Phil Hellmuth – Undisputable Skill or Ultimate Good Run?
Over the years, there's been a lot of debate about Phil Hellmuth and his poker playing abilities. All the while, the man continued about his business collecting WSOP bracelets left and right, with the latest one coming just a few days back. It was his fourteenth WSOP gold to further cement his place at the top of the bracelet winners' list, with closest competitors now trailing him four prestigious titles.
Could it be luck?
Regardless of whether you are a fan or a "hater" of the "Poker Brat", the fact is, his success hardly leaves anyone unfazed. A few out there would claim that Hellmuth just runs well and that his results are predominantly caused by the good variance. How likely is that?
More and more studies lately are confirming that poker is, in fact, a game of skill. In one of the more recent ones, where a sample of almost half a billion hands was analyzed, it was determined that "players who were ranked in the top ten percent of regular poker players in terms of performance were found to be twice as likely to remain successful than those in the remaining ninety percent." (source: casino review and gambling information portal RightCasino.com)
However, to play a devil's advocate for a minute here, one can argue that in absolute terms, Phil's overall sample is not that big at all. It is well known fact that Hellmuth mostly sticks to World Series tournaments and doesn't travel much to play otherwise.
That said, Phil has been around for quite a while, and his sample is not that small. While run of positive variance for a prolonged period of time is certainly possible in theory, I'd say it is not very likely.
Arguments for skill
It is hard to put a finger on the skill at a poker table, but watching Hellmuth play over the years at various WSOP events certainly speaks heaps. How can anyone even deny it? Poker Brat has a special talent for playing against less experienced players and that's why he excels at the WSOP.
Is Phil Hellmuth the best player that's ever lived? Probably not and, despite of his public image, deep down the man himself probably doesn't even believe it. But, World Series of Poker is his playground. That's where he feels at home and where he is able to put up his best performance.
It is probably the mix of talent and experience, with some luck thrown into the mix, naturally, that helped Hellmuth on his path to becoming the most decorated player in the history of the Series. Perhaps he did have a bit more positive variance than an average Joe, but his results could hardly be caused primarily by that factor.
Of course, some will remain forever firm in their belief that Hellmuth is just on a good run of a lifetime and that Lady Luck smiled upon him in an unusually generous fashion. Everybody has a right to their own opinion, of course, but as is often stated on poker forums across the WWW, it doesn't compute.