Hellmuth has gone Hollywood. Sort of. The Poker Brat appeared in an episode of Billions, the Showtime series created by Brian Koppleman and David Levien. The two are most known in the poker world as the genius creative team behind the cult classic Rounders. Billions, currently in its second season, aired its third episode titled "Optimal Play" on Sunday evening on Showtime.
Billions is about a powerful hedge fund manager, Bobby "Axe" Axlerod (Damien Lewis) and his firm Axe Capital. Axe is one of the most ruthless sharks on Wall Street. The government is trying to take down Axe Capital, spearheaded by a pugnacious U.S. District Attorney (Paul Giamatti).
In the most-recent episode, the hedge fund guys engage in a pissing contest in the form of a high-stakes poker charity tournament called the Alpha Cup. The winner gets to be the “biggest swinging dick” for the night and bragging rights until the next tournament. Axe and his crew have never gone deep in the annual event, which was won three times by one of his rivals.
Axe wanted to crush his arch-enemy and win the Alpha Cup. Badly. Axe discovered one of his new employees used to excel at online poker. He insisted that Taylor, a gender non-conforming assistant trader in his firm, play in the charity event. At the peak of the online poker boom, Taylor admitted to multi-tabling up to 16 tables simultaneously… before Black Friday.
Yes, this episode of Billions included a Black Friday reference… although it was never expanded upon, so a non-online poker audience might be like “What the fuck is Black Friday?” In the wake of Black Friday, Taylor played live poker for a bit before quitting the game (due to feelings of “malaise”) to focus on the financial industry.
Phil Hellmuth made a cameo as himself. Big stretch for the Poker Brat, eh? Hellmuth emceed the Alpha Cup charity event and even got screen time. At the start of the tournament, Hellmuth said the catch phrase, "Shuffle up and deal." Hellmuth also zinged one of the wisecracking hedge fund guys.
Poker scenes are typically unrealistic in TV and movies. Luckily, the Rounders guys were the creative squad behind Billions. The hands were believable. In one scene, a bustout featured a small pocket pair vs. Big Slick, with a set beating two pair.
Without giving too many spoilers... the final hand of the Alpha Cup is a tad on the ridiculous side, but then again, I've seen similar outcomes in a heads-up pot. Overall, it was actually refreshing that the writers avoided a redonkulous hand such as straight flush over four of a kind.
Other cameos in the most-recent episode of Billions included poker author Peter Alson, along with a long-time manager of the infamous NYC poker club The Mayfair.
Watch the first episode of Billions for free here.