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Selbst, Somerville and McDonald Hired To Coach World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table Players

With $8.5 Million On The Line, October Nine Seek Out Poker Tournament Instruction


With more than $27 million still left to play for and an $8,531,853 first-place prize, the final nine in the 2012 World Series of Poker main event had plenty of motivation to work on their games. With more than three months between making the final table on July 17th and the restart time of 4:30 PM on October 29th, they also had plenty of time to do so.

With so much on the line and a built in training period, its no surprise that a number of the October Nine decided to hire poker coaches, turning to some of tournament poker’s top professionals for guidance and instruction. Card Player caught up with three of these high-profile coaches to learn more about their efforts to train the next World Series of Poker main event champion.

PLAYER: Jesse Sylvia
COACH: Vanessa Selbst

Vanessa Selbst and Jesse Sylvia Chip leader Jesse Sylvia turned to two-time WSOP bracelet winner Vanessa Selbst for his coaching, whose 10 career titles and $5.6 million in tournament earnings served as strong recommendations.

Selbst finished 73rd in this event herself, and along the way was able to spend a number of hours at the table with Sylvia and some of his final table opponents.

“We played together a little bit on day 6, and we met there,” said Selbst. “He is going into the final table with the chip lead, and I’ve had a number of times when I have had the chiplead going into the final table I have had good results based on that, so I think he was interested to hear my thoughts and work with me.”

Vanessa has been teaching poker since 2006, with years of experience as a cash game instructor, both for an online training site and in private tutoring relationships. More recently she has narrowed her coaching focus to pot-limit Omaha cash games and tournaments.

With a nearly $7.8 million dollar difference between finishing ninth and winning, Selbst sees plenty of reason for the final nine to hire coaches.

“You know the investment can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to up to $40,000 or $50,000 depending on the coach,” said Selbst. “For a max investment of $50,000 you increase your chance of moving up one more place and you are looking at multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars more. If it helps you even a little bit, it’s worth it.”

PLAYER: Russell Thomas
COACH: Jason Somerville

Jason Somerville and Russell Thomas Much like Selbst, Russell Thomas coach Jason Somerville thinks that the October Nine should all seek out coaching.

“If I told you that I was going to give you an eight million dollar freeroll in three months for any competitive activity, you would be out of your mind to not spend all of your time preparing for that activity. That, to me, seems very basic,” said Somerville. “I would just expect that, because we are playing for eight million dollars. If that doesn’t motivate you to work hard, I don’t know what will. Its certainly not money.”

Like Selbst, Somerville made a deep run in this year’s main event, finishing 69th for $106,056. With 14 career titles, a WSOP gold bracelet and more than $3.7 million in tournament earnings, Somerville is also well credentialed as a poker coach. He also was uniquely prepared for this specific role coaching Thomas, who is third in chips heading into the final table.

“I had already thought, in depth, about what I personally would do to plan for the final table I f I had made it,” said Somerville. “So I was already prepared with a package of what I wanted to do.”

Somerville’s plan amounts to total immersion. Thomas moved in with him in Stony Brook, New York, undergoing an intensive three-month training program.

“We spent all of August working general poker concepts… In September we honed in on poker tournament concepts, and then in October we ran final table simulations, getting more and more focused on the main event final table itself,” said Somerville. “About 14 or 15 people flew in for the first 20 days of October, and we just played the final table out ten different times, simulating the actual final table and talking about the spots that arose. I think that experience, for Russ, is going to be invaluable.”

Somerville additionally helped Thomas secure a sponsorship deal and also produced a short documentary series detailing Thomas’ preparation, titled “The Final Table,” which can be found on his YouTube channel. Somerville seems confidant that his approach has been incredibly helpful for Thomas.

“When I set out to train Russ, was to not make him a clone of me, or an unthinking player. I wanted to make sure that he had a strong thought process that is able to adapt to whatever situations arose at the final table, and I feel like we’ve accomplished that,” said Somerville. “His game is at its sharpest now, as sharp as it ever has been, and I think he really is able to think poker clearly and I think he is ready to adapt to whatever happens at the final table.”

