Over the years, Phil Hellmuth’s WSOP Main Event entrances have got bigger and more imaginative with each passing year. This week, things were taken to either preposterous or superb proportions depending on your own personal feelings as The Poker Brat emerged from the Atlantic Ocean as Poseidon himself, before a dancing band and a cast of 17 mermaids – one for each bracelet – accompanied him to his chair.
Was it Hellmuth’s best entrance, however? To refresh your memory, we’ve taken a look back in the archives and dug out some of his best.
The Early Years: Black Caps and Limos
“I expect great things to happen to me and they do.”
In 2003, Phil Hellmuth may have been ‘The Poker Brat’ but the largess of recent years was still over a decade away. In the year Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event for $2.5 million, Hellmuth sat down with the television cameras to humbly explain his chances.
“When I’m playing at my best, I might be the best poker player in the world,” he said graciously. “I expect great things to happen to me and they do.”
Meandering to the table, Hellmuth’s simple ‘Gentleman, good luck’ to the table gave no hint at the madness that was to come in later years.
The following year, Hellmuth added headphones and performed a belly-up ‘leg roll’ over the rail as the lenses zoomed in on the 1989 world champion. The first sign of a showman emerging from his shell? You better believe it. A much friendlier ‘Hello boys, good luck today’ was Hellmuth’s greeting to his opening table, while he was later caught chatting on the rail, saying “If there weren’t luck involved, I guess I’d win everyone. I just cannot play any better.”
The following year was the first time that Hellmuth arrived by Limousine. The long, black car dropped off ‘The Brat’ whereupon he gave this legend to the camera shoved into his face
“I have an opportunity to step up to the plate and hit a long, long ball. My hopes are high, fellas.”
No such bravado greeted Hellmuth’s arrival in 2006, but he did maintain his attendance by limousine. A curt nod to the cameraman led to Hellmuth saying ‘Let’s play some poker’, before entering the building with a simple cup of joe. In his pre-match vox pop, he declared: “I’ve changed this year. At least I can laugh at myself. The black [baseball] cap is gone.”
Thank goodness we’d never see that again.
An Era of Experimentation
“All hail Emperor Lunatic!”
If Hellmuth’s early years of making an entrance hinted at inexperience and at times a lack of preparation, The Poker Brat’s ‘Middle Years’ were all about the adventure of discovery. Take 2007, for example, where Hellmuth’s arrival wasn’t even the most dramatic element of his attendance. The day before playing the Main, Hellmuth crashed a stock car into a static concrete bollard.
“I’m zipping around the parking lot and feel in full control. I went from impressive to a jerk in one fell swoop… kinda like when I’m playing poker!” laughed Hellmuth as he described the scene on camera.
Arriving at his table in Formula One-style drivers suit, Hellmuth greeted his tablemates with ‘Don’t worry boys, I had a car accident yesterday!’ before later being seen rubbing a very sore neck on the rail. Ouch.
A year later, Hellmuth decided that if he was going to go into the event at full pace, then he was best off wearing protection. Dressed in full U.S. military regalia, the Poker Brat became the Poker Army General, as Hellmuth arrived with 11 models in tow, each of them representing a WSOP bracelet win of Hellmuth’s by ceremoniously wearing less clothes than normal people.
“You don’t have to cheer for me, cheer for the girls.” Said Hellmuth upon arrival. Once at the table itself, he struck up conversation by saying that he was ‘thinking about going to Afghanistan to visit the troops. I feel like I owe them something’. Wearing his military helmet with 11 stars on it – one to signify each bracelet – Hellmuth certainly faced a few pelters.
Twelve months on, the models were back – those who could bare to attend, that is – as Hellmuth arrived as Julius Caesar.
“All hail Emperor Lunatic!” as Norman Chad said on comms at the time.
A year later, Hellmuth looked to have learned if not all of the lesson ‘less is more’, then at least some of it. Gone was the mock Civic Crown of 2009’s Caesar. In its place? An MMA fighter’s gloves and silk robe, adorned with a certain now-disgraced betting site. As Lon McEachern declared at the time, “I waited a whole year for this?”
A Cast of Thousands
“You Shall Not Pass!”
In Phil Hellmuth’s later years, his entrances into the WSOP Main Event have become something of a circus show…. sometimes literally. In 2018, Hellmuth arrived on a chopper motorbike wearing some sort of Warrior outfit. He then proceeded to make his way to his table accompanied by a dozen models holding up shields styled as giant poker chips.
In 2021, Hellmuth arrived at the first post-COVID WSOP Main Event dressed as Gandalf the White. In the moments before he made his usual model-accompanied entrance, Hellmuth staged a ludicrous cosplay bromance fight with Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates, who had come in the guise of a fellow Lord of the Rings character, the dwarf Gimli. Hellmuth declared “You Shall Not Pass!” in his very best Sir Ian McKellen voice.
2022 saw Hellmuth downplay the costume to a degree, entering wearing a bootleg ‘Darth Vader’ costume that not only made it hard for Hellmuth to speak but also see. This outfit didn’t last long at all.
All of which brings us to 2023. In the summer, ‘Vegas Phil’ made his bow as a circus ringleader, leading in Jungleman who was caged in full lion regalia. The sheer magnitude of the entrance made waves in the poker industry and grabbed mainstream headlines around the world.
How could the Poker Brat top that in the first-ever WSOP Paradise festival? By entering from the waves as King Poseidon, of course. What is coming in the summer of 2024 and could The Poker Brat top this year’s incredible performances? We can only wait to find out. If he wins any more bracelets, however, he may need a mini-bus to bring his accompanying cast.
Check out some of Phil Hellmuth’s many WSOP entrances right here: