Phil Hellmuth is best known as one of the world’s all-time great professional poker players. He has become a one-in-a-million achiever in this very challenging field, having won 15 World Series of Poker championships and tens of millions of dollars over the past three decades. Phil’s influence in the world now transcends poker. He’s a NYTimes best-selling author, an advisor to multiple companies, an active philanthropist, and an inspiration to millions around the world. Phil is a living example of positivity who believes that you are always in the right place at the right time, and that your success comes from your beliefs, habits, and actions.


Q: I’d love for the audience to get to know a little bit about you. I don’t think most people know a lot of your early life story. Could you take us back and tell us a little bit of your personal background?

  • I’m known as the “poker brat.” That identity started when I was 7. When you’re 7 years old and a boy with 3 younger siblings you aren’t going to get any attention from your parents.
  • In addition, my dad was a PhD. For me, there was massive pressure as the leader of 5 kids to get good grades.
  • I had my version of letters called ADHD. That all led to a lot of fighting within my family.
  • My estimation of myself based on my father was I didn’t have good grades. I wasn’t an athlete and I felt like a failure. My self-esteem was low. I didn’t have a lot of friends either. That led to self-esteem issues.
  • One skill that was super-important to me was learning games. I have a world-class level of learning games. Beating my younger brothers and sisters at games was super-important to my self-esteem.
  • That leads to even in my fifties, when someone beats me at a hand or a series of hands over a couple of years, I will go crazy.

Q: What do you think is greater for you, wanting to win or wanting to avoid losing?

  • I think what ultimately drives me is the hate for losing.
  • Of course, winning is sweet. It’s an amazing moment, a lifetime goal.
  • In the 1980s, I had the lifetime goal to become the greatest poker player of all-time.

Q: After this childhood with playing games, you went to the University of Wisconsin. What got you into playing poker?

  • I was playing basketball with somebody. I was 20 at the time and he was 40. He seemed ancient to me. After the game, he said, I think I might play poker. I thought, poker.
  • I went and it was a 25 cents dealer choice game. That’s kind of where I found the game.
  • Once you start beating the small game, it always leads to bigger games. Within a year, I was in what I called the doctors’ game. It was filled with PhDs and MDs. The youngest guy was maybe 40 and I was 20. I started winning big money.
  • Next thing you know, I had $20,000 in the bank. I paid off my school loans. I started going to Las Vegas. I lost the first 10 trips, a lot of gambling. I played baccarat, craps, blackjack, and then I learned those games aren’t good. You’ve to learn the hard way. It’s the perfect learning when you’re 21.
  • By trip #11, I started winning and by the time I was 24, I won the Main Event of the WSOP and that was $750,000.

Q:  When did you feel like you were going to be a professional player?

  • When I was 20 – 21 years old.
  • I didn’t have anything else going. I tried to make it to business school, but got rejected.
  • I was studying accounting and philosophy which is poker. I dropped out and started pursuing this fulltime.
  • There was a life-changing moment. I had $25,000 – $30,000 in the bank and I was playing in a local game. The point was what the hell are you doing with your life?
  • I thought that this isn’t my life. If I let this script continue, I’m going to be here when I’m 40. It was kind of an awakening for me.
  • I went back to my house and said, if you’re going to commit as a poker player, you’re going to become one of the greatest. I wrote down a pyramid of success including not being a compulsive gambler, an alcoholic and not doing drugs. That was the turning point for me
  • Within a year or 2, I’d won a couple of major tournaments. Within a year after that, I won the Main Event which was an amazing moment.

Q: What do you think is the one thing that most sets you apart from other people in your field?

  • Reading ability. White magic as I call it. That’s what sets me apart.

Q: What do you think are some other qualities that make someone the greatest at whatever it is they are doing?

  • I’ve had a chip on the shoulder.
  • Michael Jordan always a chip on the shoulder. Tiger Woods, a chip on the shoulder. A lot of great ones have a chip on the shoulder. Having a chip on the shoulder is a weapon.
  • Very powerful and can drive you forward.

Q: At what point do you feel you realized your impact in the world would transcend poker?

  • 2002, there was a guy who came up to me. He said, Phil I was in a coma and came out of it because I imagined playing you heads-up.
  • I thought wow! I inspire a lot of people! I started thinking about that.
  • I asked myself, what inspires me? What inspires me is watching humans do something only a few people can do.
  • I thought, how can I increase that inspirational aspect just doing what you’re doing winning championships, world championships.
  • I also knew I was going to write a book. Life tips that anyone could use. Life tips that allowed me, a low self-esteem guy, to become the greatest poker player of all-time.
  • How did I get there? Well, let me write a book talking about the techniques, methods and tips everybody else can use to raise their lives up.

Q: Any other important keys to success or positivity that you want to share?

  • Writing down a list of blessings and taking that to your bathroom mirror.
  • #1 is health. You don’t have health, you don’t have anything.
  • Then family. We all have that in common.
  • My Mom taught me “You’re what you think. You become what you think. What you think becomes reality.” Growing with that in my bathroom mirror made me think I’ve control of my reality. I think that’s led to great things for me.

Q: What lies ahead for Phil Hellmuth?

  • I’m looking forward to coming home. I’ve been on a long trip to Las Vegas.
  • It looks like I may sign a huge deal with a crypto company in Miami.
  • In poker, 24 bracelets / world championships.
  • I’m going to keep showing up and working hard to achieve that goal.


  • So cool to see the evolution of the poker brat persona and how that came from Phil’s days as a kid.
  • Wanting to impress his parents, his father and blowing up when he didn’t win.
  • Now that’s carried over into poker. It’s probably something he can somehow control at times. But it’s become part of who he is.
  • The chip on the shoulder he described and how that turns into desire. A strong desire to succeed.
  • That’s an important concept in life if you want to be successful. Phil has worked hard at his craft to feel like he deserves success as well.
  • The reading ability he described as what separates him. If you want to understand people better, pay attention and become detail-oriented.

Show Notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.

To learn more and get access to all episodes, visit our podcast page!


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