On the whole, behavior by players at the World Series of Poker is good. While there might be occasions that arguments, disagreements and other altercations break out, floor staff and security are usually quick to snuff it out. Two situations have come to light recently, however, which demonstrate either the difficulty of the floor personnel’s job or an obvious double standard in the game.

Using a Racial Slur = Bad

In one of the situations, poker pro Maurice Hawkins was the target of the abuse. According to his Twitter feed, Hawkins wrote, “Here at the World Series, you can say “Shut up, n****r, and all you do is get a penalty for the rest of the day. Basically not disqualified. So take it for what it was.”

That Tweet from Hawkins drew a heavy rebuke from the Twitterverse, but apparently Hawkins was mistaken in his immediate belief of what occurred. Slightly more than an hour later, Hawkins spoke up again by Tweeting, “Update on the Racist guy from the WSOP. Jack Effel just showed America how to deal with Racism, and that’s Zero tolerance.” Hawkins went on to say that “I am proud to play in (the WSOP) and be a part of their brand.”

Apparently, the perpetrator of the slur was a European player, but there is some confusion as to what was said at the time. Some reports have the exact words as “What’s up” instead of “Shut up,” but one thing is consistent was the usage of the racial slur. While the two connotations are different (“What’s up” could be construed as a welcome statement; there isn’t anything good that can be said about “Shut up”), the usage of the N-word appears to be the reason that the player was disqualified from the tournament.

Dropping Multiple F-bombs = ????

There was another incident that drew a great deal of attention from the poker community, this time involving one of the perennial “bad boys” of the game, 14-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.

Involved with a hand late on Friday night, Hellmuth was on the featured table when he got involved with two players, Alex Kuzmin and James “Camby” Campbell. After a bet out of Kuzmin and a call from Hellmuth, Campbell made the call and the trio saw a 4 3 10♠ flop. Campbell checked his action, then saw Kuzmin make a C-bet and Hellmuth a min-raise. That was enough for Campbell, who powered in an all-in bet for his remaining 26K or so in chips. That was enough to light the fire in Hellmuth.

Completely out of turn, Hellmuth blew his top. He blasted across the PokerGO streaming feed, “This mother*****g guy…f*****g got away with murder all day against me. How in the f**k does this happen?” Both of his opponents were a bit taken aback but played on. After Kuzmin (holding a K 2) made the call, Hellmuth folded (what would have been the winner, pocket sevens) and Campbell’s A 9 took the lead. A deuce on the turn changed that, however, and once a diamond or an Ace failed to come on the river, Campbell was out of the tournament.

Several top pros, including Shaun Deeb (who was the analyst on the PokerGO broadcast), Isaac Haxton (who said over Twitter, “Every time I play with him, he talks about hands in multiway pots, acts out of turn or talks about what he folded while a hand is in progress”), Jared Hamby and Justin Bonomo offered their thoughts on the issue. They believed to a man that, at the minimum, Hellmuth should have received some sort of penalty because his outburst had an effect on the hand’s play. There were others in the Twitterverse, however, that believe it’s time to put the “Poker Brat” in his place with a DQ.

What Do the Rules Say?

Under the 2018 WSOP Rule Book, there are several situations where both actions would have resulted in the disqualification of the participant. Under General House Rule 10, “Discourteous behavior, disrespect towards staff and other participants, or abusive language will not be tolerated and may result in removal from the room.” There are several segments of Section II, “Participant Conduct and Live Game Integrity,” which address other situations, including Rule 30 that states “using profanity or obscene language” and “obscene expletives or lewdness” would not be tolerated.

As can be seen, there were two different standards put into action by WSOP officials. For a player who WASN’T one of the top pros in the game, it was an expulsion from a tournament. For arguably one of the legends of the game, it didn’t even register as a blip on the radar.

Apply the Rules Equally

What many are requesting in this case is that the rules are applied equally and to whomever may break said rules. Hellmuth himself said he “deserved” a penalty and “sat out” the first hour of Saturday’s Day 3 action as a “self-inflicted punishment” for his actions (he has also stated he intends to buy Campbell into the 2019 WSOP Championship Event as a payback). Were the rules applied differently in the case of the slur towards Hawkins and the outburst from Hellmuth? That seems to be what is infuriating the poker community and something that ALL tournament directors, from the WSOP down to the local cardrooms, will have to contend with in the future.


  1. herbert montalbano says:

    Hellmuth is an petulant prick and his truculent behavior is never punished by the poker tournament directors. It is ludicrous what this guy gets away with. He thinks he is good for the game but the fact of the matter is he is a disgrace to the game especially with his resume. Granted, he has had a great poker career but he really hasn’t done anything of significance over the last few years for the most part besides make a fool of himself. Also, his entry into the main event was an embarrassment. I can only assume his massive but hidden insecurities are offset by things like his GRAND entrance into main event. The girls following him I bet thought who is this pompous fool. But hey they got paid and its understandable why they participated as everybody needs to put food on table. Anyway, poker directors grow some balls and don’t tolerate “well know” poker players disgraceful behavior.

  2. herb says:

    Thank You PND for posting my comment. I forgot to mention while Phil thinks he is God’s gift to poker it was hilarious to read poker players in poker rooms throughout Vegas applauded rather robustly when Hellmuth busted from tournament. This would never happen with Daniel or the other Phil known as Ivey. Phil trust you have more haters than those that love you but I think you already know that. If not you are more of a petulant fool than I thought.

  3. alanz says:

    Was interesting to read, tnx!

  4. Clifton Martin, Jr. says:

    I always wondered about some of Tony G’s rants. I especially remember him playing a hand with am amateur player who was playing with his kid’s pictures on the table and he was probably playing for life-changing money. Tony’s rant included him yelling, “I’ll take ALL your money and your children will starve!” That’s a very bad look for poker on TV but unless you want to call it “abusive” it probably doesn’t break any of the rules.

    We have to be sure of two things when we enforce such rules:

    1. That the ruling is no respecter of persons. Phil Hellmuth must be treated the same way as a guy who won his buy-in in a bar poker league.

    2. The “racist” thing, in the Main Event, would be tough to apply fairly, as this year has had players from 62 countries. In a situation like that, what is racist and according to whom is it racist? Hellmuth insulted half of a continent, specifically the “idiots from northern Europe.” I guess that’s not racist because he was talking about people who had a skin color similar to his. A warning to knock it off must be sufficient in a case like this, then follow up if necessary.

    Suppose that one dark-skinned player refers to another as “nigger”, “niggah” or something similar. Then is it OK? Cultures are very different as to what is offensive, for example, in Turkey blowing your nose in someone’s presence is just as offensive as it would to my wife if someone walked up to her and deliberately farted.

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