By Nathan Carroll, Rakeback.com Staff Writer
The rumors and speculation began almost immediately after Hellmuth appeared briefly as a guest commentator during the WSOP main event final table live broadcast on ESPN3. If anyone in the game today has the power to set off a round of feverish gossip just by NOT shilling an industry enterprise, it's Phil Hellmuth. He's long been known as a relentless self-promoter, never missing a chance to pimp his latest venture or name-drop celebrities on his Twitter page. So when he showed up to the broadcast booth wearing simple, plain-colored clothing with no conspicuous logos of any kind, fans and haters alike took notice. This was not the Poker Brat they knew.
Hellmuth has been associated with UltimateBet since the earliest days of the site in the dawn of the internet poker phenomenon. According to the UB.com website, he was "instrumental in creating the UB poker software." While this awkward phrasing seems to imply that Hellmuth scripted much of the application's code by himself, I think we can read between the lines and assume they mean the site would have never gotten off the ground without the promotional power of his name on the masthead--and perhaps his financial contribution.
Though only a few tight-lipped people can know for sure, many have long assumed that Hellmuth holds a significant financial stake in UB. Certainly, that would explain why he's passionately defended a company that many are now convinced cheated its customers for years, and which to this day refuses to be satisfactorily transparent about its management and ownership.
Everyone who's chosen to wear UB gear since the scandal broke in 2008 has been subjected to an intense barrage of crowd sourced scorn and criticism. At times, players such as Joe Sebok, Annie Duke, and Brandon Cantu have been accused of selling out their principles in order to make a quick buck.
Of course, no one was surprised to see Hellmuth in this category. Many poker enthusiasts--online NLHE grinders in particularly--have long viewed the Brat as a relatively weak player who's made a name for himself with embarrassing antics and then parlayed that infamy into lucrative sponsorship deals. Shilling a site that robs its own player base, so say the dissenters, seems like exactly the sort of thing Hellmuth would do.
But now--just maybe--Hellmuth has broken his association with the site and is once again walking alone. Is he planning to break towards a different, more mainstream site like Stars or FTP? Will he soon start a new site of his own? Maybe he foresees a frenzy of state-sponsored court harassment over online poker's legality on the horizon and prefers to distance himself from UB before things get serious. Or maybe he's just felt like wearing normal, unpromotional clothing lately.
Truly, no one can fathom the mind of Phil Hellmuth. But that doesn't mean we won't keep trying.
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