Ylon Schwartz has been a chess master for years, but on Saturday he officially joined poker’s elite by winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet. Schwartz outlasted 889 players to take top position in Event 27 $1,500 H.O.R.S.E for a first place prize of $267,081.
The Brooklyn, New York, resident was nearly speechless after beating David Chiu heads-up to claim the bracelet. “I’ve been a professional poker player for a long time and this means a lot,” he said. “You’re doing something forever and you want that feather in your cap. To reach the pinnacle of whatever you’re doing – for poker players this is it.”
The former professional chess player won his bracelet in style as the final table proved to be a difficult one, with pros Stephen Chidwick and David Chiu in the final three. “It was a real seesaw tournament for everybody,” said Schwartz. “The stacks were just going up and down all day. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years playing cards.”
Despite the massive difference in payout, Schwartz said making the Main Event final and winning his first bracelet weren’t all that different. “The Main Event was probably more intense because of the break, the original November Nine and the hassles.” Schwartz also said that it was difficult because of how many friends asked to borrow money. “This one they can’t really hit me up for that much,” he laughed.
Ylon Schwartz (above), a chess master who earned more than $3.7 million finishing fourth in the 2008 Main Event, knows a thing or two about making the transition to poker. “A lot of people are broke playing chess,” Schwartz told PokerListings.com in Las Vegas. “And they all have a strong background in analysis and studying so it makes a lot of sense to make the move to poker to actually make some money,” he said.
Schwartz has live poker tournament results stretching all the way back to 2004, and it’s certainly safe to say he’s made the vast majority of his living from poker in the last decade. “It’s really hard to make it to the top 20 in chess, which is where you have to be to make serious money,” explained Schwartz. “Everyone’s making the jump to poker because the money’s just astronomical,” he said.
In chess tournaments matches are determined by a rating system, so it’s rare to have a big edge over your opponent in terms of skill. In poker it’s often the complete opposite. “In these fields it’s just full of stone cold novices,” said Schwartz. “You have to dodge a lot of bullets in these big field tournaments, but hopefully if you’re the better player you’re going to win the money in the end,” he said.
The list of chess players who have done big things at the WSOP is long, but there are a few players in particular from whom we’re expecting big things this summer. Australian James Obst had a chess rating of 2283 and was considered a very promising junior player, but made the switch to poker and has since become one of the most dominant online tournament players in the game. Having just turned 21 this year, he’s finally old enough to take a shot at the World Series of Poker.
Vladimir Shchemelev (above) was a chess prodigy as a child and made a huge splash at the 2010 WSOP when he final-tabled four events, including a runner-up finish in the $50k Players Championship worth almost $1 million. Shchemelev is one of a large group of Russian chess players who have put their skills to work on the table.
Alexander Grischuk was the 2009 Russian champion of chess and despite not having any WSOP results, he has played in at least two WSOP Main Events, in 2009 and 2010. Grischuk made it to Day 3 in 2010 and reportedly lost an enormous pot with pocket queens all-in preflop against K-6 to lose the majority of his stack. “Grischuk is playing a ton of poker now so you can definitely expect him to do something big,” said Ylon Schwartz. Grischuk’s biggest poker result so far is a 33rd at the 2008 EPT Barcelona main event worth $25,678.
Two world-class female chess players dominated the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational in Los Angeles in 2011 en route to making the final table. And while Almira Skripchenko and Dinara Khaziyeva didn’t win, they proved they’re poised for big things in poker.
Successful transit from chess to poker: WGM and IM Almira Skripchenko
"Historically, chess players have proven the transition to poker to be a profitable one," writes the author on PokerListings.
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