After several years spent at the forefront of the Ultimate Bet roster, both Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke have entered poker’s free agent market. According to a recent announcement from UB, the pair have parted ways with the sometimes-troubled gaming giant.
Speculation regarding Hellmuth’s departure has long been in the air, following several live appearances at which he failed to sport the company colors. Duke’s break with her long-time sponsor comes as a bit more of a surprise.
Joe Sebok, now one of the foremost pro’s on Team UB, had this to say during a recent interview with PokerNews:
“The departures were 100% amicable. You can’t say enough about what both have done for the UB brand. I think I speak for the entire company when I say I truly wish them both nothing but incredible success in the future. It’s been a pleasure working with both, as well as knowing them personally, and they are truly icons of the industry. I think all sides were ready for the change and all genuinely wish nothing but the best for each other.”
Since the announcement of their parting of ways, many have speculated that this signals an abandonment of a sinking ship by two of its captains. Asked about the possible perception issues, Sebok was quick to counter such speculation.
“The irony,” he continues, “is that UB is probably healthier today than it ever has been. Our formal split from Excapsa (former ownership) has put us in a great position moving forward and we are planning to just get bigger and better in 2011. I think the addition of a few new pros will help to dissuade much of that incorrectly placed sentiment, if it’s there at all. We are going to have a complete shift in philosophy with our marketing and pro team and I think it’s a huge plus. The poker landscape is changing and we will be at the forefront of that.”
According to several sources, UB plans to announce a new crop of pro’s sometime during the coming week. The popular view is that the company will now go in a younger direction, more directly playing to the appeal of those already under contract.