Schwartz win cements spot atop South Florida poker

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When I looked at the July cover of Ante Up featuring Mt. Rushmore with a Blue Shark Optics-wearing George Washington, a thought came to me: If I were choosing a Mt. Rushmore of South Florida poker players, who would be on it? They should be ranked near the top echelon of the poker world, have spent much of his (or her) formative years growing up in South Florida, and have at least one major title on the resume. The first two choices were no-brainers: Michael Mizrachi and Jason Mercier. Next would be Matt Waxman of Parkland (moved to South Florida at the age of 10 from New Jersey), who picked up a World Poker Tour title in Paris in 2011. However, I struggled a bit when trying to come up with a fourth and final choice.
Today, I have no doubts. After putting his name on the WPT Champions Cup for the first time with his November victory at the bestbet Jacksonville Fall Series, Miami Beach’s Noah Schwartz fits the bill with flying colors.

An avid participant in all sports as a youngster, Schwartz told me he was a promising left-handed pitcher in high school and that “a baseball career was my first dream, but I tore the ligaments in my elbow and I ended up falling into poker instead.”
He gave me a little background on his start in poker: “It’s kind of a sad story, actually. My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16 before my senior year of high school and online poker was my escape from reality at that time. It helped me cope with his passing. With my sports background, I’m very competitive and I decided I wanted to give this a go. I had a full academic scholarship at Florida International University and ended up depositing some of that money into online poker accounts. However, I made a commitment to my father to get my college education and no matter what happened I would finish school. I got my degree in finance from FIU, however, I’ve never had a real job in my life but I’ve met so many great people in the poker world and it’s opened a lot of doors for me.”

Looking back on his early career in the game, he pinpointed his first major turning point. “In 2007, I won what was at the time the largest Sunday Million with a $1,100 buy-in. I got down to head-to-head and chopped it for $360K; that really got me started. It was life-changing money for me, and I seem to excel when my back is against the wall. I was in North Florida at a wedding that weekend and I told the girl I was with that we had to leave early so I could play poker; she told me I was crazy. I wired what was pretty much my last $1,100 and somehow I got back home and chopped it.”

Later that year, Schwartz began playing in major WPT events along with extended action at the World Series, and in January 2008 made his first WPT final table, finishing fourth and cashing for more than $311K at the Borgata. A WPT Festa Al Lago final table in 2009 (third, $345K) and a fourth in the WSOP Europe’s mixed-max event in 2011 gained him considerable international recognition.

Shortly after that, when he appeared on my Poker Action Line radio show, Schwartz felt like he was moving in the right direction, but still was striving to reach the next level.

“I’ve made a few TV final tables so people are starting to know who I am, and I’ve been so close, but every time I’ve gotten there, something seems to go wrong,” he said. “At times I feel unfulfilled because although I have close to $2 million in earnings and have that consistency, that big title has definitely eluded me, so I’m going to work hard in 2012 and get one, or maybe two or three.”

It took a while, but 2012 was the year. It started well with a win at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in a pot-limit Omaha event, followed by solid runs close to home at the Isle Classic and then the Lucky Hearts Open at the Hard Rock in Hollywood. In the spring, Schwartz went on the road and scored big with final-table appearances at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic and the EPT Grand Final in Monaco, pushing his earnings for the year past $700K heading into the WSOP. However, he was only able to manage two small cashes in Vegas. After some time off, he headed to bestbet for the fall series.

Schwartz got off to a great start in Jacksonville and finished Day 1 in seventh place. He then finished Day 2 with 916K chips for second place, just 8K behind leader Joseph Elpayaa. On Day 3, Schwartz survived an early scare, then took control.

“There were a couple of hands that went my way and I was very fortunate in one spot not to get knocked out 26th or 27th. Then I won a pot for about 5 million chips with A-K vs. A-Q, and after that I really had a lot of confidence. I said to myself, ‘I can’t let this opportunity slip away, because I’ve been so close before.’ It was just one of those events where everything fell together and I couldn’t do anything wrong.”

Entering the final table with 43 percent of the chips, Schwartz eliminated Lee Markholt on the first hand when his pocket queens held up against A-K. With nearly 8 million chips and everyone else with less than 2 million, the big-stack clinic was on.

“Since the pay jumps were relatively big at that point, I knew that the other players would be playing careful, so I wanted to put as much pressure on them as I could, letting them make decisions for their tournament life.”

After 68 final-table hands, the tournament was down to two, and Schwartz quickly dispatched Byron Kaverman in 12 hands to win the title, nearly $403K and a $25,500 entry into the WPT World Championship at the Bellagio in May.