PLAYER: Jacob Balsiger
COACH: Mike McDonald

Mike McDonald and Jacob Balsiger Mike “Timex” McDonald has nearly $4.9 million in tournament earnings and nine titles to his name, but perhaps an even bigger resume builder is the fact that he coached 2011 WSOP main event champion Pius Heinz, who entered last year’s final table as the third shortest stack and went on to win the title and more than $8.7 million.

McDonald also guided amateur David Einhorn to a third-place finish in the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop, outlasting some of the biggest names in the game to earn $4.3 million. With two students boasting combined earnings in excess of $13 million in the past year, McDonald has certainly got the necessary credentials to continue coaching players in these high-profile events.

“I enjoy coaching a fair bit,” McDonald told CardPlayer. “As long as I keep playing seriously I think that I will always be one of the best players in the main event, but I am still a sizable underdog to make that final table. So it’s nice to live vicariously through people and help them out and feel like you are more of a part of it. It was great to see Pius increase his net worth 100 times over in one week.”

One of the biggest things McDonald says he brings to the table for Jacob Balsiger, in addition to the nuts-and-bolts instruction on poker strategy, is an overall sense of perspective.

“Obviously the World Series main event is a big deal, but I am able to convey to the student that this is effectively a sit’n’go where everyone has roughly fifty big blinds, standard payouts just scaled up greatly, and a structure that despite two-hour levels is not that much better because hands are going slowly,” said McDonald. “It is not that different from the poker they are playing every day, and a lot of people have trouble putting that in perspective.”

Balsiger is the second shortest stack heading into the final table, which is a similar situation to Pius Heinz last year.

“The people who get to wound up in ‘this is my destiny, I was born to do this, I had a dream I won.’ Those guys are going to make irrationally inaccurate plays, and you just capitalize on that,” said McDonald. “There is no fate in poker. It just boils down to whoever plays the best gives themselves the best chance of winning.”

Each of the final nine will have done they best they can to prepare, but these three finalists all hope that the instruction they got at the hands of some of poker’s greatest players will enable them to play their best and go on to become the next World Series of Poker main event champion. Only time will tell.



9 years ago

I'd be interested to know, just out of curiosity, if these coaching relationships are pretty much fixed-fee deals, like a consultant, or if they involve a percentage of whatever prize money their student ends up winning?


9 years ago

Makes sense to me. You have 3 people sitting at the final table paying people who could not get there telling them how to to win it.


9 years ago

First off it's not that these three people getting paid couldn't make it to the final table, it's just that they didn't make it. Big difference, and do you seriously not see the significance in coaching by players that are better than you, or are you just that simple minded and think that just because these players made it to the final table that means they're the best in the world? Some people shouldn't post on here and you're one of them. Tuhh


9 years ago

bmpek i didn't see u coaching either,lol, month after month bmpek u come try and shit on everyone, if u are as old as u say join a home, otherwise shut the fuck up. ur sad, u whine all the time, and ur life is ruined with negativity.

u know what nevermind, ur entertaining, like a comedian, but u dont get paid from it,lol so keep on keeping on.

i honestly hate posting, but people like u need shot, to bad u don't live closer,lol


9 years ago

Quite obviously there is no way of designating who the best poker player in the world is[tournament poker]. The randomness of the cards dealt precludes this from happening. If there was a truely great player he or she would win more then 1 tournament every year or 2[Helmuth has 13 bracelets in WSOP play how many years and tournaments did it take him to get there.] The best player today is the one who gets the cards and uses them the wisest. And I see no value in paying someone 50k who did not could not get to where these 9 people are this year and have never been there in any year so far. That's my opinion and it dosen't make me simpleminded as you seem to think.


9 years ago

Clunker , do some reading, there are people who win 2 WSOP bracelets almost every year no less just two tournaments. You may argue against a coach but if you prepare by Yourself for this opportunity then you are one of those that thinks he knows everything. Not saying you have to pay someone, but if you are getting help for free its almost the same.


9 years ago

Did not say any thing about discussing how the people play and what they are likely to do in certain situations for free. The article is about paying some one. Yes in the last 10 years there have been 17 multiple bracelet winners in same year and 9 of those have not won another bracelet. Maybe they just got hot for a period of time which seems to happen then the player cools off. As far as knowing every thing no I don't but I do have enough common sense and belief in my own abilities to realize that some one trying to charge me 50k or ant amount in this situation is just trying to take advantage of me.