Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth and the “Poker Brat” UltimateBet Appendix

Let’s kick off a busy Sunday of stories here at Flushdraw with a look inside the new autobiography of and by Phil Hellmuth, “Poker Brat”. This is not a review of the book, and later on, I’ll explain why the book is unreviewable in the context of this feature. But that’s not what this is about; instead, we’re here today to take a look at the strange partitioning and even stranger details offered within an appendix in “Poker Brat” called “UltimateBet.com, Start to Finish”.

Hellmuth, as most of our readers know, was the most prominent spokesman of the UltimateBet brand throughout the era when the insider cheating occurred. As I’ve reported earlier, based on my deep knowledge of the cheating scandal, Hellmuth himself did not participate in the cheating in any meaningful way.

That said, a lot of people have e-mailed or DM’d or Tweeted me over the past couple of weeks regarding both the UB appendix and a recent lengthy appearance by Hellmuth on a recent podcast hosted by Doug Polk. Hellmuth’s appearance was part of a promotional thing for “Poker Night in America,” which is running a mini-heads-up tourney including the pair.

It’s a lengthy appearance by Hellmuth, and in the course of the podcast talk naturally turned to both “Poker Brat” and Hellmuth’s long association with UB. Hellmuth himself was the second well known poker player to officially invest in the project that became UltimateBet; Hellmuth’s friend and fellow Madison, Wisconsin native Dewey Weum was the first, which didn’t rate a mention in Hellmuth’s rendition.

Regarding the Polk podcast, I was instructed to listen to comments Hellmuth made around the 1:26:00 mark. From his lips, those utterances included:

“People say ‘Why did you stay at UltimateBet?’ Well of course, if I would’ve left, they would’ve said, ‘Why did you leave?”…

“If I leave UB, it’s probably going to go out of business. I was their biggest… I… maybe my ego’s too big, but I thought it might go out of business.”

“Now, I was the face of that site. I said ‘Why don’t I stay instead.’ I initiated the investigation personally.

“I struggled with a site that I built up from nothing, and then I got slandered.”

If you’ve read the appendix in “Poker Brat” about UltimateBet, there’s lots more along those lines. A lot of readers might look at the above and look at other passages from “Poker Brat” and be amazed or appalled at the self-aggrandization, but it’s more delusion than anything else.

Hellmuth honestly believes that stuff, that all those hundreds of thousands of players participated on UltimateBet because they were all his biggest fans and they had to revel in his persona.  He’s really, truly, not lying. He’s just off in another reality somewhere.

That said, “Poker Brat” is his autobiography, his book. He gets to say what he wants, and he does have enough of a following that someone was willing to publish it.

That UltimateBet appendix in the book is like the quotes from the Polk podcast, but raised to another level. And here’s something I’ve held secret for a while. About six months ago, more or less, I was invited to read a rough draft of that chapter (as it was described to me back then), and to offer literally any feedback I wished, but with an eye toward factual inaccuracies.

I accepted the offer; in exchange, Hellmuth — through an intermediary — signed a cap that was given to my sister to give to someone else. I didn’t want anything for doing this myself, and I was indeed grateful for the opportunity to see it, though I recognized the intent in showing it to me wasn’t only to find factual errors, it was to see what passages were likely to draw the heaviest flak.

So I sent on my comments. Some were just plain factual corrections, a couple of others were pointed and biting commentary on certain themes that were being floated. (I was specifically allowed to to so, to not hold back.)

Of all the things I pointed out, I noticed three sentences or phrases that were removed from the appendix as published, likely based on my input. I don’t feel at liberty to disclose the specifics of these. Also, there were a large number of cosmetic, editorial changes from what I read to what purchasers of “Poker Brat” will find, like capitalizing certain words, or changing all instances of “UltimateBet” to “UB.com” — except, oddly enough, in the appendix’s title.

The dime-store pyschologist in me wonders if Hellmuth just partitions away and mentally flees from any situation which causes him continuing distress. I found the UltimateBet-to-UB.com thing a little bit odd, but what really struck as me as strange was that the whole UltimateBet saga was cordoned off into an appendix to begin with. Yes, it had to be dealt with since, especially by his own definition, Hellmuth and UltimateBet were intertwined to a goodly extent.

There are a few other things in the appendix that I struggled with then and still do now. One is the conclusion to the appendix, in which Hellmuth states that he believes Greg Pierson’s version of events and that Pierson wasn’t involved in the UltimateBet cheating. Hellmuth eventually gave his 12th career WSOP bracelet to Pierson, as he’d promised to do years earlier.