Seeing his name on the WPT Champions Cup was probably the biggest thrill of all for Schwartz, who said, “I’d envisioned it for a long time, so it was a huge sigh of relief to get it done and it’s a really fascinating feeling.”

I asked if he planned to move to Las Vegas like many other big-name players, but Schwartz said he loves living in South Florida and, despite the lack of high stakes cash games in the state, he’s happy with his Sunny Isles condo and life in the Magic City. “I’ve never been tempted to move anywhere else,” he said.

Besides, we have to get to work on that Mt. Rushmore; maybe a giant sand sculpture will do for the time being.

— Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador.

WPT Rock N’ Roll Open, Hard Rock, Hollywood

Event 1 • $125 NLHE
Entries: 2,298 • Pool: $229,800
Chase Hoskins, $13,788*
Event 2 • $240 Bounty
Entries: 98 • Pool: $9,800
Oktay Altinbas, $2,695*
Event 3 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 120 • Pool: $15K
Mathew Pokorny, $3,898*
Event 4 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 120 • Pool: $15K
Sidney Phillips, $4,796*
Event 5 • $240 Omaha/8
Entries: 60 • Pool: $12K
Rick Semander, $1,600*
Event 6 • $300 NLHE
Entries: 121 • Pool: $31,460
Daren Stabinski, $6K*
Event 7 • $240 NLHE
Entries: 126 • Pool: $25,200
Robert Rudolf, $5,500*
Event 8 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 160 • Pool: $19,200
Paul Balzano, $3,977*
Event 9 • $300 Seniors
Entries: 50 • Pool: $13K
Allan Bieler, $5K
Event 10 • $240 Bounty
Entries: 117 • Pool: $11,700
Alex Findlay, $3,860
Event 11 • $350 PLO
Entries: 45 • Pool: $15K
Bradford Ernst, $6,150
Event 12 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 113 • Pool: $15K
Alejandro Zamora, $3,500*
Event 13 • $350 NLHE
Entries: 1,138 • Pool: $341K
Michael Laake, $78,784
Event 14 • $100 NLHE
Entries: 129 • Pool: $10,320
Atanael Thomas, $3,404
Event 15 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 108 • Pool: $15K
Atanael Thomas, $3,898*
Event 16 • $300 NLHE
Entries: 95 • Pool: $25K
Ramial Basdeo, $2,778*
Event 17 • $240 PLO/8
Entries: 68 • Pool: $13,600
Joseph Patalano, $5,032
Event 18 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 216 • Pool: $25,920
Alix Aldonis, $7,261
Event 19 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 122 • Pool: $15K
Jessica Meir, $4K*
$1,650 Main Event
Entries: 329 • Pool: $493,500
Victor Figueroa, $105K*
Event 21 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 145 • Pool: $17,400
Howard Becks, $5,566
Event 22 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 115 • Pool: $15K
Atanael Thomas, $3,485*
Event 23 • $560 NLHE
Entries: 62 • Pool: $40K
Greg Spinder, $12,800
Event 24 • $125 AIOF
Entries: 50 • Pool: $3,750
Julio Fernandez, $950*

WPT Stax Lounge Fall Open, Seminole Coconut Creek

Event 1 • $100 NLHE
Entries: 227 • Pool: $18,468
Joseph Biegler, 1,828*
Event 2 • $200 PLO
Entries: 52 • Pool: $8,892
Andrew Woodmancey, $2,675
Event 3 • $200 NLHE
Entries: 105 • Pool: $17,955
Andrew Woodmancey, $3,897
Event 4 • $200 O/8
Entries: 57 • Pool: $9,747
Marla Crumpler, $2,154
Event 5 • $150 NLHE
Entries: 177 • Pool: $22,302
Alan Slackman, $6,915
Event 6 • $150 H-U
Entries: 32 • Pool: $5K
Juha Puijola, $2K
Event 7 • $175 Bounty
Entries: 38 • Pool: $6K
Oktay Altinbas, $845
Event 8 • $120 NLHE
Entries: 83 • Pool: $8,217
Patrick Peduto, $2,876
Event 9 • $150 6-Max
Entries: 83 • Pool: $10,458
Joe Patalano, $3,660
Event 10 • $120 NLHE
Entries: 81 • Pool: $8,019
Tom Currey, $1,890*
$500 Main Event
Entries: 308 • Pool: $150K
Stewart Newman, $28,012*
Event 12 • $150 H.O.R.S.E.
Entries: 53 • Pool: $6,678
Andrew Woodmancey, $2,210
Event 13 • $200 NLHE
Entries: 37 • Pool: $8K
Jean Munoz, $1,640*
Event 14 • $125 NLHE
Entries: 32 • Pool: $6K
Ian O’Hara, $2,502
* Denotes chop or deal