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September 22, 2014

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A brazen play: Hopeful hires Phil Hellmuth as WSOP coach

Shulman hopes uncommon move gives edge in main event

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CARD PLAYER MAGAZINE

Jeff Shulman of Las Vegas says he hasn’t played in a poker tournament since July.

Poker pro Jeff Shulman couldn’t shake the idea.

The Las Vegas native, who had clinched a spot at the final table of the 2009 World Series of Poker main event, kept noticing the coaches as he watched sports over the summer. Albert Pujols had coaches. Michael Phelps had a coach. Tiger Woods had one.

“Someone told me Roger Federer doesn’t,” said Shulman, who is also the editor of Card Player magazine. “But aside from him, pretty much every athlete has a coach as far as I know.”

Why not poker? Shulman asked himself.

He reached out to his friend — infamous poker personality Phil Hellmuth. They started discussing coaching in poker.

Last year only one player — eventual third-place finisher Dennis Phillips — hired a coach before the final table. Shulman and Hellmuth both agreed it was foolish that no one else did.

“I’m surprised no one has hired you as a coach,” Shulman said to Hellmuth. “You know how to win.”

So Shulman hired Hellmuth, who has won a record 11 World Series bracelets — including the one for the 1989 main event.

Shulman is fourth in chips headed into the final table, which begins Nov. 7 at the Rio. At worst — if he slips to ninth place — he’ll make $1.2 million. But the winner will take home more than $8.5 million.

“We’re playing for so much money here that I have to treat it like a real job,” Shulman said.

Shulman said he also needs Hellmuth on his side because he hasn’t played much poker lately. He was exhausted after playing in the main event in July and has not competed in a tournament since.

His personal life also is changing. His wife gave birth to a girl, Lucy Magnolia, this week.

“I realize everyone else has been playing the whole time,” Shulman said. “I haven’t played at all.”

Phil Ivey is the most accomplished player left in the main event. Shulman is next with career earnings of more than $1.3 million and a seventh place finish in the 2000 main event.

Shulman said his game was sharper and he read opponents better a decade ago. He hopes Hellmuth can help him rediscover some of those skills.

“I have always liked and respected Jeff, and that’s why I am coaching him for the November Nine, where he is the favorite to become the 2009 World Champion,” the always outspoken Hellmuth said in a statement.

Hellmuth has been competing in the World Series of Poker Europe, but the two have been talking almost every day. When he returns to Las Vegas, he’ll put Shulman through a “boot camp.” They will dissect video in attempt to identify the other eight players’ tells, plan a betting structure strategy and make more efficient calls.

It’s all an attempt to land Shulman’s first gold bracelet.

“I didn’t hire Phil to finish in third place,” Shulman said. “I’ll tell you that.”

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