In winning the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event Sunday, Loni Harwood did a lot more than win her first WSOP gold bracelet.
She collected the largest payout for a woman in Las Vegas during the Series. She propelled herself into third in the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year race, which would be the highest finish for a woman. And she became the first woman to win a WSOP tournament in the same year she made three final tables. Cyndy Violette is the only other woman who even made three final tables in a Series. Harwood is the second woman to capture the hardware this Series, and the victory marked her sixth cash at the 2013 WSOP.
Prior to June, Harwood only had WSOP Circuit event cashes. She’s now the eighth highest female on the all-time WSOP earnings list.
After about an hour and a half of heads up play, Harwood knocked out Yongshuo Zheng and she was immediately swarmed by fans on her rail.
“Honestly, it’s a dream come true,” the 23-year-old said. “I’m pretty much the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Harwood said she learned to play by watching her father play online. After graduating from the State University of New York-Albany with a finance degree in 2012, Harwood moved to Florida to play poker and grind cash games. She quickly found the tournament Circuit, winning two rings the same year she finished school.
“When I first started and I won a ring, I thought it was like the biggest thing in the world,” she said. “But this is like 100-times as cool.”
With the $609,017 prize on Sunday, Harwood has now amassed more than $978,000 in live tournament earnings.
Harwood survived for her tournament life at the final table on Sunday as a huge underdog with play at seven-handed.
In what was easily the most crucial pot of the final table for Harwood, Yngve Steen raised to 85,000 with the blinds at 20,000/40,000 and Harwood three-bet to 175,000. Steen raised back to 395,000 and Harwood tanked before moving all in for about 1.7 million. Steen made a snap call and turned over A A while Harwood showed the A K, in need of a lot of help.
Harwood found a bit of light on the Q J 7 flop that gave her a gutshot to Broadway. The dealer turned the 5 and the T river sent Harwood’s rail into an eruption of cheers, giving her the chip lead and the confidence that helped her capture the bracelet.
“After that, I was like, there’s no way I’m losing,” she said.
Harwood did not let off the gas when play got short-handed. Most of the time, she was the pushing the action, raising preflop, making continuation bets, chipping up and taking down a few big pots in the process.
Hiren Patel found himself crippled after losing a coin flip against Harwood. He put the rest of his chips in the middle with T T and was called by Zheng, who held A K, and Patel was in another race. The A Q 2 flop put Zheng in the lead. And although the J on the turn gave Patel outs to a straight, he could not find one of the three remaining kings on the river. He was sent to the rail in ninth place.
Bijon Notash was the short stack in a three-way all in situation and wound up in second place. With the blinds at 20,000/40,000, the action started with Zheng, who raised to 90,000 before Notash moved all in for 365,000. Daniel Cascado called the all in raise and Zheng moved all in for 755,000 and Cascado called again. Zheng was far ahead when the hands were revealed: his A A was up against the T T of Cascado and the Q Q of Notash. The board ran out safe for Zheng with the J 9 4 K 3 and Notash was sent to the rail in eighth place.
Cascado would later raise to 80,000 from early position before Harwood three-bet to 160,000 from the cutoff. Cy Williams shoved all in for 750,000, Cascado mucked and Harwood called, turning over Q Q against the T T of Williams. As the board ran out K 6 5 3 3, Harwood increased her chip lead and Williams was eliminated in seventh place.
Later on the short stack, Cascado moved all in for 760,000 from under the gun and Harwood called two seats to the left. Cascado turned over 6 6 and Harwood showed A J. The flop of A K Q put Harwood comfortably in the lead, and the turn T gave Cascado only three outs to a straight. But the dealer rolled out the 7 on the river and sent Cascado to the cashier’s cage in sixth place.
At five-handed play, Asi Moshe doubled up Zheng and suddenly Moshe was on the short stack. He moved all in on the next hand and Mika Paasonen shoved over the top. Moshe showed A 7 and Paasonen turned over 9 9, and the pocket pair would hold as the board ran out J T 3  3, sending Moshe to the rail in fifth place.
Yngve Steen was short stacked and moved all in from the small blind, before being called by Harwood in the big blind. Harwood tunred over K Q, far ahead of the K 7 of Steen. Harwood caught a queen on the flop of Q T 2 and Steen needed a lot of help to improve. The turn 5 sealed the hand for Harwood, while the dealer rolled off a meaningless 5 river. Steen was eliminated in fourth place, and Harwood had amassed about 75 percent of the chips in play.
Zheng and Paasonen would clash in a big pot that left Paasonen crippled. Zheng found himself all in preflop with A K against the K K of Paasonen. The A 9 7 flop was a dagger for Paasonen, though the turn T gave him hope for a flush. The dealer rolled over the 9 on the river, however, and Paasonen had less than 10 big blinds left. Ultimately, he got his chips in with A 6 against Harwood, who held the K 4, which would spike a pair on the 8 4 3 flop. Paasonen could not improve on the 8 turn or 9 river and finished in third place.
Harwood entered heads up play with a nearly 3.5-1 chip lead. And while Zheng fought diligently to keep himself alive, even narrowing the gap to less than 2-1, he never quite found the momentum. On the final hand, with the blinds at 50,000/100,000, Zheng raised to 215,000 on the button and Harwood called in the big blind. They saw a flop of K J 8 and Harwood check-called 250,000. The turn Jh was checked through. Harwood led for 600,000 on the T river, Zheng thought for a moment and moved in for about 3 million. Harwood called quickly, turning over a full house with J T to defeat Zheng’s straight with A Q and send him out in second place.
Final Table Results
- Loni Harwood — $609,017
- Yongshuo Zheng — $378,607
- Mika Paasonen — $267,978
- Yngve Steen — $193,265
- Asi Moshe — $141,124
- Daniel Cascado — $104,282
- Cy Williams — $78,006
- Bijon Notash — $59,036
- Hiren “Sunny” Patel — $45,212