I am fortunate to play the game that I love at some of the best venues in the world. Poker has also provided me with many incredible opportunities. This year I had the amazing opportunity to help prepare a man for the self-proclaimed “biggest moment” of his entire life (he’s allowed to say that since he doesn’t have children and isn’t married).
Neil Blumenfield, an enthusiastic 62 year-old poker amateur who is known for his signature fedora, had just been let go from his job and was wondering what direction his life would take him when suddenly he found himself third in chips with nine players left playing for $7.7 million at the final table of the WSOP main event. Although it was obviously a dream-come-true for him, he knew that he was going to be up against much more experienced opponents playing for millions of dollars. Blumenfield immediately set out to find the right people to help prepare him for this final table battle.
I didn’t know Neil before he found himself in that position, but two years prior our mutual friend Amir Lehavot was also fortunate enough to find himself in the same position of having a big stack and playing in what is nothing short of a poker player’s Super Bowl. Amir came to me to help organize a live simulation of the final table at my house in Las Vegas, where we replicated the stacks of the players at the final table and did our best to mimic the plays we thought each player we were representing would make. We would show our cards after each hand and have a group discussion about the hand with several of the top poker pros in the game. Amir ended up finishing in third place and winning $3.3 million that year. He said the “live sim” helped him predict some dynamics that would develop, strategize and counter-strategize, and made him feel a lot more at ease when he returned to play that November.
Fast forward to this year when Blumenfield made the final table. Neil contacted Amir, and Amir asked me if I would be interested in joining him in putting together a similar program for Neil. It’s crazy and a bit humbling that people who are so close to the finish line with an opportunity to win more money than I’ve GROSSED in my entire career have entrusted me to help them to adequately prepare for that moment! Training my students is never an undertaking I take lightly, and in this particular instance I took my responsibility so seriously that I actually felt nervous at times … which is ironic since I’m rarely ever nervous at my own final tables!
We put together a group of the best poker players in Las Vegas, including Tom Marchese, Ryan Welch, James Carroll, Justin Young, Brent Hanks, Brandon Meyers, Lisa Hamilton, Ben Palmer, and Michael Benvenuti. Each were responsible for playing the roles of Neil’s final table opponents. We spent four days playing out “live sims” and discussing every hand and the concepts behind each hand in great detail. Not only did Neil learn a lot, the individuals in the group did as well. Even after millions of hands of play, we realized that we all still had plenty to learn and picked some valuable things from each other. After one of the live sim sessions, Brandon Meyers half-joked, “I just got paid to learn from Tom Marchese! That was awesome.”
Neil was admittedly overwhelmed at times and understandably so, which is why after all of the live sims were completed Tom Marchese and I decided to organize some 2-on-1 coaching sessions right before the final table to make sure that Neil fully understood the concepts we had been reviewing along with some final words of advice about strategy and mindset for the final table.
One of the things I was most pleased with was our level of confidentiality. Despite being a group effort, no one seemed to let the cat out of the bag before the final table. This ensured Neil’s opponents would not know what to expect from him during final table play. Neil told Kara Scott and Norman Chad that they could mention Amir, Tom, and me as his coaches once day 2 play had begun, but until then the commentators had only said that he was working on his game with a group of friends in the Bay area.
But the thing I was most proud of by FAR was the way Neil came blazing out of the starting gate in total beast mode – no one could have predicted that. Antonio Esfandiari was doing commentary and couldn’t seem to say enough about Neil’s game, with comments like “Neil definitely got some great coaching before this final table,” and “I’m not calling this guy Neil Blumenfield anymore, I’m just going to call him ‘The Legend.’”
There were also comments flying around the Twitterverse about how well Neil was playing, especially after his 4-bet with A7o vs. Zvi Stern. My favorite comment about Neil’s play came from WPT Champion David Paredes:
Ultimately, Neil finished in 3rd place for $3.4 million. We were all extremely proud of his performance and he even went out of his way to thank us on ESPN for helping him improve his game and really help him feel prepared for the final table. If you’d like to meet the man under the fedora, he’ll be one of the featured pros for the Charity Series of Poker event on January 30th at 5pm during the Borgata Winter Poker Open!
If you’re interested in improving your game, I offer one-on-one poker training that can be done online and plan to organize some unique live poker camps with a fun twist in the near future. Or grab me during a break at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in January, as I will be playing in most of the events on the schedule, including the live-streamed $3 Million Guaranteed WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested and would like to be added to my poker training email list.