Mind Sport athlete earns WSOP gold

Flicking through results from the World Series of Poker this week, Ylon Schwartz’s win in the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event stands out.

H.O.R.S.E. combines forms of hold’em, Omaha, and Stud into one event requiring multiple talents. But when it comes to such ability Schwartz has the lot, and not just in poker. Schwartz is a true Mind Sport athlete, excelling in both poker and chess.

Schwartz broke through to the upper echelon of the game finishing fourth in the 2008 WSOP Main Event behind eventual winner Peter Eastgate. Having been a reluctant target of the media spotlight for several intense weeks, Schwartz escaped the attention after the November finale but not before his story, that of a talented Mind Sport competitor emerged.

Schwartz’s took to chess from a young age, playing in both organised competitions and in street games growing up in Manhattan. He excelled in both arenas; making a living from impromptu games in Washington Square Park and obtaining a FIDE rating of more than 2,300.

Then in 2000 Schwartz was introduced to poker by a friend and found within him a natural ability that ultimately led to bigger tournaments and the World Series.

As an article in the New York Times reported at the time, Schwartz put his success down to his chess background, although interestingly Schwartz, whose upbringing was marred by an absentee father and whose mother died in 2003 after a long illness, credited something else:
“Empathy is the most important thing in poker,” he said. “You have to really be aware of what your opponents think. The best thing about poker is that it exposes all your weaknesses.”

Reading the article, it’s easy to see how that might apply to Schwartz both on and off the table.

Now he has the prize he has chased for so long. In a poker career that started a decade ago Schwartz had reached four WSOP final tables and the penultimate table of six other events. Up to now a bracelet had eluded him, but no longer.

After that significant payday four years ago Schwartz fled the media glare. His win last week will not come with quite the same attention, which Schwartz will welcome gladly. Nevertheless, spotlight or not, Schwartz’s performances at the poker table and across the chess board are an inspiring sight.

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