The prize money Phil Hellmuth collected Tuesday after winning his record 11th World Series of Poker championship nearly equaled the paycheck he earned in 1989 when he captured his first title.
In between crowns, however, Hellmuth has become one of poker's most recognizable figures, thanks largely to Internet gambling, poker on television, poker books and numerous endorsements. The game and his association with it have made Hellmuth, 42, a rich and well-recognized man.
"All I've really wanted to be known as is the greatest poker player of all time," Hellmuth said Tuesday, about 12 hours after he topped a field of 2,628 players to win a $1,500-buy-in no-limit hold'em event at the Rio, earning his 11th gold and diamond-encrusted bracelet. The jewelry is awarded to the winners of the individual World Series events.
"I'm on that path and I need to continue in that direction," he said.
Hellmuth's victory Monday night, worth $637,254, broke a three-way tie with poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most individual wins in World Series of Poker history. The event was the 15th of the 55-event World Series of Poker, which began on June 1 and concludes July 17. So there is still a chance Brunson or Chan, who are both two-time World Poker Champions, could match or surpass Hellmuth.
"This is the first time I've held the record on my own," Hellmuth said, adding that he plans on competing in several more events. "I was tied with eight, with nine and with 10. Being part of poker history is a tremendous feeling."
Hellmuth became the youngest World Poker champion ever in 1989 when he captured the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold'em event at age 24. He won $755,000 for his effort, pocket change compared to the $12 million payday earned by Jamie Gold, who won last year's championship.
Hellmuth has competed in the World Series of Poker since 1988 and has finished in the money 59 times, including his 11 championships, winning more than $5.5 million during that stretch. He has also earned millions in cash games, tournaments and other sponsored events during his 19-year career.
Lately, Hellmuth has invested in several businesses. His cellular-phone poker game attracted 958,000 users in the United States last year. His poker teaching manuals are still some of the more popular books now for sale on Amazon.com.
Along the way Hellmuth's boisterous persona and unconventional antics have earned him the nickname, "Poker Brat." He's a regular on numerous televised poker events. He won $500,000 in 2005 at the inaugural "Heads Up Poker Challenge" on NBC.
"Take the ego out of it, but I think people like watching me on television," Hellmuth said. "I look at myself and think, 'Who is that idiot?' People come up to me all the time and tell me that they want to play like me. It's pretty amazing."
Hellmuth, a Madison, Wis., native who dropped out of college to pursue a poker career, makes the World Series his primary poker engagement. In 1993, he became the first competitor to win three bracelet events on three consecutive days.
"Poker players everywhere measure themselves against each other by how many World Series of Poker bracelets they have," World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said. "Now, all World Series bracelet holders must measure themselves against Phil Hellmuth. He is a true sports champion and we could not be happier for him."
Hellmuth said he wears the bracelet he won for his world championship in 1989. He has given out others as gifts to family members. The 11th bracelet is going his sister, Molly.
"I won it on the 11th and she was born on 11-11-71," Hellmuth said. That's pretty lucky."
PHIL HELLMUTH'S WORLD SERIES OF POKER WINS
Year Event Winnings
1989 World Championship no-limit hold'em $10,00 buy-in $755,500
1992 Limit hold'em, $5,000 buy-in $188,000
1993 No-limit hold'em, $2,500 buy-in $173,000
1993 No-limit hold'em, $1,500 buy-in $161,400
1993 No-limit hold'em, $5,000 buy-in $138,000
1997 Pot-limit hold'em, $3,000 buy-in $204,000
2001 No-limit hold'em, $2,000 buy-in $316,550
2003 Limit hold'em, $2,500 buy-in $171,400
2003 No-limit hold'em, $3,000 buy-in $410,860
2006 No-limit hold'em, $1,000 buy-in $631,863
2007 No-limit hold'em, $1,500 buy-in $637,254
Career World Series of Poker earnings: $5,548,377
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