EPT9 Monaco Day 3: Another chapter featuring the enduring enigma of Luke Schwartz
In December 2008, on day one of EPT Prague in season four, there was a guy I didn't know sitting with an enormous amount of chips and I asked him for a quick explanation of how he got them.
"I owned him, I owned him, I owned him, and then I owned him," the player said, pointing at each seat in turn around his table. "He's rubbish," he continued, nodding at another opponent, "and then I owned him."
This "owner" identified himself as a London-based professional named Luke Schwartz, spelling the name out into my notebook. I wryly observed in a blog post that he "wasn't short of confidence" and then lined him up with our video-blog team, who captured the first ever interview with a man who would go on to become one of the most infamous characters in poker.
The video is worth watching, even if you think you've seen enough of Schwartz by now. Note the way he suggests (on day one, remember) that it would be difficult for him not to make the final table, and also the implication that he had been delivered to poker as an antidote to the silent, analytical players. He is a self-professed new messiah, born to save the poker world from boring itself to death.
"I just want to bring a bit of life to this game," he says, and it's worth looking at the grin. Is Luke Schwartz for real, or is his whole career one perfectly pitched performance piece, deeply laced with irony?
I don't know the answer to that, but I know many people whose opinions I respect who say that Luke Schwartz is not only one of the very best tournament players in the world, but also one of the most intriguing people on the planet. They may not lend him money, nor make him a sandwich, but they'll defend Luke Schwartz to the hilt.
Few could argue that Schwartz hasn't delivered on his promise to bring a bit of life to this game over the past five years, even if he hasn't yet made the EPT final table he also said he would. Instead, he has been splashed across the poker press for reasons ranging from million dollar online swings, to alleged snack larceny. He has walked red carpets in to events, only to be picked up by his britches and thrown out the back door. But still he returns and still he is consistent; if "Luke Schwartz" in an act, it is a well-rounded and immersive performance, and it is far from over yet.
Schwartz is now into the money here at EPT Monaco, having survived a couple of all ins near the bubble, chopping one with Toni Judet and then playing a hand against Robin Keston and Ilkin Amirov that was little short of vintage Schwartz.
With the tournament clock clicking down to the end of the level, Keston opened from the hijack and Schwartz moved all in from the button. With his decision made, Schwarz wandered away from the table to talk to friends leaving the tournament floor for their break, much to the chagrin of the dealer. She insisted he return as he was still in the hand.
"We want to get a read of how nervous you are," said Keston as Schwartz was hastened back to the table by a floor-man.
Keston then continued that he had only actually looked at one of his cards and so would have to make a decision on the other one as to whether to call Schwartz's shove. "Can I peel your card!" Schwartz said, moving round the table to stand behind Keston, and reaching for his hand.
"No! I'll get my hand disqualified," Keston said, before asking the tournament director Teresa Nousiainen, "Can he squeeze my hand?"
"Guys!" shouted Nousiainen, quickly pointing out that Amirov was also in the pot, apparently unseen by either Schwartz or Keston.
"I didn't realise that," said Keston. Schwartz said: "Why are you tanking? We've got a break, come on!"
Amirov folded his hand, but wanted it kept to the side so that he could show Schwartz what he was letting go. Nousiainen agreed that he could do that, but then had to return again to adjudicate on the continuing saga between Schwarz and Keston. Schwartz had correctly ascertained that one of Keston's cards was an ace. But the other one was as yet unseen, and Keston, who knows Schwartz from many games played between the two in London, asked for specific permission that would allow Schwartz to look at the unseen card. However he wanted assurance that, "he can peel it, but it doesn't affect my decision?"
Nousiainen is one of the most popular tournament directors in the world, largely because of her willingness to apply common sense to the many tricky decisions the role demands daily. And there was hardly a precedent in this case. Most poker rulebooks will state that only one player can look at a hand, but it has surely never happened that a player who is all in is the one intent on looking for the first time at the cards that might knock him out.
As long as Keston was happy with it, Nousiainen said Schwartz could peel the card. Schwartz crouched down close to the table, picked up a corner and declared: "Oh, it's good."
But good for whom? "It's a fold, it's a fold," Schwarz said, and then made every indication that he was going to throw the hand into the muck, essentially folding on behalf of Keston, without Keston having seen the hand.
"Wait!" Keston said, noticing the horror that was emerging in front of his eyes. But Schwartz still held the card in his hand and flashed a 3♠ to Keston. "Fold," Keston said, relieved. The cards went into the muck.
Amirov then reached for his folded hand. It was two black tens. "I've got nothing," said Schwartz, then: "I've got that beat." And then he went off to the break, his newly acquired chips still in the middle of the table and the rest of his stack scattered across the felt. The dealer began stacking them up on his behalf and Schwarz disappeared.
"Luke loves peeling," Keston told me later. "He wants to squeeze my hand. I'd really only seen the ace, so when he went to put it (the other card) in the muck, I'm like: 'Oh my god! Now what's the ruling going to be if that's a red ace.'...I got special dispensation (for Schwartz to look) and then he's put it in the muck!"
Keston confirmed that it was the three of spades. "He gets off on that sort of adrenalin, the squeeze. He doesn't get enough adrenaline from playing normally.
"It's Luke. Luke is a law unto himself. He's got a charisma about him that he just belts people with. He'll get people around his little finger, because he's got that charisma about him. Everybody else in the room wouldn't have a chance. That's how he's still in action; he's got a nice way about him."
At time of writing he also has about 100,000 chips, which is significantly less than average, but keeps him still on track to make good on that promise made in Prague all those years ago.
A quick note on how to follow our coverage of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final. Head to the main EPT Monaco page, where you will find hand-by-hand coverage from the tables in the panel at the top of the page, which also includes current chip counts and payouts as they happen.
Our feature coverage can be found below the panel, including the latest from the side events.