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A Poker Life -- Noah Schwartz

Schwartz Uses Poker As A Distraction After Family Tragedy

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Noah Schwartz at a WPT Final TableThose who believe that the outcome of a poker tournament is largely based on luck should take a look at poker pro Noah Schwartz. The 29-year-old Miami native who built his fortune at the poker tables has been one of the most consistent players on the tournament circuit since 2007, having earned nearly $3.5 million in winnings and untold riches playing in some of the most exclusive cash games around.

The self-made man has an uncanny ability to successfully predict outcomes and perform statistical odds permutations while using his image to manipulate his opponents. The end result is a six-year stretch that includes 62 cashes, 21 final tables and 5 outright victories.

Unfortunately, it took an unforeseen tragedy for Schwartz to find his true calling as a poker player. Here’s a look at how he overcame adversity to become the player he is today.

A Much Needed Distraction

It initially started as passing interest. It was just supposed to take his mind off devastating news that his father had passed away. At 17 years old, Schwartz allowed himself to be fully engulfed by the game of poker, if only to ease the pain.

“It was relatively sudden,” he recalled.” During my senior year of high school, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the time, he kind of played it off to my brother and I that he was going to be alright. Not knowing any better, we trusted what he was telling us. The cancer, however, had already spread to different parts of his body. Before we knew it, he was undergoing chemotherapy and had dropped from 230 to 170 pounds. He became really weak. Suddenly, we could all see the inevitable.”

Robert Schwartz died on July 4, 2000. Almost immediately, the youngest member of the Schwartz household began jumping into home games with his buddies, doing whatever he could to distract himself.

“I needed something to keep me busy and keep my mind occupied,” he admitted. “My father was my heart and soul. Without him I felt as if there was no me, but I had to carry on in life, if not for me, then for him. I wrote a ten-page letter and placed it in his coffin, vowing to devote everything I did in my life in his memory.”

From Baseball To Poker

Schwartz began playing baseball at the age of five and developed into a top-rated talent by the time he reached high school. As a left-handed pitcher, he was considered a valuable commodity, especially to college recruiters. During his senior year, however, an injury derailed his chances at the next level.

“I developed a condition called medial epicondylitis,” he said. “That’s a fancy way of saying that my tendons had been ripped apart in my arm. The doctors believed that it happened because I learned to throw curveballs at a very young age, which can cause a lot of strain and prohibit the tendons from strengthening properly. I had talked to some people about playing at the University of Miami, but I didn’t want to ride the bench while I went through rehabilitation. Instead, I went to Florida International University, only I didn’t end up getting Tommy John surgery like they wanted. When I got back on the diamond I began overcompensating, and ultimately hurt my shoulder and was never able to regain the same velocity on my fastball. I tried to make it work, but I was never able to play competitively again.”

Noah Schwartz Competes In Monte CarloWith his baseball career over before it started, Schwartz turned to poker. The weekly home game wasn’t running often enough to help Schwartz deal with his grief, so he convinced his uncle Bill to co-sign on a credit card to help him get a bankroll started online.

“PartyPoker had a $1,000 limit at the time and I had no sense of bankroll management,” Schwartz admitted. “I was playing in $50 and $100 buy-ins. I somehow managed to win this $162 buy-in tournament for $40,000 within my first few months even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I remember during that tournament, I called off half my stack with K-10 suited and somehow managed to crack pocket aces.”

Schwartz obsessed over his new hobby day and night, treating it like a video game. At one point, he jumped into the $25-$50 and $50-$100 cash games. Within a week, he had run his online bankroll up to $195,000. That money, however, he’d never actually get to spend.

“I thought it was so easy,” Schwartz said. “I had never seen that much money in my life, but all of a sudden, I felt like I could be earning six figures on a very consistent basis. I was absolutely addicted and found myself staying up hours on end to play online. Within a month, it was all gone and my account balance was at zero. I suffered from anxiety, I was getting chest pains and all I could think about was how I blew all the money and how I really lost perspective on things. It was like the old cliche that says, ‘easy come, easy go.’”

