“Those who can’t do, teach.” We’ve all heard the sentiment.
Does that mean those who can do, commentate? Not necessarily.
This week, Phil Hellmuth hit the ESPN airwaves by joining Lon McEachern and Norman Chad in the booth for the World Series of Poker Big One for One Drop.
Was Hellmuth the best choice to provide commentary on a mainstream broadcast?
On the surface, it seems to make sense.
- 15 WSOP bracelets
- Famous friends
- Polarizing figure is good for ratings
- Made a name for himself beyond the poker community
It also left many scratching their heads.
- Has a game that isn’t the most respected within the community
- Self-promotes at every opportunity
- Doesn’t like handing the spotlight over to anyone else
- Is quick to criticize players that don’t play his type of game
Was Hellmuth able to let the players in the Big One for One Drop take center stage and provide insightful and thoughtful commentary?
Some say yes, some say no. Much like everything Hellmuth does, he was both applauded and booed for his performance.
Hellmuth called out for biased commentary
Phil Galfond took to Twitter during the Day 2 coverage to express some concerns. He was “bothered” about how Hellmuth downplayed the skill involved in Justin Bonomo‘s incredible run this year in high-roller tournaments.
I don’t post much negativity, but I really am bothered by the way @phil_hellmuth is commentating on such a prestigious event.
Implying that @JustinBonomo is on this amazing run with an inferior strategy and a lot of luck undermines poker as a skill game & robs viewers of a hero.
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) July 17, 2018
You said he’s a great player, but it’s not coming across that you think it.
As a poker hero, you know how much it means to fans to admire the talent of someone great. It sounds like you don’t want them thinking that about this generation.
I may be misreading, but it seems obv.
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) July 17, 2018
Hellmuth promised to “do better.” And Galfond gave him props for listening and adjusting.
Did he do better? Yes and no. He made an effort to compliment players and plays – it just felt a bit disingenuous.
Game over … Hellmuth’s figured out GTO
Hellmuth had no trouble throwing around his new favorite term “GTO” during the broadcast.
He talked about learning GTO “nine days ago” and attributed his 15th bracelet win to his new understanding of the method. He went on to say that now that he knows GTO, he can adjust his game and trap players.
This is a perfect example of Hellmuth unintentionally disrespecting players. To credit nine days of studying GTO for his bracelet win when players have been studying GTO for years is thoughtless.
It also doesn’t lend a lot of credibility to his analysis of GTO play.
What did Twitter think of Hellmuth’s performance?
Bill Simmons put out a poll on Twitter to gauge Hellmuth’s commentary performance. Hellmuth responded to the tweet with, “Ouch.”
What do you think of Phil Hellmuth’s announcing performance during this WSOP Final table?
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) July 18, 2018
18,000 plus votes say Hellmuth’s commentary was unbelievably annoying.
On the flip side, Hellmuth has plenty of fans that came out in his defense.
I'm not gonna go as far to say he has no clue what they're doing. I'm sure he has some idea. He's not totally out of the loop. GTO obviously isn't the strongest part of his game but he does know what he's talking about. 15 bracelets, especially winning 1 this year says a lot.
— Filipino Fiend (@The_Real_Ryan_V) July 19, 2018
So, I think the biggest question that arises out of the @WSOP this year is… To GTO or Not To GTO? If you missed The Big One for One Drop – $1,000,000 No-Limit Hold'em finale last night then you missed out on some excellent commentary regarding this from @phil_hellmuth
— Brad Michaels (@Dolfan99_34) July 18, 2018
If only Hellmuth would stop being Hellmuth
Hellmuth took to Twitter following the broadcast and went on a retweeting rampage. He made sure to share every positive tweet. This is typical Hellmuth. Instead of replying with gratitude for the compliment, he retweeted the tweets to counter the negativity.
Not sure how my computer's memory survived the @phil_hellmuth retweet blitz but phew
— Adam Schwartz (@PokercastAdam) July 16, 2018
Overall, Hellmuth provided some good commentary.
He may have a spent a bit too much time predicting what a player would do and not enough time educating the viewer on the why behind the actions. And there may have been a little too much self-promotion and an unintentional disrespect for how the “new kids” play the game.
The biggest frustration with Hellmuth being asked to join the booth is that he might not be the best ambassador for the game.
In a poker room, Hellmuth is very egocentric. Just look at the series of entrances he’d made at the WSOP Main Event.
He believes he is the best and some would say you can’t argue with results. They have a point – he did win his 15th bracelet this summer, after all.
He is extremely passionate about the game. But that passion should not excuse his outbursts at the tables. The poker community should not continue to allow an apology to get him off the hook.
To be fair, it is highly unlikely he sets out to demean and disparage players. Every year, he states his intention to do better at controlling his behavior.
Hellmuth needs to do more than study GTO for nine days if he wants to be respected by his peers and represent the poker community on mainstream broadcasts. He needs to show a dedication to studying the game that many of the high-stakes poker pros do.
Hellmuth has been around the block and his love for the game is good for the game. On the surface, he should be great at commentary. He just needs to learn to get out of his way.
Lead image courtesy of World Poker Tour