Bad Beats and Lucky Draws by Phil Hellmuth

Bad Beats and Lucky Draws by Phil Hellmuth

Published October 26, 2004 by Harper Collins

A super quick read at 219 pages


In a year highlighted by a close presidential election that emphasized how divided the United States is, I present to you Phil Hellmuth Jr., arguably the most divisive man in professional poker. Anyone even vaguely familiar with professional poker is aware of Hellmuth. The spectacle he can make with his immense poker talent is matched only by the monumental spectacle he makes when he loses. He yells, he swears, he collapses to the ground, he cries, he whines, and he commits various other overtly dramatic acts in the name of defeat. It's quite a show.

Any player with his level of talent in pretty much any field of will attract some fans. Perhaps because of the attention he brings to himself with his dramatic flailings, or perhaps because he is not modest about how good he is, the people that hate Phil Hellmuth are far more vocal than his fans. On message boards all across the internet, right now as you're reading this, people are arguing about Phil Hellmuth. Some are merely calling him a cry baby, some are suggesting he has always just been lucky, and many, many people are calling him an idiot. The loyal legions of Hellmuth fans are busy at work refuting all of it. (He is tied with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most WSOP bracelets ever, of course. They mention that a lot.)

In any case, it is into this mess of controversy that Hellmuth has unleashed his second book, Bad Beats and Lucky Draws. The subtitle of the book is: Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories from the Professional Poker Tour. This is not a very accurate description of the content of this book, as the entire text of the book, every page, is dedicated to telling the story of real hands from big poker tournaments, most of them being important hands from Hellmuth's career.

So to be clear: there is no poker strategy in this book.

The book is a quick read at about 220 pages, and it should certainly be considered light reading. Not a lot of deep thinking will be done over what Hellmuth has offered us in this one, and in fact, a few times in the early going I found myself asking, "Why am I reading this?" The book is ultimately an entertaining read, though, and if you're grinding your way through something more technical and boring like David Sklansky, this is an excellent counterpart to turn to, to take a break from the math and implied odds theory.

There are some awkward moments in this one, due to Hellmuth's aforementioned ego, that will surely provide fodder for the anti-Hellmuth crowd. A few times through out the book, Hellmuth directly addresses the famous poker player he is talking about. For example, if it were a chapter about a hand Daniel Negreanu played, it would end like, "Great job, Daniel! I'm proud of you!" I could imagine this crazy combination of silly and shmoozy would turn some readers off. I found most of the stuff like this to be kind of funny, but that's just me.

On the whole, as I got through the book, I realized that I found Hellmuth to be an oddly entertaining writer. At first, his writing style seemed very strange and almost immature. He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously on the page, though, and once I got used to it, I really flew through the book. He used an insane amount of exclamation points, which have never seemed funnier. His personality really came through, and if you've seen a Hellmuth interview on TV, it was basically just how you'd imagine it'd be to have Phil Hellmuth tell you a bunch of poker stories.

The best portion of the book is the Cheesehead Poker chapter at the end, which tells a bunch of stories from Phil's early poker days back in Wisconsin . He really sets the scene well, and you can feel a bit of the nostalgia he must feel to be telling these stories from years ago. The thing that separated this section from the rest, I guess, was that the stories from big poker tournaments were stories that only a poker fanatic would want to hear, but the Wisconsin stories went into greater detail about the characters and lives of the other people involved, described places around Madison that Phil played poker, and you really just got more of a sense of how the things in these poker games affected the real lives of the people and places involved. They seemed like stories real enough that your uncle would tell you about them one night when he was feeling nostalgic, whereas the major tournament stories are a bit lifeless in that respect.

And I suppose with that, Hellmuth has set the stage to release his autobiography to be titled Poker Brat. On the strength of the Wisconsin chapter, I am really looking forward to it.


2.5 out of 4 aces

(Reviewed by T.)

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