One of the most famous poker players in the world is looking for a new job.

In a manner of speaking, of course. The player in question is Phil Hellmuth, and the job he’s left is his long-time partnership with online poker room UB Poker (formerly Ultimate Bet).

Rumors of Hellmuth’s departure have been swirling since late November. It was around that time that various members of the poker media noticed that the self-proclaimed best player in poker was not sporting his once-ubiquitous UB gear – patches, hats, and the like – at major tournaments and media events.

That speculation was confirmed today by UB Poker in a brief statement:

The poker pro who is famous for his grand WSOP entrances is making one final exit.

Today we are announcing that and Phil Hellmuth have mutually parted ways. It has been great working with Phil over the last decade and we know we’re with the rest of the poker world when we say that we look forward to Phil’s next move on the world poker circuit.

While Hellmuth is no doubt an instantly recognizable poker personality, Team UB will continue to be stacked with young, aggressive poker professionals who today’s passionate online poker players can really identify with. In fact, in early 2011, we’ll announce some big additions to Team UB. Stay tuned for more on that. Bit of a nasty 1-2 punch for UB Poker, who also confirmed today that long-time pro Annie Duke has jumped ship.

Hellmuth has yet to announce the split himself, but you can bet he’ll have something to say about it on Twitter, so keep an eye there if you’re interested.

So what’s next for the Poker Brat? You’ll hear PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker mentioned in conversations involving Hellmuth, but we’d seriously discount that possibility. Not only does Hellmuth prefer top billing – a position he’d be unable to nab at either room – but the high profile Hellmuth enjoys in the US and the steady march toward online poker regulation taking place in that country both point firmly to an alliance developing between Hellmuth and a major US casino such as Harrah’s via their WSOP brand.

We’d suspect that given the WSOP’s place at the heart of poker in the US, along with the strong personal identification Hellmuth has with the World Series of Poker, Phil Hellmuth will end up as the lead pro for the WSOP brand both online and offline. Further motivating Hellmuth will be the piles of cash Harrah’s can muster (to say nothing of the increased media platform they can provide) for Hellmuth’s services and the removal of any legal ambiguity surrounding his involvement in online poker.

What about UB? While the loss of Duke and Hellmuth in the same day doesn’t seem to bode well for the company, the moves might be in the best long-term interests of the room. Neither pro could have come all that cheaply, and both pros appealed mainly to US players – a market that’s getting more and more expensive to serve. It may be that UB simply decided that the price they were paying for both pros was simply too high.

The move also makes a lot of sense if UB is preparing for a takeover, as cost-cutting and consolidating would be steps that would help put the house in order for a transition to a new network, one that would see UB and AP (collectively know as the CEREUS Network) play a partner role.

Could we be seeing the stage set for a merger between Cake and Cereus? Or perhaps Merge and CEREUS? It’s no secret that player liquidity and acquisition costs are becoming real issues for all mid-tier networks, and we’d be surprised if a couple of that class of networks end up joining forces in 2011.

Source: Brian Ralentide: Partime Poker

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