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Loni Harwood Makes Three Final Tables and Wins Bracelet at 2013 World Series of Poker

Women Continue to Crush at WSOP, Make Significant Strides on the Live Tournament Circuit

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Oct 01, 2013


Six cashes, three final tables, a bracelet and $874,698 in earnings. That’s the poker tournament resume you expect to see from players such as Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu at the World Series of Poker.

Instead, those statistics belongs to 23-year-old Loni Harwood.

Women performed incredibly well at the 2013 WSOP, but it was Harwood, a Staten Island, NY native, who made headlines by consistently proving she could not only hang with the guys, but dominate as well.

What made Harwood’s runs even more impressive was the sheer size of each tournament she was forced to navigate through. Playing in tournaments with buy-ins of $1,500 or less, Harwood cashed in events featuring 936, 1,194, 2,071, 2,816 and 6,343 players. The event she won boasted a field of 2,541, a $609,017 score. She also tied a record for the most final table appearances (three) by a female player.

Harwood grew up with a passion for games, much like her father. She started with chess before moving to poker while attending college. She spent a couple of years perfecting a strategy to dominate satellite tournaments before graduating to the live arena. Though she’s only been playing poker on the circuit for two years, she has already made a name for herself as one of the top up-and-comers in the game.

Card Player caught up with Harwood shortly after she won event no. 60, a $1,500 no-limit hold’em tournament, to discuss how she got into poker and fine-tuned her game for success.

Julio Rodriguez: Were you destined to become a poker player or did you have other plans growing up?

Loni Harwood: I was a pretty good student. I was always in honors classes. The plan was to go to college. I never really committed to any particular career path though. I was living in New York with my mom, but I would go down to Florida three or four times each year to visit my dad. In high school, I spent one whole trip watching my dad play on PokerStars.

He was always into games and was always kind of a hustler. He was big into bridge and also got me really into chess before he started playing online poker. I was kind of a nerd growing up, competing in chess tournaments and winning some trophies. Poker was much cooler.

JR: How would you rate his poker skills?

LH: He’s really good. He won a stud World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) bracelet back in 2009. I’m exactly like my dad. We have a very similar mind set and it was very easy for him to basically teach me what I should be thinking about when I’m playing.

JR: Did you jump right into poker or did you go to college first?

LH: Both. I enrolled at SUNY Albany in 2008 and studied finance. When I wasn’t taking classes, however, I was playing online poker. I became really good at playing satellites tournaments. I would win entries into bigger events, unregister, and then sell the tournament dollars to my dad, who liked to play the regular tournaments. It was great for me because nobody was tracking satellites, so I was able to make $215 at a time and kind of remain unknown.

I did that for a couple years and then I started to play live poker. I was playing in underground games and at Turning Stone, which was an 18 and over casino. I graduated after Black Friday, so I decided to move to Florida to play live poker and see if I could make it as a pro. I moved there in January of 2012 and in February, I won a WSOP Circuit event for more than $30,000. That was the instant bankroll I needed to start playing $2-$5 cash games. I won two smaller events over the next couple months and then, in May, I went to New Orleans and won another Circuit ring for $23,000.

JR: What kind of advice did your father give you that helped you with your progression as a player?

LH: When I made my first day two in a poker tournament, I was so excited just to bag up my chips for the night. Honestly, I started to settle for that accomplishment, but my dad pushed me to never be satisfied. It was all about the power of positive thinking. I told myself I was going to win. I don’t believe that positive people get better cards or anything like that, but it keeps your mind from falling into negativity. If you get down on yourself for making a mistake, you’ll continue to make mistakes. Now when I play, I always believe that I’m going to do well.

JR: You finished school, so you already have a better work ethic than many of your peers. How did you apply that to poker?

LH: I wasn’t big into poker books, but I read a lot of data. I had a friend who was a successful cash-game player who allowed me to look over some hand histories. I was reading all of this information and I started to recognize patterns. There were a lot of spots that I realized were exploitable, so I started incorporating them into my own game. Just like in the hand histories, they were working for me as well. That’s when things really started clicking for me and, ever since, I make sure to continue going over past hands. I have a big group of poker friends, including my dad, who are nice enough to go over hands with me and share their opinions. There’s always something you can tweak, whether it’s betting patterns or making sure you are making optimal bet sizes.

