that Hellmuth would be arriving at the Rio as an MMA fighter. Interesting concept that certainly fits in with the Vegas vibe. The MMA shtick is not as pretentious as dressing up like tyrants such as Patton or Julius Caesar.
Phil Hellmuth as Julius Caesar? That was the crux of the gauche publicity stunt by the heart of Hellmuth's UB machine. But let's not forget history... the almighty Caesar was stabbed to death by his colleagues.
During the first two WSOPs that I covered, 2005 and 2006, the Main Event had a more festive vibe and the room was cluttered with individual and group costumes. Back then it seemed as though there was at least one freak per table. Maybe it's simply the economy -- people had more disposable income five years ago and didn't mind dusting off $10,000 if it meant having a entertaining experience. These days everything is so -- serious. The players as a whole are better but they definitely have a lot less proclivity for fun. Man, I kinda miss those groups of five guys from the same homegame who get shitfaced and dress up like nuns. This year, I can only recall a couple of costumes -- like Batman and the British guy in the cow costume. Aside from that, it's been a very sedate atmosphere. And that's not just me telling you this -- on Days 1A and 1B, many veteran reporters were moaning about the lack of stories and excitement even though we're on the cusp of the largest Main Event in the post-UIEGA era.
The WSOPs in the pre-UIGEA era had the vibe of Mardi Gras. Tradition. Festive. Fun. Surreal. Some days reminded me of a random scene from a John Irving novel -- where a young woman in a bear costume knocks down a door inside a brothel interrupting an old whore trying to service a john. You look in bewilderment and utter, "Shit, did that just happen?"
Those moments are few and far between these days, which is why the Hellmuth entrance stands out. Even though everyone knows it's coming, it's still a big deal. And also controversial. People seem to fall into three groups... 1) people who love it, 2) people who hate it, and 3) people who don't give a shit. If you were in the hallways or standing outside sweating your balls off, then you're a member of the first group. The haters didn't bother to show up instead blasting Hellmuth on blogs, forums, and social media outlets. The haters in the press eschewed the childish antics of Hellmuth, penned diatribes on why he is an egotistical jerkoff and how this is bad for poker. And the last group? The ambivalent souls had more important things to do than watch the burlesque show.
Me? I fell into the first category. I loathe all forms of douchebaggery and Hellmuth sprints over that demarcation line, but I must say that the Hellmuth entrance is one of my favorite times of the year because I thrive on organized chaos. Besides, these entrances are a stark reminder about what's cool with poker, at the same time, it also reveals everything that is wrong with poker. In short, it's the perfect vehicle to describe the current state of affairs in the poker industry...
- Many members of the media were reluctant to cover the entrance but caved in to demands of their readers/viewers. In this rigorous business, I learned that the haters want to read more about the spectacle than Helmuth's fans. Hate sells.
- Hellmuth was one player out of 2,134 runners, yet, poker heavily relies on the star system. More media were outside for an hour period than inside the tournament area. When is 1 is greater than 2,133? When it's someone of the likes of Hellmuth or Phil Ivey. Stars transcend the masses.
- The ongoing cold war between online poker rooms was so firggin' obvious. Bruce Buffer was hired to announce Hellmuth but he showed up wearing two Full Tilt patches on his pinstripe suit. That caused quite a stir with UB brass. But Hellmuth is the brightest star in the universe and he gets what he wants. Despite the rival logos, the show went on as planned with a guy in a Full Tilt patch introducing Hellmuth in an elaborate set up that was obviously paid for by UB.
- The power went out towards the end of the intro -- the music and Buffer's mic was killed. Tech tilt is par for the course in poker.
- The models hired to represent Hellmuth's entourage were carrying cardboard bracelets. The 11-time bracelet winner had only ten bracelets represented. Who said models were smart?
- The Hellmuth story reminds me of a didactic tale from F. Scott Fitzgerald. At least, that's the filter to which I viewed this particular circus.
- People as a whole are suckers for cheap entertainment (more so if it's a trainwreck). Why else would they stand outside for up to an hour in the searing Nevada sun in order to catch a glimpse of Hellmuth?
- People are also seeking out a connection -- to anything. The Hellmuth entrance, as absurd and annoying as it is, is still a collective experience. I guarantee you that every single person in that crowd with a DVR is going to record that particular episode of ESPN's WSOP in hopes of seeing themselves.
Photo courtesy of Mean Gene
I remember back in the day when Hellmuth arrived in a limo and was only greeted by a single ESPN camera crew. As the spectacle grew and Hellmuth wanted to out do himself from the year before, more and more media began camping outside on the day that Hellmuth was scheduled to play. This year 's entrance was witnessed by a throng of spectators and fans who lined up along the red carpet (they lucky ones snagged the few coveted spots under the mist tent because it was 113 degrees). Fans braved the brutal temperatures and I was glad that I purposely showed up late.
And I'm gonna tell you how hot it was because, bloody hell, it was sweaty balls hot. The fact that fans stood outside for so long in the search a glimpse of Hellmuth is troubling in itself. Some of them knew knew what to expect and heard the MMA rumors, while others had no clue and were along for the ride. But to stand around outside in triple digit heat to find out is maddening. Then again, compared to previous WSOP, this year has been rather -- tame.
The sheer number of fans who flooded the red carpet outside and lined up in the hallways was simply fantastic. Many media outlets shunned Hellmuth, but it's hard to ignore the story when so many people were eager to witness the tomfoolery. Dare I say, this is what the people want.
Televised poker is just like professional wrestling. You have your good guys and your bad guys. Hellmuth is and has always been the bad guy. You should hear the venom that his haters spew. The more they get angry, the more that this rouse has worked.
At the same time, Hellmuth is not an imbecile. He knows that it's nearly impossible for any "named" pro to fade 7,000 players and advance to the November Nine. The only way he would get guaranteed face time was to burst into the room with the most obnoxious entrance possible.
And it works. As Benjo noted, "Hellmuth will get on TV no matter what. In that regard, he wins."
The entrance fulfills so many things for Hellmuth: stroking his ego, touting his online poker room, and generating buzz about the WSOP Main Event. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again -- Phil Hellmuth is someone that we love to hate.... and hate to love.
Me, I kinda hate myself a little bit for loving this. Alas, I don't give a shit what you think of me, and I don't think Hellmuth cares if you think he's an asshole. He's become a ludicrous caricature of himself -- at his own doing. And he does this every fucking year, but even though more people grow tired with his trite antics -- the entrances become more and more popular. Just look at the citizen paparazzi in the various videos and you'll see hundreds of lunging and writhing fans clutching their cameras and mobile phones trying to record the madness.
Then again, this is America. Our citizens do what they are expected to do. So dare I say, did the poker media accomplish an amazing, yet frightening feat, by successfully brainwashing the masses into thinking that these entrances are bigger than the Main Event itself? I have to say yes.
We created this monster - Hellmuthstein - and now we can't stop it.
So instead of bitching about it, I just go with the flow and get as snookered as possible, blend into the crowd and enjoy the moment for what it is. These entrances remind me about Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's because like clockwork every year, Uncle Morty gets shitfaced drunk and causes a ruckus. He does it every single year, but his outbursts have become such an integral part of Thanksgiving, that's it accepted as part of the yearly routine -- watch football, carve the turkey, and wait for Uncle Morty to start unleashing crude remarks before he pukes in the microwave.
Hellmuthstein is a media fabrication and genetic experiment that went awry, and like a car wreck, I am unable to turn away while mired in a swamp of awkwardness.