Angle shooting: cheating’s razor edge
Controversy seems to follow Phil Hellmuth wherever he plays and such was the case this weekend when he participated in a high stakes cash game on the Hustler Casino Live Poker Show. The 16-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and eager self-promoter was in the live-streamed $100/$200 No-Limit Hold’em cash game against mostly social media influencers, streamers, and YouTubers. Names like DrBeast, Ninja, and xQc ringed the table.
something to gain an advantage that is not explicitly against the rules, but is nonetheless frowned upon
It was a fun time, but Hellmuth appeared to pull a fast one on one of the players, appearing to do what is called “angle shooting,” or doing something to gain an advantage that is not explicitly against the rules, but is nonetheless frowned upon. Not cheating, but close.
One could question why someone with the poker accomplishments of Phil Hellmuth would resort to angle shooting (if he did actually angle shoot, that is), but in the end, he was one of the biggest losers at a table full of mostly rank amateurs, down $96,400 during the streamed session. The biggest winner was chess streamer Alexandra Botez, who finished up $456,900.
Looks like a fold, quacks like a fold….
Hellmuth’s opponent in the controversial hand was a man who goes by “Slime Machine” online. Hellmuth had A-6, Slime had A-9, and Slime was all-in for $35,300 after a flop of 8-A-2. Hellmuth had already called a $5,000 bet by MrBeast, but he still had a $30,000 decision to make.
“Fuck,” Hellmuth said, “I just have no idea what to do here.” And with that, he slid his cards forward, looking like he had folded his hand. He then twirled his fingers as a sign for both he and Slime to show their cards. Hellmuth went first and then Slime, happy that he won the pot with worse cards, showed his A-6.
And though Slime, the stream’s announcers, viewers, and other players thought Hellmuth had folded, “The Poker Brat” said he did no such thing and was just thinking. He laughed at the notion that Slime would show him the worse hand and, upon the suggestion of someone else at the table, offered to make a “deal” with Slime so as not to “punish” him for revealing his hand early.
With neither the dealer nor a floor manager opting to make a ruling, Hellmuth allowed Slime to take back his bet and instead pay $5,000, since he was well behind in the hand. When the hand resumed, it turned out that a 6 was dealt and Slime would have won. So, Hellmuth got a free $5,000 out of his move, plus whatever else was in the pot.
Was there intent?
The discussion in the poker community right now generally revolves around whether or not Phil Hellmuth’s motion with his cards was a fold. It definitely looked like one, as he slid the cards forward exactly how someone who is folding would do. The cards also went well past the “commit line,” which is generally considered a fold, though this isn’t necessarily a hard and fast rule.
But the question is really about intent. It’s not angle shooting if it was an accident. The first piece of evidence that may indicate that it was intentional, though, was that it certainly looked like it. Phil Hellmuth doesn’t tend to do things inadvertently at the poker table. His almost immediate “offer” to Slime could also be seen as incriminating, as someone who accidentally made it look like they were folding would probably quickly apologize and perhaps ask the dealer or floor about what to do. Most reasonable would try to come up with a resolution that doesn’t involve effectively fining the other player (again, just ask someone in charge).
But Hellmuth seemed to think it was hilarious that his novice opponent showed his cards. And then, as Slime was clearly confused and frustrated, Hellmuth proceeded to explain how generous of a deal he was giving him, how cheaply Slime was getting off the hook.
The one thing in Hellmuth’s favor is that, according to him (and confirmed by others) is that apparently, Tom Dwan asked to see his cards, so that is apparently what Hellmuth was doing sliding them across the felt. Another player then asked to see them, so, as it was a casual, loose game, Hellmuth obliged.
Most in the poker community believe that Hellmuth was angle shooting, but even if he wasn’t doing so intentionally, it was poor sportsmanship, at best, to punish an amateur player when it was Hellmuth himself who made the error.