WSOP November Nine Profile -- Jeff Shulman
Nine Years Later, Jeff Shulman Returns to the Final Table
In a time before Jesus was Jesus, Jeff Shulman was poised to become the world champion of poker. But one two-outer and a brutal cooler later, and that dream was dashed, with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson taking the title.
Now, nine years later, he’s back at the WSOP main-event final table. With just nine players remaining from an original field of 6,494, Shulman enters play fourth in chips.
Shulman hasn’t entered too many tournaments since WSOP play suspended in July, choosing to spend the majority of his time with his wife Christy, their two-year-old son Eli, and the newest addition to their family, Lucy, who was born in September.
As the final table quickly approaches, Card Player takes a look back at how Shulman got here, beginning with his devastating loss earlier this decade.
The 2000 WSOP
At 25 years of age, Shulman entered the final nine of the 2000 main event as the overall chip leader. Aggressive and relentless, he controlled the action.
With just seven players remaining and the TV bubble in full effect (that year, only the final six were televised), Shulman was taking over the final table, reportedly winning seven of the previous nine pots before someone finally decided to take a stand.
That someone was the full-bearded and long-haired Chris Ferguson, who would soon be known by the entire poker community as “Jesus.”
After Shulman raised preflop to start the action, Ferguson looked down at pocket sixes and decided to push all in. Shulman made the call and turned over pocket sevens. He was a 4-1 favorite to eliminate one of his most dangerous opponents and put a virtual stranglehold on the main-event title.
Instead, a 6 fell on the flop, and Shulman’s big stack took a serious hit. Soon thereafter, he was eliminated in seventh place when his pocket kings ran into Ferguson’s aces.
“I had all of the chips, and then two hands later I was bust,” said Shulman. “Actually, it didn’t even bother me at first. I was so pumped to win $145,000, and I was so new to poker.”
But the wave of emotion of seeing a main-event win slip away would eventually hit him.
“The next day, when I was driving home from work, I had to pull over to the side of the road when it hit me, and I just kind of let it out for a few seconds,” said Shulman. “I realized that I didn’t win $145,000, I really lost a million or whatever.”
With those precious chips from Shulman, Ferguson went on to win the 2000 main event and $1.5 million. Since then, as a beneficiary of the poker boom, he is now considered one of the most famous poker players on the planet.
For his part, Shulman has recovered from that heartbreaking loss nicely. He has accumulated approximately $1.3 million in tournament winnings and has put up consistent results in several of the most respected events on the poker circuit, despite rarely playing, including cashing four times in the prestigious $25,000 Five-Star World Poker Classic (WPT Championship) in ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’08.
And he has contributed to the poker world off the green felt, as well. Along with his father Barry Shulman, who bought Card Player magazine in the late ‘90s, Jeff has been a major catalyst behind the revamped magazine and website since becoming the company’s president and COO, while also serving as the magazine’s publisher with his father.
He still remembers his dad asking him to move out to Vegas to help with the new business.
“I had to make a huge decision,” said Shulman. “Did I want to stay with my friends in Seattle for the rest of my life or help out with the family business?”
He decided to move out to Vegas and quickly became adept at the game, crediting his close friends and top pros with his development in the game.
A Second Chance
Now, just like in 2000, he finds himself with a legitimate shot to win the main event. But with another decade of life experience, it no longer holds the same significance to him.
“I really could care less how I do in this tournament. I mean, I’d like to win. I’d like to win the money. But I’m not looking to be world champ or anything. That’s publicity I don’t want,” said Shulman. “Every single day, I was like, ‘Well, who cares if I bust out? I’ll be on the next plane to Seattle, and I’ll be playing with my kid within a half-hour.’”
Since Shulman married his wife Christy in 2005, his poker playing has taken a back seat, and he admits that his game isn’t as sharp as it was in 2000.
“I was super focused back then; I didn’t have as much going on in my life,” said Shulman. “I was really good at reading people at the time, so I was able to put people on hands, and I was almost miraculously right on every situation in that tournament.”
But now, instead of honing his poker skills at the table every day, he’s busy hanging out with his family.
“You just don’t need to play poker every day,” said Shulman. “And especially when you have a kid, the last thing you feel like doing is playing poker.”
While he says his game might have suffered a little in recent years, his success in deep-stack events such as the $25,000 WPT Championship and the WSOP main event (which he also cashed in 2003) is undeniable. He says his strategy is simple — avoid the big pots where you can.
“I try not to play big pots at all. If I’m playing a big pot, it’s because I have it, typically,” said Shulman. “My strategy is just to play smart. Playing smart makes it so much easier, especially when you’re talking about all of these people who don’t know how to play big stacks. They have 60 big blinds and they can’t help to get it in with K-Q. That’s just not how you play deep-stack poker.”
The Bracelet Controversy
In the final days of the main event this year, whispers that Shulman would throw the main-event bracelet in the garbage began circulating around the Rio. Shulman explained that the comments were said out of frustration and disappointment in how the World Series is run.
Shulman appeared in a popular episode of The Scoop on Card Player TV to discuss the comments and what he plans to do as he moves forward:
Shulman has since said that he no longer plans to throw out the bracelet because so many people equate it with the tournament itself, and that he never intended to show disrespect toward the game.
While Shulman has stayed out of the limelight for the most part, his selection of 11-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth as his final-table coach created a bit of a stir within the poker community.
“The simplest reason why I’m doing this — I want to win, and I think it will help,” Shulman said at the time.
Watch Shulman talk about his new coach on Card Player TV’s ‘Poker Buzz’:
Hellmuth has said that with Shulman’s experience and chip position, he should be considered the favorite when play resumes.
One for the History Books?
With his second final table in the 2000s, Shulman joins an exclusive group. Previously, only Dan Harrington (‘03, ’04) and Mike Matusow (’01, ’05) had final tabled two WSOP main events in this decade.
But another potential record that people have been talking about is the incredible storyline that developed over in London at the World Series of Poker Europe main event last month. While Jeff Shulman skipped the event to be with his young family, his father Barry Shulman battled his way through one of the most talented fields and final tables ever assembled and captured his second WSOP bracelet and one of the most prestigious titles in the game.
The victory was a remarkable achievement for Barry Shulman, and the fact that a father and son final-tabled the two of the most prestigious poker events in a single year remains an unprecedented accomplishment. If Jeff Shulman can follow in his father’s footsteps and win the WSOP main event, it will likely create a record that will never be broken.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July, but updated in preparation for this weekend’s final table.
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