Phil Hellmuth, the Poker Brat, is no stranger to controversy. Whether it's crashing a car in a publicity stunt gone awry, verbally abusing his opponents, or flashing inappropriate images on Twitch, there seems to always be something unflattering about him in the news. The latest ruckus Phil has kicked up involves the absurdly high markup of 1.8 that he charged his tournament backers recently.
Phil sold shares to the second event of this year's World Series of Poker: a $10,000 buyin Super Turbo Bounty tourney that ran on May 30. The deal took place on YouStake.com, a site that connects investors and poker players. Phil opted to sell 30% of his action, and he decided to charge a 1.8 markup.
Purchasing 1% of Phil for the event would cost 1% of the entry amount – $100 – if the shares were priced at par. However, Phil's 1.8 markup rate means that this figure has to be multiplied by 1.8 before arriving at the final selling price of $180 for each percentage of Phil's winnings. This represents an 80% premium over the face value of the tournament entry.
Despite the hefty premium, Hellmuth had no trouble selling his 30%. A total of 27 backers bought up his action for a combined $5,400.
Is Phil Hellmuth 1.8 times better at poker than you?
Many experienced poker players believe that there's no chance Phil was worth a 1.8 markup. The high caliber of the field, the fact that Hellmuth is not up to date on the latest poker theory, and the fast-paced structure of the super turbo event were reasons cited for why Phil didn't have much, if any, advantage over the other players and certainly nowhere near enough of an edge to justify an 80% markup. Even accomplished winners who sell at a 30% or 40% markup sometimes raise eyebrows within the community, and 80% truly seems outrageous.
The 14-time bracelet winner also has a habit of turning up late to the tables, snoozing as his stack is slowly blinded off, and he has done this before in other tournaments that he sold shares in. This is especially problematic in a bounty tourney because being shorter-stacked than one's opponents makes collecting bounty payments less likely.
Some have gone so far as to accuse Phil of operating an outright scam as did fellow pro Scott Seiver on Twitter:
Others believe that buying pieces of Hellmuth for 1.8 is definitely a poor decision, but they stop short of calling it fraudulent. The thinking behind this approach is that it's a free market, and, as long as there's no deception involved, Phil should be free to charge whatever people are willing to pay. Even among this camp, however, there are those who feel the whole transaction leaves a sour taste in their mouths despite not being technically unethical.
Phil Hellmuth himself doesn't believe there's anything wrong with setting such a high price on his action, and he feels that his results as a player speak for themselves. Check out this tweet that he sent in response to Matt Berkey calling his practices “cannibalistic”:
While it's easy to dismiss Phil's thinking as delusional and narcissistic, a close look at the numbers does suggest that he has a point. Twoplustwoer “Rimlog” has actually performed calculations in spreadsheets that show that of the 95 times that Hellmuth has cashed in WSOP events, he got heads-up 22 times. The sample size for this math is, of course, very small, but it does support the notion that there is something to Phil's much-derided “white magic” opponent reading abilities that allows him to go deep in large tournaments much more often than one would expect.
We must also consider that there may be people who wish to support Phil for reasons unrelated to the expectation of gain:
The $10,000 Super Turbo got underway as scheduled at 3 p.m. Vegas time on May 30 at the Rio All Suite Hotel Casino. Perhaps in order to silence his critics, Phil Hellmuth joined before the first blind level ended although we've seen reports that he did miss a few minutes of early play.
Unfortunately for the Poker Brat, he busted out with 81 players remaining of the 243 starting entries when he ran pocket QQ into the AA of his opponent. Only 37 places paid, so Phil wasn't among the ITM finishers. He did pick up a single $3,000 bounty though. Of the $3,000 he won, $900 was distributed to those who had invested in him while he kept the remaining $2,100 for himself.
To avoid the hassles and legwork involved in staking other players, you might want to just play a few hands of poker yourself. Even if you can't make it out to Las Vegas for the World Series, you can go online and fire up a few games at your leisure. If you don't really know much about the internet poker scene, read our guide to U.S.A. online poker for info about the best sites available, internet poker legality, rogue operators to avoid, and more.