From Checkmate to All-in
What do Dan Harrington, Dan Smith, Ylon Schwartz and Jennifer Shahade all have in common? Lots of money and poker titles, sure, but all of these names were master class chess players or champions.
Dan Harrington is recognised as one of the best of the old school poker pros, a combination of his WSOP Main Event win in 1995 and his series of books on No Limit Hold’em which became best-sellers in the boom years of the mid-noughties.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1945, Harrington was a chess and backgammon champion before finding poker and has always considered himself as semi-professional as a poker player because of his many and varied business interests, but it hasn’t stopped him from winning the highest accolades in the game as well as $6,618,963 in lifetime tournament earnings.
The WSOP in 1995 was a massive breakthrough event for Harrington, taking the bracelet and $249,000 in the $2500 NLHE event and then 3 days later crowned a fantastic series by winning the Main Event itself – a $1million payday and the fame that comes with it. He topped the year off with two further tournament victories, at the festival of Poker in London and then back in Las Vegas at the Four Queen’s Poker Classic.
When he made back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004 at the WSOP main Event, ESPN commentator Norman Chad hailed it as ‘the greatest accomplishment in World Series history’ – a feat repeated a decade later by Mark Newhouse, who became famous for busting out first in the final table both times.
His nickname – ‘Action Dan’ – was apparently self-styled in a sarcastic nod to his conservative approach to the game, which he outlined in the classic tournament poker manuals ‘Harrington on Hold’em’ Volumes 1-3 (co-authored with Bill Robertie) followed by two volumes on cash game play – books which many of the noughties poker boomers used as their base reference guide to strategy.
Shortly after releasing the third in his book series, Harington scored the biggest payday of his career, winning the Legends of Poker for $1,634,865 by defeating David Pham heads-up in Los Angeles.
In 2010, having cut down his poker play mainly to big WSOP and WPT events, Harrington was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in recognition of his achievements in the game, an award which his old poker friend and foe Erik Seidel also received that year.
Although he plays little these days, focusing instead on his business portfolio, he re-emerged in Ireland for some events over the past few years, explaining to pokerlistings in 2015 that:
‘Both my parents were born in Ireland. My mother is from Waterford and my father is from the Cork area. Several years ago I was invited to come here and since then I’ve kept coming back.’
As if there wasn’t already a large enough choice of books detailing basic strategy for poker tournaments