This is the sixth in a nine-part series taking a look at the players set to battle at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event final table on Nov. 9. Ylon Schwartz steps into the spotlight this time after grinding his way to the final table.
Let me just come out and say this right now before we get any further: I want Ylon Schwartz to win the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event. The reasons for this complete abandonment of the pursuit of, ahem, objective journalism are as follows:
First, I love chess. I'm horrible at it, much like poker, but I also love it, much like poker. Schwartz, like Dan Harrington, is a chess master, and once achieved a rating of 2366. That's freaky good.
And as many times as you hear people say poker is a lot like chess, Schwartz is living proof.
Schwartz said the ability to sit for long hours and strategize is one of the reasons chess compares to poker, but more importantly, it is the face-to-face encounters that factor in most.
"[Chess] is good for patience' sake," said Schwartz. "To sit there for long hours and calculate. It's also based in mathematics and geometry and memory. Meeting people over the board one-on-one and competing and getting reads for how people analyze things really transfers well over to poker."
Second, Ylon's got more than just a little street in him. Schwartz is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and started playing chess when he was 13 years old. Soon he was skipping school to play for money.
He claimed he played because he sees the game - its beauty and simplicity - as art, not because of money. In fact, he barely earned any money from it at all.
"With chess hustling, 95% of your time is [spent] sitting around waiting for a fish to sit down and play you for $5," said Schwartz. "I was living in Hell's Kitchen and lucky to make $50 a day. If I had a $100-$200 day, that was like a miracle."
School's great and all, but that's rad. Never mind all that art and beauty (we writers hate that kind of stuff); give me the chops and I'd be out there hustlin' chess every day just to say I could.
Third, I wish my name was Ylon. Let's face it, so do you.
Fourth, Schwartz looks and sounds more than a little like Yoda. I mean in that ageless-master-still-knows-how-to-score-with-the-ladies type way.
Fifth, dude's Web site is called "Ship the Cheese." Apparently the name is a combination of sayings that are used in the poker world and on the streets of New York.
"I didn't [plan it], it just kind of came out," said Schwartz of the name. "There's no real reference point as to when or why it started. Money is called 'cheese' on the street - common reference for cash. [And] you know when you win a pot - you want the chips, you say 'Ship it.' It kind of makes people feel good."
"Ship the Cheese" could be the start of the 33rd psalm for all I care, it's pretty funny all on its own. No explanation needed.
But I suggest you visit the Web site. He definitely has fun with it and obviously has a wicked sense of humour. In fact, I am still not convinced half of the stuff he said is for real, rather than part of some subtle joke meant only for him and the few long-term, true-blue friends he's close to.
Sixth, Schwartz could have been a stockbroker, and was even offered work from some of the people he met while playing chess, but said thanks, but no thanks.
"I like to sit on my ass and make money," said Schwartz. "I don't like having a boss. That is the beautiful part about poker. I could have already been a multimillionaire if I had taken those jobs, but I didn't want a boss. I liked my lifestyle out there too much to give it up."
Seventh, if he wins, Schwartz is not going to be afraid to mix drinks.
"If I won $9 million I know exactly what I would do," said Schwartz. "I would go drink a whole lot of tequila. I would get the best tequila there is and … drink it. I'd become a high-class wino for the next 10 years."
Ummmm … wine and tequila. A combination unrivaled in Degenerate's Guide to Mixed Drinks, and a page I myself have read far too many times.
Eighth, Schwartz is a career pro with his feet on the ground who grew up poor, has been grinding for years and deserves to be there.
He made the switch from chess to backgammon and eventually poker because some guy named Fat Nick told him he was going to have to learn more than one game if he was going to survive.
"One of the guys I met out there on the street was named Fat Nick," said Schwartz. "I love talking about Fat Nick. He was an old-time gambler and hustler and he played backgammon very, very well. He was one of the big showmen out there on the street.
"I really didn't want to become a gambler, but I loved to play chess - it was artistic; I was passionate about it - but, you know, I was broke.
"Fat Nick had a backgammon club, and in the winter we used to have little freezeouts and I started winning those tournaments and started to hit Atlantic City and that was that."
Ninth, did we mention that his name is Ylon? That's pronounced EE-Lon.
Tenth, no doubt about it Schwartz is a great, great story. From the streets, funny as hell, fantastic mind, the perfect hustler savant. And that is great for poker.
Schwartz starts the 2008 WSOP Nov. 9 final table with $12,525,000 in chips, good for a solid fourth position against rivals Dennis Phillips, Ivan Demidov, Peter Eastgate, Scott Montgomery, Darus Suharto, Craig Marquis and Kelly Kim.
As for how Schwartz is feeling about his chances, he said he's kept a very normal schedule and is in a good place despite all the hype around the Nov. 9 final table.
"You know, I've played in thousands of poker tournaments," said Schwartz. "Maybe I am a little nervous but I feel good. I feel loose."
The next stop on the November Nine train of stories will come on Tuesday.