Again, the bracelet was always Hellmuth’s to do with what he wanted. If he’s looking for public approval, however, he’s not likely to get too much of it. As I explained in my review, there’s no way Pierson wasn’t intrinsically involved in the ongoing cheat. Over the years, I’ve posted evidence of these things, both here and on my personal blog:

  • Neither Russ Hamilton nor his personal computer guy, Travis Makar, had access to the corporate-level programming operation within ieLogic and its successor, Excapsa;
  • The cheat was keyed to and activated within the UltimateBet user client by registry entries that had to be updated along with each update made to that software. The cheat had to be maintained on an ongoing basis from within the company;
  • The instructions given to UltimateBet’s programmers to write and activate the “God Mode” cheat came from the company’s VP of programming, and were issued from the top down, meaning by President Greg Pierson and VP Jon Karl;
  • All circumstantial evidence shows that the cheat was installed after Pierson and his wife faced a significant legal and financial hit from her year-long affair with an underage student at the high school where she taught. Hamilton was reported by multiple company insides to have fronted Pierson $150,000 for initial legal fees;
  • I even published an e-mail from Pierson to Hamilton and his primary cohort, Mansour Matloubi, in which the two were notified that a new version of the client software had been created and that the cheating exploit was updated as well.

So what could Pierson argue? That he was unaware of the cheating, and that he also never bothered to audit the accounts under Hamilton’s control? Besides such assertions being untrue, it also would be, at the very best (from Pierson’s perspective), an example of years-long criminal-level negligence.

But whatever. Hellmuth had already given the bracelet to Pierson, and all that blather is just a way for him to try to justify it to others. And if that doesn’t work and they don’t buy the BS, just call them “haters”. There are a couple of passages in the appendix where Hellmuth does just that. For example:

“But there are a bunch of people out there (Internet trolls who accused me of doing things that I didn’t do) who have been telling the world how guilty Greg is. And, man oh man, if Greg is as innocent as I suspect he is, then these haters better hope that the Buddha was wrong about the concept of bad karma! I hope the haters don’t get punished, but persecuting an innocent man seems like an awful thing to do.”

I’ve never accused Hellmuth of being a part of the cheating. What I have said repeatedly is that Hellmuth refused to speak out for years about the scandal in deference to his own ongoing financial interests. I stand by that statement. He has particularly looked the other way when it came to Pierson, and that’s because Hellmuth not only owned a piece of UltimateBet, he almost certainly continues to own a piece of Pierson’s security company, iovation, as well.

Pierson as an innocent, though, unh-uh, no way in hell.

Moving on. This odd walling off of things Hellmuth chooses not to deal with squarely appears elsewhere in the UltimateBet appendix. Here’s another choice paragraph:

“I thought, ‘Damn it! There probably isn’t any cheating going on, but UB will lose tons of customers over this. Still, UB better launch an investigation immediately, get to the bottom of this, and clear the air.’ I called the lead attorney at UB and asked for an investigation into the account ‘nionio’. Initially I was rebuffed when it turned out that the account that I called into question belonged to a certain powerful individual, a person that I will not name.”

The “certain powerful individual,” of course, was Russ Hamilton, but Hellmuth can’t even bring himself to mention Hamilton by name. In another instance, Russ is referred to as “someone”. Make of it what you will.

However, the worst part of the tale has to be the self-aggrandizing part where Hellmuth claims that he alone was responsible for initiating the investigation within UB, and thus, getting players their refunds. Hellmuth remains tightly within his own blissfully-sealed sphere of ignorance, unaware or unwilling to recognize that by the time “Trambopoline” (Mike Fosco) contacted him about the cheating, the evidence of what was being done by “NioNio” and other accounts had already gathered a ton of steam online. Someone such as Michael Josem, who pulled together piles of players’ hand histories and assembled graphs showing the visual representations of the cheating accounts, might be dismayed to learn that it was Hellmuth who did all the real, noble work.

There is plenty to dislike about Hellmuth’s rendition of what happened at UltimateBet. But as I said, “Poker Brat” is his book, and so be it.

I was still grateful for the chance to review the chapter… err, appendix, even though these and other passages had me groaning and giggling. What I can’t do, however, is attempt to offer an objetive review of the book as a whole. The bits I’ve read are just Hellmuth being Hellmuth, and I’m not a part of that alternate reality.

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