Hellmuth’s White Magic

7 min read

In the dark ages of poker, before the internet, before game theory and solvers, there was a time when magic ruled. Guts and instinct won over mathematics and knowing your opponent meant more than a balanced range. It was a time when watching your opponents with an eagle eye was the key to survival. During this time, white magic was born. 

Phil Hellmuth using white magic at the wsop
A rare photo of white magic in action as Phil sprinkles pixie dust on his chips. (Photo: Chris Wallace/CardsChat)

Hellmuth Invents White Magic

A young wizard named Hellmuth the White battled other wizards day and night, refining his white magic and growing stronger. It was not long before he was beating even the greatest among them, though they had eons of experience before he was born. Hellmuth The White won more battles than any wizard ever had.  

But, as is always the case, a new age dawned. An age of science. The internet age. And with it came a new battlefield, where wars were fought without looking a man in the eye. A battlefield that favored the young. Technology ruled. 

But Hellmuth was strong. So strong that his white magic survived into the new age. And even when the next age was upon the world and the old wizards were fading, Hellmuth fought on. In the third age, the Age Of Solvers, he fought wizards half his age. Still he won, his white magic proving it’s value time and again. 

At the World Series Of Poker, wizards fight the old way, on a battlefield of green, with real cards and chips. It is a place where white magic still reigns supreme. 

I have witnessed white magic myself. It is real. And if you don’t believe it from me, then his trophies speak for themselves. Perhaps in a digital battlefield he can be bested. Perhaps Deeb The Bearded, Chidwick Of Kent, or some young wizard hidden behind a screen, could best him on the digital felt. But when the battle is fought the old way, white magic still wins the day more often than any other. 

I saw it just yesterday. The broadcast of the World Series Of Poker, day one of the main event. Hellmuth folded to a big river bet from an opponent half his age. He looked troubled by it, but mucked nonetheless. Soon another confrontation between the two left Hellmuth facing another big river bet. He folded again, but this time he did not look troubled. Because it was time for white magic. 

Phil Hellmuth wearing a wizard hat and magic staff
Some say white magic is an unfair advantage. (Photo: Chris Wallace/CardsChat)

Hellmuth smiled and showed two nines before folding and laughing. His opponent, with no knowledge of white magic, fell right into his trap. He showed his bluff. And Hellmuth just smiled. Because white magic was working. 

He’d been right on the first fold, and wrong on the second. But he couldn’t see his opponent’s cards like we could. Not yet. Not even white magic is that strong. But he had seen something. Felt something. Knew, somehow, that the two bets were different. He just needed to know which bet was the bluff and which was the real thing. Then he would know what the tell meant. 

His opponent showed the bluff and laughed. It seemed harmless. He had no idea that white magic was all around him. Hellmuth was watching, waiting, ready to pounce. Now he knew. Next time he would not be wrong. Of course, not even white magic can work all the time. It needs time and opportunity. And there wasn’t enough. Not this time. 

The day ended and the players bagged chips before white magic destroyed the lesser wizard. But it would have. If given time, it would have. Because no one watches their opponents harder, or learns more, than Hellmuth The White. No matter how balanced you are, if he knows which bet is a bluff, there is no hope but to buy in again and hope for a better table. And in the main event, there are no rebuys, there is only next year. 

This is how white magic works. But even exposing it here, will not make it less effective. Because it is invisible. He watches without watching. He sees without looking. He notices even while you think his mind is occupied with other things. He sees. 

If you face Hellmuth The White, and I hope someday that you do, remember my warning. Give away nothing. Tell him nothing. Show him nothing. For he will use everything you give him. You’ll hear younger wizards talk about his outdated skills. They will say their new technology is more than capable of defeating his magic. And yet they can not match him. 

Most of them do not even believe in magic anymore. They can’t see it. A computer can’t teach it to them. A solver can not define it, nor can an AI teach them how to use it. But those of us from a bit older generation have learned some white magic ourselves and we know how strong it is. 

Daniel Negreanu uses Hellmuth's White Magic at the poker table
Daniel The Younger knows of the white magic too. (Photo: Chris Wallace/CardsChat)

Armor helps. Sunglasses, a hat, and a hoodie. Discipline helps too. Be a robot and give away nothing. Avoid playing hands with him when you can, especially later in the day when he has had time to watch you. It is the only way to stand a chance against white magic. And if you must, late in the day, when the sun is low and your eyes are weary, face the great one, then put your chips in and pray that you win. Do not let him see the river with chips behind. Never let him do that when the day is late. Never. 

While all this magic and mystery is fun, it is also true. This is really how white magic works. It’s why he keeps winning. Because a solver wizard can know exactly how to play his range to avoid leaking information, but it is all for nothing if Hellmuth knows which part of his range the solver wizard is in.

If he spots something small, just a twitch or way of handling chips or a flash of the eyes, All the solver knowledge in the world means nothing.  

“But I would shove that flop with my whole range in this spot,” you might say. 

Yes, you might. And it may be correct to do so. But if you shove quickly with the weaker portion of your range, and slowly with the stronger portion, then white magic knows. Information leaks come in many forms, and some of them have nothing to do with your bet sizing or splitting your ranges. 

Remember this when you hear the solver wizards say that Hellmuth is weak, that his time has passed. Because seventeen bracelets is a lot. And his difference in performance between live and online poker is no fluke. When his magic is taken away by the online game, he is mortal, but in a live game he still reigns, his magic stronger than any other.

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