JR: Some men play women differently at the tables. Is there anything you’ve had to adjust for?

LH: Before I won my bracelet, people believed I was a much tighter player than I was, which allowed me to take advantage of a lot of situations. Every once in a while in cash games, I run into guys who feel the need to teach me a lesson or something. I don’t know if it’s because they think I’m a pushover or if they feel they have to prove themselves. Now that I have a bracelet, I guess it depends on whether or not I’m recognized.

JR: Do you believe your bracelet win will help continue the push for more women in poker and do you care where you rank among other female players?

LH: I do recognize that my success might encourage other women to take a shot. The main event this year saw a huge increase in the number of ladies who played, and I think that’s because more and more women are making deep runs and winning tournaments. The ladies event is a good first step for a lot of women to get their feet wet, and then, after that, they are much more comfortable playing in the open events.

That being said, being the best female player doesn’t mean anything if you can’t beat everyone else as well. In other words, I’d rather be known for being a great player than a great female player.

Harwood’s Strong Summer

Event No. 6 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em 560th $3,082
Event No. 18 $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em 43rd $6,784
Event No. 31 $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Eight-or-Better 6th $39,803
Event No. 36 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em 86th $5,556
Event No. 53 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em 4th $210,456
Event No. 60 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em 1st $609,017

Women Continue To Make Significant Strides on the Live Tournament Circuit

The 2012 World Series of Poker was supposed to be an anomaly for women. There were three female bracelet winners (Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, Yen Dang and Vanessa Selbst), a number of runner-up finishers (Patricia Baker, Amanda Musumeci and Jackie Glazier) and an extraordinarily high number of final table appearances. To top it all off, two women (Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann) bubbled the main event final table.

At the WSOP, women typically make up three to five percent of a poker tournament field, depending on the buy-in. The simple truth is that, based on their total entrants, the women outperformed the men, both in cashing and prize payout percentage. Female players did so well, that the 2012 WSOP was dubbed by some media outlets as “The Year of the Woman.”

However, a look at the 2013 WSOP showed similar, if not better numbers and women have been killing it on the rest of the tournament circuit as well.

Perhaps it’s time to stop looking at 2012 like some sort of fluke and start recognizing that the ladies are fixing to become a much more permanent fixture in the winner’s circle.

Ladies Championship Acts as Feeder into Other Events

The WSOP is guaranteed at least one female bracelet winner each year, thanks to the $1,000 buy-in ladies event. This year’s contest saw slight growth, despite the lack of male entrants, increasing from 936 to 954 players. After three days of action, it was Card Player blogger Kristin Bicknell who came out on top, scoring a $173,922 payday.

Bicknell, who regularly chases SuperNova Elite status on PokerStars in her native Canada, makes the trip to the summer series each year, but especially enjoys playing in the ladies event.

“I have worked really hard in poker the last couple of years,” said Bicknell. “It still feels like all my hard work paid off. This was supposed to be just a fun little trip for me. I mostly play cash games online, but I figured I would play the ladies event, since it’s always fun.”

Bicknell’s thoughts were echoed by longtime grinder and fellow bracelet winner Cyndy Violette.

“The ladies events have really introduced the game to number of new players who wouldn’t otherwise have played,” said Violette. “These women are coming in, attending poker boot camps and seminars, and learning at a rapid rate.”

Open Tournament Success at WSOP

When it comes to open tournament success, women winners are becoming more of a regular occurrence. Vanessa Selbst won an open pot-limit Omaha event in 2008 and no female was able to duplicate that feat until 2012, when Selbst won a 10-game mix event.

In 2013, two women, Dana Castaneda and Harwood, put their name on that exclusive list that includes players such as Annette Obrestad, Linda Johnson, Katja Thater, Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harman and Violette.

In fact, in the 44-year history of the WSOP, only 23 non-ladies events have been won by women.

Castaneda, a 31-year-old waitress from Bullhead City, Arizona, played in the ladies event thanks to some encouragement from her late grandmother. She finished in 94th place and then took her winnings straight to the registration cage, buying into event no. 54, a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event.

