FM Ylon Schwartz Makes WSOP Final Table
By Jennifer Shahade   
August 30, 2008
Ylon hard at work in his chess-studying days.
Brooklyn based gamesplayer FM Ylon Schwartz , has bested over 6800 players to qualify for the final table of the 2008 No-Limit Poker World Championship, to be held November 9-10. The yearly event held in Las Vegas, Nevada is also known as the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main event. The Championship up to the final table took place July 3-14, and ESPN coverage begins right after Labor Day weekend, September 2, Tuesday at 9 PM EST.

Ylon is also well known in the chess world. His USCF rating peaked at 2408 and he currently stands at 2304 USCF, 2259 FIDE.   

Schwartz's prize will be anywhere from $900,670 for ninth place to a grand prize of over nine million dollars. Ylon is currently ranked fifth place in chips and even though it's not over yet, Ylon is almost guaranteed to turn in the most impressive poker result from a chess master ever. Dan Harrington (2355 USCF) , won the 1995 World Poker Championship, but there were only 273 entrants in the 1995 Series Main Event compared to 6844 (!) in 2008.  Unless Ylon comes in ninth place, his prize will exceed Dan Harrington's one million dollar cash-out. 

It took less than two weeks to whittle nearly 7,000 poker players to nine, but for the first time ever, the WSOP Main Event final table has been delayed, to November 9. This innovative promotional idea gives poker media plenty of time to hype the "November nine." The players must also be happy about it: Previously unknown players now have time to seek agents and potentially lucrative sponsorship deals. Tom Braunlich's recent article, Playoff Theory describes a similar delayed playoff structure idea for major chess events, which CCA and USCF president Bill Goichberg favors.

When CLO caught up with Ylon online, he was still reeling from the excitement and the stress of his amazing showing.

Ylon at the 2008 World Seriesof Poker
Ylon told CLO that chessplayers often make bad poker players because they are too practical and don't like to lose: "In poker tournaments, the best players cash out around 15% of the time. Can you imagine chessplayers losing 85% of the time?" Ylon did say that players with a firm grasp on the power of chess psychology    would probably make excellent poker players.  He pinpointed the late World Champion Mikhail Tal and American IM Emory Tate as two daring players who'd likely excel at poker.

Personally, Ylon's experience with chess helped him with patience and memory. Ylon described himself as sometimes too patient for chess- "I was a time pressure addict." In poker, using too much time can't cause you to lose. In the worst case scinerio, a player will "call the clock" on a thoughtful player, who will have one minute to make a decision. If the player totally freezes, the hand will be folded, but this rarely happens unless a player wanted to fold anyway. Even calling the clock is pretty rare, especially against likeable characters such as Ylon--it's considered rude unless someone is thinking for a truly inordinate span. 
You need a lot of luck to win a poker tournament, and Ylon has definitely seen both sides of the luck coin. At the 2007 WSOP, Ylon had two cashes but didn't make any final tables. In a particularly bad beat, a broken foot caused him to miss out on the fabled 50,000$ chess game —Ylon was planning to bet on Greg.

A practitioner of Vikram yoga aka hot yoga, Ylon has a relaxed and open-minded spirit. Ylon was not even thinking about money during the seven grueling days of WSOP play, "I was in a coma. I became a bot. No emotion. I play so much poker, it just felt like another Sunday Million on pokerstars."
For practical and financial reasons, Ylon has not played much chess in the past five years, but says "I just love chess." Ylon plans to play more frequently after the World Series, probably in one round a day events in Europe.

A four-hour schedule may be relaxing for Ylon, because poker tournaments are not all that glamorous: they often go from Noon to 2 AM, which can make playing in the three day section of the World Open seem like an intellectual walk in the park. Of course, there are some gamesplayers who'd beg to differ: you have to be on constant alert during a poker tournament, but since you're not "in the action" most hands, the average intensity of thought is lower. 

Here are three of Ylon's all time favorite chess games, starting with a win over IM Yury Lapshun of MCO and 1.b4 fame. 

Ylon told CLO "I liked sacking the queen- Lapshun was 2505 fide at the time. The game was up for brilliancy prize, but Nakamura (Hikaru was 11 years old and 2340 at the time) got it instead."

Ylon also enjoyed winning the following miniature against Austrian IM Nikola Stajcic: 


Ylon's last FIDE rated tournament was the 2006 Reykjavik Open. It's also Ylon's latest reference in USCF publications-fellow chess turned poker pro Ben Johnson wrote about the event in the June 2006 Chess Life Magazine , and he mentions Ylon's unsuccesful quest in Iceland to meet fellow Brooklynite Bobby Fischer. Here is a win of Ylon's from that event:


ESPN coverage of the 08 series begins on September, 2, Tuesday at 9 PM EST. The finale will take place on November 9-10 in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel. Fans can watch the action unfold November 11 on ESPN. Fellow chess and poker player John Fernandez will be attending the final table in the flesh. He told CLO: "I'm just thrilled that he's the 5th player from the basement game to make it to the final 9 tables of the Main Event now." John used to host a poker game just a few blocks away from the Marshall Chess Club. Participants included Ylon as well as chess/poker luminaries Greg Shahade, Yakov Hirsch, Ben Johnson, Donny Ariel and Noah Siegel. John says Ylon is just an all around good player:  "He can adapt to any style—but he definitely has gamble."
To read more about Ylon's poker results , the "November Nine" and watch an interview with Ylon, go to the official WSOP website.  Also check out Ylon's new website, "Ship The Cheese" and be sure to tune into the final table on Nov.11 to root on Ylon. And when it's all over, bracelet or not, watch out for Ylon's return to 64-squares.