Poker Hall of Fame member Phil Hellmuth has often deployed table talk to unnerve his opponents. Sometimes, such as the profanity-laced tirade he unleashed at a 2021 World Series of Poker, his conduct at the table has drawn criticism from the poker community.
In the first round of the inaugural PokerGO Heads-Up Showdown at the Aria in Las Vegas, however, the 16-time WSOP bracelet winner found himself on the receiving end of the verbal abuse. In the most talked about match of the day, Hellmuth’s opponent, Maverick Gaming owner Eric Persson, came prepared to give Hellmuth a taste of his own medicine.
Although Hellmuth was his usual confident self, (he did win the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship in 2005), he was initially cordial with Persson, asking him about his business. But the polite conversation soon faded away as Persson began to find some fortunate rivers and Hellmuth’s stack began to dwindle.
The verbal sparring escalated as the match wore on, and Persson got more under Hellmuth’s skin with his insults. At one point, he even threw up a double middle-finger salute after winning a pot with a three-bet on the turn. (The hand in questions starts at 1:43:15 in the full PokerGO broadcast below.)
“You might be one of the most obnoxious guys I’ve played,” said Hellmuth, before the two argued about the possibility of a $1 million heads-up match.
Persson eventually became too much for Hellmuth to ignore and he called over the Aria Tournament Director, who issued Persson a warning. Hellmuth couldn’t help himself, however, and just a few hands later was given a warning of his own.
is this the angriest we’ve seen @phil_hellmuth??? pic.twitter.com/kcy45bnywY
— PokerGO (@PokerGO) April 22, 2022
Persson went on to win the match, picking up pocket aces after Hellmuth shoved the last of his short stack with K-3. The big pocket pair held and Persson punched his ticket to the round of 16, where he will meet with Dan Shak.
In his exit interview, Persson continued to insult Hellmuth, telling sideline reporter Jeff Platt that “the game had passed him by.”
Afterwards, Hellmuth stated that he wouldn’t ever again play in a PokerGO event where Persson was present.
The poker world was divided over the incident. While most agreed that Persson was completely out of line, many also felt that it was some sort of karmic retribution for all of the tirades Hellmuth has subjected others to over the years.
To his credit, Hellmuth took to Twitter later in the day to take his share of the responsibility.
Rough day for me! My opponent gave me the double bird, and was out of line w his verbal attacks, but then, I engaged (I’m sure @DougPolkVids can find a clip making me look bad). I should have been the better man, taken the abuse, and found a way to win our match… #POSITIVITY pic.twitter.com/Dbh6UZYmOO
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) April 22, 2022
As previously mentioned, the full round of 32 broadcast for the ‘Spades’ and ‘Hearts’ quarters was posted on PokerGO’s Youtube page. Check that out below:
The round of 16 and beyond will be exclusively found on PokerGO. Action will begin at noon Pacific for the players, with the broadcast on a one-hour delay. There are plenty of big names left in contention for the $400,000 top prize in this $25,000 buy-in heads-up no-limit hold’em invitational event, including six-time bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu, three-time bracelet winner Jeremy Ausmus, high-stakes tournament regulars Alex Foxen and Sean Winter, and many more.
Here is a look at the updated bracket (click the image to enlarge):