Three days later, Castaneda was the last person standing, earning a whopping $454,207 first-place prize.

The Rest of the Tournament Trail

The WSOP isn’t the only place that women have made their presence known on the tournament circuit. In April of 2012, France’s Lucille Cailly finished runner-up in the €25,000 buy-in European Poker Tour Championship, banking €1,050,000.

Other women to win on the EPT include Liv Boeree, Sandra Naujoks and Vicky Coren, who all claimed seven-figure paydays. Though no woman has ever won an open event on the World Poker Tour, both Kathy Liebert and J.J. Liu have made multiple final tables and finished runner-up in recent years. In January of 2013, Toronto pro Xuan Liu final tabled the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event, Vanessa Selbst won the $25,000 PCA High Roller event and Florida-native Samantha Cohen made the final table of the Aussie Millions Championship.

Most recently, Card Player’s own Allyn Jaffrey Shulman topped a stacked field to win the Card Player Poker Tour Venetian main event and $293,966. In a period of 13 months, Shulman earned more than $1 million.

Pro Female Better Than Average Pro Male?

While some continue to point to ladies events as the catalyst for the recent surge in female bracelet winners, others contend that the average woman poker pro is just plain better than the average male poker pro. Though just a theory, it would explain why ladies cash at a far higher rate than their three-to-five percent entry rate would suggest.

“The average female probably plays online in her spare time, not as a profession,” said Amanda Musumeci, who finished runner-up in a 2012 event for a $481,000 payday. “She’s probably not going to come down to the Rio and put up $1,500 to play in an event. So the women who actually do have what it takes to play are generally better than average male players.”

Jennifer Harman, a two-time bracelet winner who frequented the biggest cash games in the world, agreed.

“You have to have a lot of fortitude to become a serious poker player, especially if you are a woman,” Harman said. “The women who are here, the ones who are successful, are pretty f***ing good. It’s as simple as that.”

Top All Time Tournament Winnings By Female Players

1. Vanessa Selbst – $7,398,454
2. Kathy Liebert – $5,909,130
3. Annie Duke – $4,270,549
4. Annette Obrestad – $3,910,678
5. Vanessa Rousso – $3,504,091
6. Jennifer Harman – $2,697,533
7. J.J. Liu – $2,647,085
8. Liv Boeree – $2,281,097
9. Sandra Naujoks – $1,789,239
10. Vicky Coren – $1,710,813
11. Mimi Tran – $1,676,674
12. Clonie Gowen – $1,639,064
13. Lucille Cailly – $1,545,648
14. Barbara Enright – $1,481,492
15. Xuan Liu – $1,400,837
16. Cyndy Violette – $1,361,082
17. Lucy Rokach – $1,329,115
18. Maria Ho – $1,324,753
19. Allyn Jaffrey Shulman – $1,232,736
20. Isabelle Mercier – $1,215,142
21. Jackie Glazier – $1,188,449
22. Kristy Gazes – $1,079,198
23. Anna Wroblewski – $1,064,273
24. Loni Harwood – $979,801
25. Marsha Waggoner – $922,839

Top Ten Single Female Tournament Payouts

1. Annette Obrestad – 2007 WSOP Europe Main Event – $2,013,734
2. Annie Duke – 2004 WSOP Tournament of Champions – $2,000,000***
3. Vanessa Selbst – 2010 Partouche Poker Tour Cannes – $1,823,430
4. Liv Boeree – 2010 EPT San Remo Main Event – $1,698,300
5. Vanessa Selbst – 2013 PCA High Roller – $1,424,420
6. Lucille Cailly – 2012 EPT Grand Final Main Event – $1,386,267
7. Sandra Naujoks – 2009 EPT Dortmund Main Event – $1,159,541
8. Kathy Liebert – 2002 Party Poker Million – $1,000,000
9. Vicky Coren – 2006 EPT London Main Event – $941,513
10. Vanessa Selbst – 2010 NAPT Mohegan Sun Main Event – $750,000
***Winner-take-all invitational tournament with 10 entries