On the Button: with Ylon Schwartz

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Ylon Schwartz, 44, is a one-time chess master who was ranked among the top players in Americain 2008, the year he made the first November Nine, finishing fourth for nearly $4 million. He picked up his first World Series bracelet in 2012, then had a victory and a runner-up finish in the 2013 WSOP Circuit stop in Biloxi, earning him the Player of the Series honors. Our Big Dave Lemmon spoke to him during a break at the recent WPT Hard Rock Showdown in South Florida.

When you look back at the 2008 WSOP final table, what kind of effect do you feel it had on your life? It was a tectonic, monumental shift, about 15 on the Richter scale … changed my life completely. I could drink a lot more after winning that money and I had more money for people to borrow. (laughs) No, but all in all, it was fantastic, and it bought me freedom is really what it did.

It puts you the poker map forever, making you instantly recognizable. Yeah, it helps for future contracts, that sort of thing. And it’s nice to be recognized at the tables occasionally, having a little old lady wanting you to sign a hat. But those days are long gone. It lasted for about two years, then people forget. I guess I have to get back on TV.

After the November Nine was instituted that year, you were very outspoken that you didn’t like it. Do you still feel that way? I don’t like it as a player; it does create some popularity. I understand the (four-month) break; I just don’t think it was as successful as they intended it to be. I haven’t seen them market it properly. I think a few days off would be enough.

Do you still consider yourself a professional player? No, I would say I’m a semipro now. I don’t have anywhere near the volume of play that I had back in the day. I played 50 hours a week then between online and live games and multitabled a crazy amount of games. Since online went away in the U.S., I don’t travel much; it’s just too expensive. Also, I’ve been playing so long that I just don’t have the passion for it that I once did.

Are you looking for a big score to get back into it again? No, no. For example, if I binked this tournament at the Hard Rock, you probably wouldn’t see me for a while. I would play a few events at the World Series, but then probably not again for the rest of the year.

With your past as an outstanding chess player and playing a lot of backgammon, how have those experiences helped your poker game? Are you a big math guy on the felt? Yeah, I crunch the numbers a bit and the chess is great for memorizing numbers. I know how to concentrate for long hours. Both games are somewhat similar to poker and it’s helped me meet many crazy, wild gamblers, successful multimillionaires that have given me good advice, from Grand Masters in chess to backgammon world champions. Just knowing these people helps their success rub off on me a bit.

You won a bracelet in HORSE and there seems to be a recent rejuvenation for mixed games. Are you pleased to see them come back to popularity? Definitely. The mixed games are more fun for me; I enjoy them more than NLHE. There’s a lot of loose money coming into the mixed games as well, which always makes me happy. I wish there were more stud games around.

What will you be concentrating on at the World Series this summer? I’ll play what I can. If I do well early in the series, I generally add tournaments to my schedule, but if I have a rough time, I’ll probably take a few days off and just play what’s comfortable.

What do you think of the Florida poker scene that has emerged over the past few years? Florida is great; there’s a lot of money here and the players are, in general, not super-sophisticated, so a lot of professional players are moving here. I like coming to the Palm Beach Kennel Club, so I can run downstairs and bet on the dogs. And you have the beach, the drinking and the beautiful women; everything is lovely here in Florida.