Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth on Poker: Lessons with Jeff Shulman – Part 1

Way back on July 15, the WSOP Main Event field was reduced to the final nine players and play was halted. Chips were bagged, players were interviewed by the worldwide media, and poker’s newest millionaires were sent home until November 7 when the so-called November Nine final table would reconvene.

Now, much can be done to improve one’s poker game in four months. Some finalists sought out poker coaches to refine end-game tactics. Others enlisted coaches to help create entirely new game plans.

And poker industry veteran Jeff Shulman asked me to coach him. I readily accepted his invitation.

You see, back at the 2000 WSOP final table, Jeff ran into some horrendous bad luck. He still finished in a very respectable seventh place, but ever since, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Jeff because of what he endured.

With seven players remaining, Jeff enjoyed a massive chip lead and had Chris “Jesus” Ferguson all-in for roughly $800,000 apiece. Jeff’s pocket sevens dominated Chris’ pocket sixes. Jeff would’ve had $3.2 million in chips had his hand held up.

It didn’t. He lost that hand and soon after was eliminated when his pocket kings ran into Ferguson’s pocket aces.

Another reason to coach Jeff is that we’re business partners. I’m the third largest shareholder in the Card Player publishing empire, which Jeff and his father run.

Also, I knew I could help Jeff because our playing styles are similar.

poker941And my Hold’em resume isn’t too shabby, either: I’ve made it to more than 30 WSOP Hold’em final tables (a record) and have eleven WSOP wins (another record) including the 1989 WSOP Main Event championship.

Okay, so now that this year’s Main Event is over, I’m able to reveal Jeff’s lesson plan.

First, we created a top-notch group of advisors including poker pro Adam Schoenfeld, former LA Dodger pitcher Orel Hershisher, WSOP bracelet winner Diego Cordovez, and Barry Shulman, Jeff’s father and winner of this year’s WSOPE Main Event. Our job was to play out hand scenarios and thoroughly discuss game tactics.

Next, we reviewed every single hand that each of the other finalists played throughout the Main Event — 50 pages in total. We also viewed every minute of every ESPN episode aired.

Jeff would start final table play with $20 million in chips. With the blinds at $125,000/$250,000, he had sufficient time to work his chips. His near-term goal was to make it to the final three by employing a super-safe and super-tight strategy, especially when play was eight and nine-handed.

I designed a plan that had Jeff opening pots for a 4-5 times the big blind raise. With blinds at $125,000/$250,000, that meant he’d open for at least $1 million.

I didn’t think the other players would take flops with small pairs or suited connectors for such a high price nor would they come over the top against a super-tight player like Jeff. Also, I believed that an opening bet for that much money would force all other players to fold their weaker hands.

Furthermore, if Jeff did get a hand like pocket tens and got reraised, it would be easier for him to fold his hand because his opponent presumably would have an overpair or A-K.

My plan created disincentives for his opponents to try to flop a set or attempt to bluff him out of a pot. Also, it would allow Jeff to take down small pots and hang around for a long time while (at worst) maintaining his starting chipstack with minimal pressure.

The plan was to let the other eight players bust themselves out needlessly like they did at the 2008 Main Event final table. As play progressed down to five-handed play, we’d have Jeff change his style of play, but more on that later.



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