Advice to the October Nine

Former November Niners offer suggestions to the final table

Updated: October 26, 2012, 3:57 PM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Editor's note: The WSOP main event final table will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Monday.

The 2012 World Series of Poker main event final table is almost here. As these nine players prepare for the most important final table of their lives, only 36 other players have experienced the drama and excitement that this WSOP final table hiatus can bring.

With only days before they reassemble at the Penn and Teller Theater, I sought out advice for each player from a comparable former November Niner. Here is the advice they gave their 2012 WSOP final table counterparts (in chip count order):

For Jesse Sylvia, the chip leader, I spoke with another young chip leader who went on to win the 2010 WSOP main event, Jonathan Duhamel. "First, take your time," Duhamel said. "Since you have so many chips, you can sit back and observe the other players to see if any of them have changed their tendencies since the summer. Next, you want to gain as much information as possible about the other players. This early information will be extremely valuable when you get down to five-handed or deeper when you need to be more aggressive. Finally, don't forget to apply well thought out pressure to the medium and short stacks. Of course, you don't want to double them up, but you can apply lots of pressure to them because the pay jumps are so high."

For Andras Koroknai, I tried to contact Martin Staszko, another European player who had a massive chip stack entering the 2011 WSOP final table. Although I was unable to speak with him directly, I reviewed some of his post WSOP final table interviews and believe there are some things Koroknai can learn. Staszko "did not use [the live stream] much" during the breaks or even on his day off between the start of the final table and the final three players. At the time, Staszko said "it changed the game a little bit, but not much." Looking back, I think Staszko may have had a change of heart and may have wanted to analyze the tapes in depth. Koroknai should get some close poker friends to analyze the live stream. Additionally, Staszko would advocate to "relax and get good sleep." He probably would recommend to Koroknai to look at the big screen on the Penn and Teller Theater wall to see the chip counts. "It is easier to see the number [on the screen] than to count the chips on the table to know what my opponents had."

For Greg Merson, I spoke with last year's WSOP Player of the Year, Ben Lamb. Both players are the best-known participants of their group entering their respective final tables and each had won a WSOP bracelet earlier in the summer. In regards to returning after a three-month hiatus, Lamb suggested to "almost consider it like a new tournament with no knowledge of opponents. After being off for three months, then coming back to play in front of huge crowd and on ESPN live, it can be such an overwhelming thing. The players may play completely different … at least for the first hour or two." As for Merson, Lamb advised, "Go in with the same game plan that got you there. Also, don't think about how much money you are playing for. Act like it is just another final table. In the end, make decisions that are the most profitable."

For Russell Thomas, I spoke with Jeff Shulman, who entered the 2008 WSOP final table fourth in chips. Both players had a full-time job at the time they made the final table and hired a coach. (Thomas hired Jason Somerville; Shulman hired Phil Hellmuth.) "Get sleep," Shulman suggested. "Plan for 12- to 14-hour days, which is different from the summer. You will wait until midnight, because that is when most of the action starts." In regards to the final table itself, Shulman said, "It is not really a tournament situation anymore, but a one-table satellite with lots of play. Also, be prepared that every hand is way slower than you are used to because of television." Having kept his job, Shulman had one final thought for Thomas: "Don't quit your day job."

For Steven Gee, it was difficult to find a former November Nine equivalent. He is an older player who used to be a young gun in his 20s and also owns a WSOP bracelet. I decided to speak with a comparable poker superstar: Phil Hellmuth, who has won 13 WSOP bracelets, most recently the WSOP Europe main event. "The kids play a similar, clone-like style," Hellmuth said. "Try to figure out their style and develop a counterstrategy. But in the end, don't change what has got you here. Stick to your own game."

For Michael Esposito, I spoke with fellow New Yorker Steven Begleiter, who also entered the final table in his 40s (Esposito is 44 years old, Begleiter 47) and worked in the financial field. Begleiter recalled an experience at WSOP Europe prior to the November Nine that had a significant impact on him. "I introduced myself to former WSOP main event final tablists Raymond Rahme [2007] and Andrew Black [2005] and spoke to them about their final table experiences," Begleiter said. "For both players, their bustout hands were still deeply ingrained in their memory. A couple of years later, it still haunted them. So what I took away from this was take your time because these are decisions that you will have to live with for the rest of your life."

[+] EnlargeRob Salaburu
Joe Giron/WSOPRob Salaburu enters the WSOP main event final table seventh in chips.

For Rob Salaburu, I spoke with Chino Rheem, who entered the 2008 WSOP final table seventh in chips. Similarly, Rheem is not afraid to speak his mind at the table (although maybe not as much as Salaburu). "Don't let any criticism get in the way of your mental state of mind," Rheem said. "Understand what your image is and try to understand what the players think of your image. Ultimately, develop a clear strategy based on your assessment and go with it. In the end, come into the final table fully prepared, physically and mentally. Be well rested, focused and be ready for battle."

For Jake Balsiger, I spoke with Craig Marquis, who entered the 2008 WSOP final table eighth in chips. Both players are young Internet pros with the chance to become the youngest player ever to win the WSOP main event. "Lots of people are going to try to give you advice, but don't try to emulate someone else's style," Marquis said. "Don't fall out of your own comfort zone, because it could end up being very difficult for you to figure out the correct decision." Asked if he thought about becoming the youngest player ever to win the WSOP main event, Marquis said, "You can't really think about it right away because you are so far away from getting there. Nine people is still a lot of players left. However, it is in the back of your head while you are playing, but don't let it affect your play."

For Jeremy Ausmus, I spoke with Jason Senti, who entered the 2010 WSOP final table as the short stack. "If possible, I would setup simulations of the final table with friends with the correct chip stacks, etc.," he said. "That is something that I didn't do that I think would have been very helpful. While talking about your strategy is a great thing, I think actually putting yourself in a similar situation beforehand will make you more prepared and comfortable when you actually get there." Additionally, Senti suggested, "Having very good poker players on stage with you for advice. Stack sizes, players remaining, along with many other factors will be changing all the time, so most of your strategy will have to be adjusted on the fly. Having other good players there to help you adjust your strategy will provide tremendous value. In an ideal world, they would mostly think like you, so you don't have to change your style, but having one or two guys who think differently than you could help you pick up on things you otherwise wouldn't have."

Senti had some sage words of advice for all the 2012 October Niners: "Have fun! I mean it. It is an amazing experience that very few people are fortunate enough to have. Good luck!"

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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