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Q and A: Nick Schulman Talks Poker Commentary

Poker Pro Discusses Covering the 2016 Super High Roller Bowl

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Poker pro Nick Schulman has accumulated more than $8.3 million in live tournament earnings. Although the 32-year-old poker pro is primarily a cash game player, he has won two World Series of Poker gold bracelets and a World Poker Tour title. He has had a solid year on the tournament circuit in 2016, finishing third in the WSOP $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. championship and second in the Bellagio Cup XII for $557,388. That Schulman has continued to find success on the felt is no surprise. What is noteworthy is the success Schulman has found as a poker commentator this year.

Schulman’s first major gig behind a mic was alongside veteran host Ali Nejad covering the 2016 $300,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl for CBS Sports. His mix of strategy insight and breezy banter was lauded by fans and fellow poker pros alike, with big names like Phil Galfond and Mike Sexton taking to social media to sing his praises.
Card Player recently caught up with Schulman, who was traveling abroad to compete in the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker, to discuss his foray into the world of poker commentary.

Card Player: How did you end up getting into the commentary side of poker? Did you catch the bug when you went on some of the live streams of WSOP final tables with David Tuchman?

Nick Schulman: I think those streams were my first times behind the mic, yeah. I really got more interested in it though when my good friend Mori [Eskandani] over at Poker PROductions approached me and asked if I’d be interested in commentating. It was never really my idea.

CP: So it was Mori’s idea for you to do commentary and analysis?

Nick SchulmanNS: Actually I think a guy I play with in high stakes cash games, David Grey, recommended me as a candidate to Mori and he then approached me about this cash game that he was doing, the Super High Roller Bowl cash game or whatever it was called. Everything has ‘Super’ attached to it now! (laughs)

CP: Indeed. So this summer the WSOP live stream host David Tuchamn told a story several times on air about how you came to him looking to actively work on polishing your commentary game. What lead you to do that?

NS: I appreciate the positive feedback I had gotten, but I think that commentating is something that I understood is a craft in it’s own right. I wanted to come across as professional and I had very little experience, so I wanted to take it seriously. I didn’t want to just show up, so I spoke to Tuchman and asked for advice. I also reached out to other color commentators in other fields as well about walking the fine line between being just another person in the room while maintaining a level of professionalism. Now that I am doing more of this commentary work i wanted to take it as seriously as possible.

CP: In the poker community there is an ongoing debate about how the game is portrayed on television. Everyone seems to agree that it’s difficult to balance having a broad appeal and being ‘good for poker’ with providing high-level strategic insight and analysis of hands. Did you find it hard to walk that line?

NS: It’s a great question and something I definitely wrestled with. I think for me I want it to be accessible because I love the idea of somebody who is casually interested in the game watching a show with my commentary and catching the poker bug. I think having fun and being able to appeal to the mainstream, casual fan is a big deal for the growth of the game going forward. But on the other hand I think that the live stream format is great for in-depth, high level analysis of poker for very advanced fans. I did my best to provide something for both players, sometimes even within the commentary on one hand. I think when you can get very detailed and advanced it’s great, but you can’t leave people behind who aren’t quite there yet. Walking that tightrope is the goal and it’s really tough, but I’m going to do my best whenever I get the opportunity.

Schulman makes a fine pointCP: Doing commentary for several days of a tournament back-to-back must have been mentally taxing. You essentially put yourself in different players shoes each and every hand are there until the final card is dealt. Was it tough?

NS: They are long days for sure and it can be extremely tiring, but it is also very rewarding and you get sort of lost in the moment. I was more tired after it was all over, and I felt like I had come in second in that I was there the whole time but didn’t necessarily get the high of winning. The thing about playing, not that this is a great habit but I think most players succumb to this, is that you can sometimes find yourself taking a few hands off mentally. You can just play tight and fold a few hands and zone out. When you are doing commentary you can’t really take a hand off. it’s a very interesting experience that I would recommend any serious player try sometime. Try to just watch a tournament start to finish and try to commentate on it yourself. it really is pretty eye opening and you don’t get to take those mental breaks. In a way I think it improved my poker game and I felt like I was clicking to start the WSOP and cash games this summer. I felt very thought-process oriented as opposed to just showing up and it’s like riding a bike, just playing on auto-pilot. For that I’m very to have had the opportunity, because even though it was tiring it is really great for a player to experience.

CP: Yeah, you get to put yourself in the headspace of playing while being removed from actually playing the hand yourself.

NS: From the sideline you see something that you might not catch if you were in the hand. It gives you a different approach and a different look at situations. When you are thinking out loud and presenting different ways of proceeding, it helps open up your poker mind and expand your horizons. It can promote creativity and help you understand your own game better. When you are in the moment and playing a lot of times you don’t have enough time to explore all of those possibilities.

CP: So you said that doing the commentary for the Super High Roller Bowl had you in a good place going into the summer, one of the busiest times of the year in terms for poker pros. You had some good tournament scores in the month or so that followed, cashing for over $730,000 while still playing a lot of cash games.

NS: I think doing the commentary did help me this summer, but also recent years i have put more focus on preparing away from the table and taking my game more seriously. That combination was nice. As far as those tournament scores, a couple of hands went my way in the way that is necessary to have a deep run in a tournament. But overall, I think I am embracing the kind of professional attitude that is needed to compete at a high level in poker and I hope I can keep that up.

CP: Do you plan on continuing to do some commentary? Are there any gigs you have lined up?

NS: As far as specific events I’m going to commentate, I’m not sure yet. I think there’s a good chance that there will be some high stakes cash games that I might work on and if the Super High Roller Bowl returns next year I’d certainly be interested in doing it again. As of right now I don’t have anything lined up, but my phone is on. (laughs)