19 Jul

Hellmuth’s Hyperbolic Zoo of Poker Players

Phill Hellmuth Poker Animals - Play Poker Like the Pros

WSOP phenom Phil Hellmuth classifies his opponents as animals. What type of poker animal are you?

In 2003, Phil Hellmuth Jr., the world record holding 15x WSOP bracelet winner, published the poker strategy guide, Play Poker Like a Pro. At the time of writing, he already had 7 bracelets in his trophy case, and had earned the unwavering respect of his peers – despite the intentional aggravation the aptly nicknamed ‘Poker Brat‘ caused them at every possible convenience.

Within this book, he revealed one of his more comical secrets. Hellmuth doesn’t use the typical classifications to characterize his opponents. He doesn’t see them as being strong or weak, tight or loose, passive or aggressive. He sees them as creatures – mammals – as if every tournament he played took place in a zoo, and he was the only human guest in attendance, on an elaborate, private tour.

Phil unveiled the secrets of this zoomorphic assignments, explaining how and why he classifies each opponent as a poker animal. They why is simple – it’s easier to associate each face with an animal than a literary label. The how makes more sense we dig deeper into the inner-working of his mind.

Phil Hellmuth’s Hyperbolic Zoo of Poker Players

Hellmuth chose five arguably appropriate animals to classify all of the player types that exist in live and online poker rooms. They include – in order of ease to deplete – the elephant, the jackal, the mouse, the lion, and the eagle.

The Poker Elephant

The elephant tag is assigned to what most pros refer to as a ‘calling station‘, or as Phil puts it, a “player who has too many hands and calls to many bets.” This player’s lack of strategy is blatantly apparent to everyone around him – i.e. the elephant in the room. He has no real starting hand requirements, but rather a strong desire to see the flop before deciding whether to make or break.

Even when it’s apparent to everyone else that someone has made a far better hand, the elephant will continue calling to the river if it’s not too expensive to do so. He makes bluffing impossible, but provides an easy source of chips for conservatives who only take strong hands to the river against him.

The Poker Jackal

A jackal is someone Phil notes as being a “crazy, seemingly illogical player who makes a lot of bets and raises.” Most pros refer to this type as a ‘maniac‘ poker player. They are often found in online poker rooms and live low limit games. They are an unpredictable mess, taking virtually any hand forward, and betting/raising with no rhyme or reason.

These players are statistically easy to beat by anyone willing to call them with a good starting hand, because odds are, he has nothing worth paying for. They’re also a source of great aggravation for tighter poker pros like Phil, who has been knocked out of more than one tournament by a jackal’s untimely luck.

The Poker Mouse

Known in most poker circles as a ‘rock‘, the mouse is what Hellmuth calls a “supertight” player who only moves on with the very best of hands – those Phil defines as his “Top Ten”. This player will rarely do anything but fold. When he does play a hand, he will rarely raise or reraise. He means business, but takes no risks, never bluffing and, due to this strict behavior, usually making more money than he loses.

The problem with a poker mouse is that to experienced colleagues, he can become very predictable. Once Phil labels a mouse, he knows how to handle them – raising when he wants them out, and backing off when they show the slightest sign of aggression.

The Poker Lion

Hellmuth defines a lion as a “very tough, consistently winning poker player.” this player will stick to the basic requirements of a solid starting hand strategy, but is known to stray from this tactic sporadically, and even bluff on rare occasions. Having established a strong table presence, he can do so safely, thereby helping to maintain a consistent win rate. These are among the hardest poker players to beat because they are great, unpredictable strategists.

The Poker Eagle

The eagle is what Hellmuth refers to as a “world class poker player.” They are the best of the best, and the only players to truly earn his respect. It takes years of experience and consistent studying of the game to reach upper echelon status in the poker world. They are the top-shelf liquor of the poker store; the top 100 players in the world; those who earn the spotlight of the cameras at the featured tables of the most prestigious televised poker tournaments.


  • Adalene Lucas

    is our jack of all trades here at DBC. She is a skilled coder, gambler, writer and webmaster. She lives in Manitoba where she enjoys the lush landscapes and camping near Tulabi Falls. Nature gives her inspiration to write. When she's not immersed in nature, her favorite words are "game theory". She lives with her husband and their two Labradors, Kophy and Whisper.


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