Working His Way Back

Schwartz had thrown away nearly a quarter of a million dollars, but he wasn’t ready to give up on his dream of becoming a professional poker player. After graduating from FIU with a degree in finance, Schwartz took a regular nine-to-five job helping people with bad credit refinance their mortgages. Working off commission, he used the income to finance his fledgling poker career.

“I was a believer,” he said. “I guess I was a little naïve. I didn’t know if my career was definitely going to materialize, but I had faith.”

In 2007, Schwartz broke through, winning the PokerStars Sunday Million for $291,473.
“I was actually attending a wedding in North Florida with a date and I forced her to leave early so that I could get back home and play in that tournament. I was down to my last $1,800 in my account, but decided to just roll the dice on the $1,000 buy-in anyway. That tournament win was really the stepping stone I needed to start playing poker full time.”

Transitioning From Gambler To Poker Player

Schwartz didn’t bother getting his feet wet in some of the smaller events on the live tournament circuit. Instead, he jumped right into the $5,000 and $10,000 events, going relatively deep in the 2007 WSOP main event and narrowly missing out on a final table appearance in another preliminary tournament. After notching a few small cashes on the World Poker Tour, Schwartz scored a monster payday by taking fourth in the 2008 Borgata Winter Open for $331,958. It was the most money Schwartz had ever seen and he admittedly made some unwise purchases with it.

“The day I got back from Atlantic City, I walked into the Range Rover dealership and paid $106,000 in cash for a car. I don’t come from money, so that experience was very surreal for me. I used to be the broke kid and here I was with all of this money, so I decided to splurge a bit.”

Fortunately for Schwartz, the purchases weren’t enough to cripple his bankroll. The Floridian was just finding his way on tour and began to learn the ins and the outs of the poker world. He managed four more final tables over the next year before finishing eighth in the 2009 WSOP $40,000 buy-in event for $246,834. There were a number of other close calls before he got another shot at a televised win, taking third in the 2010 WPT Festa Al Lago main event for another $344,968.

While others may go years between six-figure scores, Schwartz was putting them on his resume with incredible consistency. After a late 2011 run that saw him make a WSOP Europe and Epic Poker League final table, Schwartz started off his 2012 campaign with a win in a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure preliminary event. The next month, he made yet another televised WPT final table, taking fourth in the L.A. Poker Classic for $355,750. During the summer, he finished sixth in the EPT Grand Final high roller event for $219,535 and then finally put it together for his first major win, taking down the WPT Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble main event for another $402,970.

Perhaps Schwartz’s biggest tournament moment of the year came in an event he didn’t cash in . With momentum and renewed confidence, he formed an LLC called One Drop Investments and sought out the capital needed to play the most prestigious event ever assembled, the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop. Unfortunately, things didn’t materialize for Schwartz as he was knocked out on day 2.

“I’m really proud of how consistent I’ve been as a player,” said Schwartz. “I know how difficult it is to cash, and more so to win, so I take pride in it. I don’t play every event on the tournament circuit anymore, but when I do play, I make sure I’m always giving it my best shot. The end result is a pretty good track record and a good stretch of big scores without too many dry spells. When I finally won a WPT event at my fourth televised final table, I knew that I had officially made it. Someone asked me before heads-up play if I was going to win, and I honestly told them that I had no other option.”

Moving Forward

Schwartz is ecstatic about his 2012 results and hopes to duplicate them moving forward, but he also doesn’t want to become so engrossed in his career that he loses focus on what he calls, “the bigger picture.”

“Of all the things my father taught me, it’s that life is precious and nothing is guaranteed. I don’t want to waste mine on a plane, traveling from stop to stop, or sitting in a casino all day long. I am here to make a difference.”

Though he hasn’t decided on the specific cause, Schwartz is currently in the process of beginning a non-profit organization in the memory of his father and hopes to help children who are terminally ill.

“I don’t care about the stuff anymore,” said Schwartz. “I’ve outgrown that phase of my life. Now, it’s important for me to truly focus on my own happiness outside of material things. The joy I receive from helping others and brightening other lives is a true blessing. I never envisioned when I started playing poker. I’m incredibly blessed and fortunate to be where I am today, but I’m not going to let the game define me as a person. I’m going to ride the wave for a while, but if I end up half the man my father was, I’ll have lived a successful life.” ♠