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Phil Hellmuth breaks down Main Event final table


AP Photo

Professional player Phil Hellmuth waves to fans as he is carried into the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on the third day of the World Series of Poker on Sunday, July 5, 2009.

Q&A with Jeff Shulman

Final Table Chip Count

Showing Their Cards

With the final table set, ESPN's Norman Chad and Lon McEachern weigh in on life behind the scenes of the World Series of Poker.

A number of business ventures have brought poker pro Phil Hellmuth to Las Vegas for the week.

Hellmuth is promoting his new book, "Deal Me In," with a signing at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Summerlin Barnes & Noble. He’s also coaching World Series of Poker Main Event final table participant Jeff Shulman.

“Even if I wasn’t,” Hellmuth said, “I wouldn’t miss this.”

Hellmuth said he was more interested with this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event final table -- which begins play at noon Saturday at the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio -- than any in recent years.

Like most poker fans, Hellmuth’s intrigue starts with Phil Ivey. Hellmuth, who has won a record 11 World Series of Poker bracelets, has even bestowed his own nickname upon Ivey — "Triple Threat."

“The reason I’m calling him Triple Threat is because he’s one of the biggest winners in online poker games, one of the biggest winners in real-world poker games and he’s a great tournament player,” Hellmuth said.

Hellmuth said he spoke with Ivey, who enters seventh in chips with 9.7 million, earlier in the week and that he accepted his new moniker with a laugh.

At 33 years old, Ivey has already won seven World Series of Poker bracelets and is widely considered the best player in the world.

If Ivey pulls off a world championship with a short stack, it would all but confirm his status.

“Don’t misquote me, I’m not saying he’s the greatest, but he’s phenomenal. He seems to be at the top,” Hellmuth said. “But he’s never won a hold ’em tournament. If he wants to take me down from the top of hold ’em tournaments, he’s going to have to fight.”

Hellmuth does not expect Ivey to win the bracelet. Of course, Hellmuth predicted that Shulman would beat out the remaining eight.

Hellmuth said his coaching sessions with Shulman went even better than expected. Hellmuth brought in former Major League Baseball pitcher and current poker pro Orel Hershiser and poker pro Barry Greenstein to assist in his coaching of Shulman.

Hellmuth said there was no doubt Shulman was better prepared than every other player at the table.

“I felt like he was the favorite anyway,” Hellmuth said. “But now I feel like he is the strong favorite.”

Shulman is fourth in chips, behind Darvin Moon, Eric Buchman and Steven Begleiter. Although Hellmuth is infamous for criticizing players and their style of play, he had nothing negative to say about the top three.

“The play looked pretty reasonable,” Hellmuth said. “I didn’t see any horrible plays.”

Moon is a tougher critic on himself than Hellmuth. Throughout the tournament, Moon said he was one of the worst 100 players in the field of 6,500.

Moon credited getting amazing cards for his run through the Main Event. Hellmuth, who referred to Moon as a "folk hero," disagreed.

“He’s not one of the worst players, that’s for sure,” Hellmuth said. “He had the patience to wait for strong hands and then he played them. There’s probably 300 people who had as good as luck as Darvin did and blew themselves out by playing stupid.”

But Hellmuth said he thinks neither Moon nor Ivey is ready for Shulman. Hellmuth even promised a few surprises from Shulman.

Hellmuth said he taught Shulman a few new tactics that would become the talk of the poker world. Combine that with Shulman’s already solid play and Hellmuth sounds convinced that his pupil is about to make history.

“He understands how to play and win,” Hellmuth said. “This is a guy with a whole lot of experience. I like his chances.”

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