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Lessons With Jeff Shulman — Part II

If not for a miracle 3 …

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


Cada Shulman Hands
In Part I, my last column, I discussed the fact that Jeff Shulman asked me to coach him for the World Series of Poker “November Nine” during the four-month break between when the players made the final table (July 15) and when they started final-table play (Nov. 7). I mentioned that I have a soft spot in my heart for Shulman after his close call in the 2000 WSOP, and wanted to be of assistance to him. I also mentioned that Shulman had about 20 million in chips to start final-table play and the blinds began at 120,000-240,000, and that I advised my man to play extremely tight and to come in for raises of about five times the big blind before the flop.

I loved the team aspect of coaching Shulman. We had Diego Cordovez (a World Series of Poker bracelet winner in no-limit hold’em), Jeff’s father, Barry (the hottest player on the planet after winning the World Series of Poker Europe main event), former Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser (to help with Shulman’s mindset), and a few others who helped us simulate the final table for dozens of hours. We printed out every single WSOP hand that was posted on the Internet that any of the other November Nine members had played — about 50 pages worth — and we read them all. We watched every hand the November Nine played that was shown on ESPN, rewinding over and over when they bluffed or had a very strong hand, so that Shulman could get a good feel for his opponents. We set up chip stacks at a poker table in accordance with the November Nine, with a photo of each player in front of his stack. We played hours of seven-handed, hours of six-handed, hours of five-handed, hours of four-handed, and hours of three-handed poker, with each of us assuming the identity of one of the other November Nine members.

Whenever Shulman entered a pot, we had a lengthy discussion of his tactics. Was he playing tight enough? Was he moving his chips well? We really did our homework!

I pulled a new tactic out of my bag of tricks and advised Shulman to raise it five times the big blind preflop in order to keep the other players out of the pot with their small pairs and suited connectors (it’s hard to call that much with these hands), and to keep the other players from bluffing him preflop (it’s hard to bluff a guy who plays very tight and raises it big when he does enter the pot). The idea was to keep Shulman in there as long as possible — winning small pots uncontested — without something catastrophic happening. And if someone finally reraised Shulman, he would know that his opponent was very strong, and perhaps he could get away from a hand like J-J.

When Shulman actually sat down at the main-event final table with the ESPN cameras rolling, the live Internet broadcast going out to millions of people, and about 1,500 spectators observing in the Penn and Teller Theater, he was remarkably calm and confident. And he managed to stick to the game plan, and played only one all-in hand in 10 hours of play — his A-K against Joe Cada’s A-J; when that hand held up, I thought the rest of the players were in trouble. Sure enough, 50 minutes later with five players remaining, Cada was all in with his 3-3 against Shulman’s J-J, and there was more than 22 million in the pot. Shulman would now have 30 million at the start of four-handed play … except that Cada hit his miracle 3 (8-7-3-4-Q), and now Shulman was down to 7 million in chips, and there were still five players remaining. Shulman then lost a race with his 7-7 against A-9, and he was out in fifth place.

Would I change a single thing in regard to coaching Shulman? No way! If not for a miracle 3 for Cada, Shulman may well have won the 2009 WSOP. Well-played, Jeff. Spade Suit

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