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Shankar Pillai: Winner of Event 28, $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em

But not Shankar Pillai. After winning his very first WSOP bracelet in his very first WSOP event at his very first WSOP tournament, this guy was happy - on the brink of tears happy. As the photographers snapped away at him, he subtly ran a knuckle under his eyes. We couldn't see the tears, but I'm sure they were there.

I caught up with Shankar after his big win, and you could just feel his excitement. Here's what he had to say:

Wow. You must be really emotional right now. Tell me how you feel.

Yeah, I can't even explain it, it's really surreal. I'm ecstatic. I don't know what to do next. I have a flight booked for tomorrow morning, but I might just have to extend it and stay a little longer.

I think you should; it's well warranted. What are you going to do tonight? You guys are going to go out right?

The Bracelet

Yeah, we're gonna party it up - I'm tired, but I don't even care, I'm gonna go. I gotta go!

So you played with Phil Hellmuth yesterday and today - what was that like?

It was a really good experience. Even coming in, I told myself, I really wanna play with someone who I really look up to - basically, just to see what it's like. At first it was so nerve-wracking, and I felt like he just knew what I had every single time. And I just got used to it. I'm so happy I played with the best in the world and still came out and took it down.

Do you think this experience is going to affect your game?

I'm gonna keep the same strategy; I play the same way most of the time. I guess I have to keep playing this way. It worked this time, so I'm just gonna keep doing it.

Yesterday you played in quite the zoo - so many characters were in there. How did you keep your cool?

Yeah, yesterday was really crazy. Luke [Vrabel] is a little crazy. I know he seems like a bad guy online and stuff, but I actually became good friends with him, and he was cheering me on - he's a good guy.

Luke Vrabel

He's a genuine, innocent guy. He talks a lot, but he doesn't even play poker that much, and he even said himself he doesn't really, like, belong; he just got lucky. He was just livin' it up and was so happy to get on television.

I was really proud of myself for keeping my focus. It's just amazing I think, that I did. Even when Phil would talk to me I just wouldn't talk back to him - well I would once in a while, but I kept my focus most of the time.

At the final table you were short-stacked for a bit; what was going on in your mind?

Yeah, I had a lot of swings there. I just kept thinking to myself, "stay composed, stay composed, stay composed." I knew I could do it, no matter how low I got. I mean, I tried to take the best pots. I feel like I did. I think I had the best hand most of the time. And I mean after I lost to Jason with J-T to A-T, I thought I was going downhill from there but I just stayed composed, tried to take the best pots, not get involved in huge pots, just try to keep it small, grind it down - and it worked out. And I picked up aces so that was good! (Laughs.)

Twice! Tell me what it was like playing heads-up with Beth Shak.

I didn't even look at it like, oh, she's a woman, it's gonna be easy, you know? Honestly, like, she was one of the few people who really scared me. I couldn't get any read on her whatsoever, and it seemed like any time she put her money in, she had aces. That's all she showed was good hands, and I mean, I didn't really know how to play against her.


My strategy going into heads-up was to keep the pots small, cause she likes to go all-in a lot, and like, I didn't wanna do that. I didn't wanna put all the money in and try to get lucky. I just wanted to get the pots and make the best hands. Even that last call - I felt like the match had gone on for a while cause we came out even in chips, so I really just thought I had the best hand - I mean I was really scared; I was so close to folding. But in the end I just really believed in my hand, and it held up.

So you already said you're gonna buy a car, but I see your girlfriend over there. You gonna buy her something?

(Laughs.) Yeah. I don't know - whatever she wants. I'll take her shopping. (Laughs.) I'm just so happy right now.

I know. Congratulations, man, I'm so happy for you.


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Shankar lives in New York, and came to the tournament with his girlfriend and two other friends. They probably won't be going home as scheduled, because they have some serious partying to do. PokerListings.com wishes Shankar all the best in his poker future, and keep an eye out for this one. Even Phil Hellmuth thinks he's an animal.

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