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Kevin Schaffel: The phone's ringing and 'it's surreal'


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One day your residence is a buddy’s spare bedroom, the next you’re a TV star with $1.2 million in your pocket.

That’s how fast life changed this week for Kevin Schaffel of Coral Springs.

“Surreal,” says Schaffel, who has received almost 100 calls and texts since Thursday. “I’m not exactly certain what’s in store, but I’m sure looking forward to it.”

Late Wednesday, Schaffel won one of nine seats at the final table of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He got a check for $1.2 million, an endorsement deal with PokerStars.net and a shot at $8.5 million more in the finals, on Nov. 7, where he’ll get as much ESPN air time as Dwyane Wade.

On Aug. 18, ESPN will start airing the poker action that narrowed the field from 6,494 players to the final nine.

Schaffel grew up in North Miami Beach, divorced in 2006, and has been on the road playing poker more in recent years as his printing and direct mail business faded. He has played in the World Series since 2004 but wants to stay in South Florida because his two college-age children and his friends are here.

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So he has crashed at a friend’s house near the TPC at Eagle Trace, where he plays golf (he’s a former club champion). It works out because both are often away.

“I think I’ll be able to afford a place of my own now,” he says.

At 51, Schaffel also is a poker anomaly. It’s a young man’s game, with an aggressive tone spawned by the rapid-fire style on the Internet. Six of the nine at the final table are 34 or younger.

Schaffel, tapping into the gentlemanly nature of golf, is different.

“I was watching Wimbledon and they asked Serena Williams what helped her perform well under pressure,” Schaffel says. “She used two words: ‘calm’ and ‘patient.’

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“I wrote them down and it stayed with me the entire tournament,” says Schaffel, who played for eight 10-hour days before making the finals.

Says his son, Jeremy, who lives with his mother in Pembroke Pines, but joins him for games at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino: “I’ve never seen him yell or get upset over a poker hand, even when he’s getting bad cards.”

Early in the first day in Las Vegas, Schaffel was one card away from elimination after betting all his chips with three 10s against a straight. (The flop was 8-10-J; the player had raised and then pushed with 7-9.)

But after 4 on the turn the final card was a jack for a full house, winning the pot.

"In the past, I'd stand up at the table and reach for my bag if I were behind like that," he said. "But this time, I just knew. I can't describe it."

He had a few “all-in” moments later in the tournament, but always when the odds appeared to be well in his favor.

The 2009 final table is one of the most decorated in recent World Series history. Schaffel’s table mates will include Card Player magazine editor Jeff Shulman and Phil Ivey, called “The Tiger Woods of Poker,” who has won seven World Series events.

Schaffel is considering hiring a top pro to coach him until November, which would cost him at least $50,000, or he may just go with patience and good instincts.

“There are lots of decisions to be made,” he says. “But then, I don’t want to over-think things.”

But he had breakfast Friday with Dennis Phillips, who finished third in last year's World Series, about how to handle the upcoming days and how to make the most of "other opportunities."

You could see how those two would get along. They have similar demeanors.

Schaffel said he was a cash-game player who hadn't had a losing year until this one, and was starting to doubt himself. But a tournament hot streak, with four out of five cashes, helped right him.

Categories: World Series of Poker (57)


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About the author
Maybe you've made the right play, maybe you haven't. Your heart speeds up, your stomach rumbles.

That's why it's called gambling.

ACTION is a view of the numbers, the psychology and the flavor of gambling here in South Florida, through our lens.

We do have one sure bet. There's something here for you.

NICK SORTAL began playing 3-card "gut" and "Indian poker" on high school band trips, moved on to "night baseball" and "pass the trash" during a Dr. Pepper-infused midnight game in the 1980s at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and now play in a regular neighborhood Hold 'Em game in Plantation. I have been given the assignment of writing about the gambling life in South Florida casinos for the Sun-Sentinel...which means sitting around watching poker on TV now counts as research.
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