By Steve Beauregard (Updated August 2015)
Some poker players sneak onto the scene gradually: a deep run here, maybe a final table there, as they slowly inch their way into our collective poker consciousness. Then there are others, like Loni Harwood, who come out of nowhere and bulldoze their way onto the poker stage.
Actually, she didn’t come from nowhere. Loni Harwood grew up in Staten Island, as evidence by her thick New York accent. When her parents divorced, her dad moved to Florida, while Loni stayed in New York with her mom. But it was sunshine state vacations to visit her dad that led her down the path to poker.
Her dad, Joel Harwood, lives in Hallandale, Florida, has HendonMob-recorded tournament cashes dating back to 1989. (He’s won just over $90,000 lifetime).
While visiting her dad, Loni would sit monitor-side for hours, watching him play online. Enthralled with the action, she and Joel would discuss strategy and talk about hands played.
It wasn’t long before Loni jumped into the online poker games. She told the Bernard Lee Poker Podcast that she was playing online when she was “about 17” years old, and presumably under her father’s account. Of course, a minor playing on another person’s account violates all sorts of PokerStars rules, and this wouldn’t be the first time Loni would be accused of unethical online play. (More on that later).
Loni says her dad started her off by putting her in the PokerStars $11 rebuy satellite tournaments, in which the winner receives entry into the famous $215 Sunday Million tournament. If she won an entry into the tournament, she’d unregister and keep the tournament dollars, selling them to her dad. It was a pretty good gig for a high school student; Loni estimates she won around $200 a week online.
After high school, Loni attend the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany. She majored in finance, while finding time to continue her online poker pursuits. Specifically, she played a lot of the satellites into major events. These are the tournaments where first place gets a $10,000 entry fee into a major poker tournament, along with the travel expenses. In these types of satellites, that is the only prize awarded.
Loni says that on four different occasions, she ended with a devastating second place finish in these winner-take-all events. After the pain of all of these close calls, Harwood decided she was done with online poker. (I finished second in one of these and can attest to the level of heartbreak you experience).
In her junior year of college however, the poker bug hit Harwood again, only this time she wanted to play the live game. Enter Turning Stone, a popular casino and poker room in upstate New York – about an hour and half drive from her residence in Albany. And because it is an Indian casino, Harwood didn’t have to be 21 years old to play poker.
(Here’s video of Loni Harwood during the 2014 PokerStars Carribean Adventure tournament in the Bahamas)
There Loni played the $1/2 no-limit cash game, trying her hand at $2/5 from time to time. With friendships formed at Turning Stone, Harwood learned of underground games in Albany, saving her a drive.
Harwood is the rare college student/aspiring poker pro who actually graduated from college. After her studies were over, she went south to visit dad and play more poker, using her finance degree as a backup in case the poker gig did not turn out. Well. It would.
Loni Harwood’s WSOP and Poker Career
Loni Harwood has over $1.6 million in live tournament poker winnings. Not bad for someone born in the (gulp) 1990’s.
Loni’s first big tournament score came in February 2012, near her dad’s Florida base, at the WSOP Circuit Event in West Palm Beach, when she won $30,000 for first.
She followed that up less than 90 days later with another WSOP Circuit win, this time in New Orleans, which was good for a $23,000 payday.
Ready for her inaugural WSOP, Loni went the summer without a cash in the five events she played. She’d make up for it a year later.
In the 2013 World Series of Poker, Harwood set the Rio on fire. She cashed in six events, made three final tables, and won a bracelet.
Her first final table came during the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo tournament, where she finished sixth.
Twelve days later, Harwood final tabled one of the numerous $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em tournaments. Her 4th place finish there resulted in a $210,000 check – her first six figure score.
Six days after that, Loni outlasted 2,540 other entrants to win her first hardware in another $1,500 NL tourney. Her first bracelet win was good for $609,000. Loni says that she gave the WSOP bracelet to her mom, as a show of thanks for her years of support.
Loni’s incredible 2013 made poker history. In fact, she became only the second woman in the history of the WSOP to have made three final tables in one year. She established a new WSOP Women’s Las Vegas record for the most amount of money won in one year by a female. (That record, however, was broken a year later in 2014 by a margin of just $2,000).
When all was said and done with the poker year, Harwood found herself in 4th place in the WSOP Player of the Year Race. (Daniel Negreanu would win it all).
Her run good extended into the first tournament of 2014, the European Poker Tour’s annual $10,000 buy-in PCA event in the Bahamas. Harwood finished 28th in the main event, good for $43,300.
In the 2014, WSOP, Loni had four cashes, the best one being a 29th place in a $1,500 no-limit event for $12,390.
The following year, she would have two WSOP cashes, but a very big one right after the summer series had concluded.
Loni won the 2015 WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em National Championship held in Cherokee, North Carolina. She beat out 121 other players for her $341,599 payday – the second biggest of her career, and her second WSOP bracelet.
On the World Poker Tour front, Loni has just three WPT cashes, good for $63,364 total.
Loni Harwood Cheating Scandal
Harwood set the online poker world ablaze in the fall of 2013, when she addressed rumors she had used another person’s registered poker account to play on her own. She admitted in a November 30th, 2013 Twitter posting:
“Borrowed account for a few days while I’m in Montreal.”
But what Harwood calls “borrowing” everyone else in the world calls cheating. Specifically, it’s called multi-accounting. It’s clearly against poker site’s rules.
Showing her immaturity a day later while playing the WPT Montreal event, she tweeted: “Bagged $83,000 in day 1. #adioshaters.”
Unfortunately for Harwood, she busted out of the event without cashing, (#adioschips).
Whether she is unethical, or simply ignorant, Harwood was asked about the cheating in an interview with Bluff. She claimed not to know playing on another player’s account was considered unethical and scammy. She said:
“I didn’t know it was frowned upon.”
Random Loni Harwood Trivia
* She has never read a poker book.
* With her 2013 WSOP success, Loni should have little trouble finding backers in the future. In fact, she sold out a lot of pieces of herself (selling out) during the 2014 WSOP.
* Her boyfriend is professional poker player Phillip Hui.
* Loni is a New York Jets fan.
* She has never cashed in the WSOP Main Event.
* She tweets way too much at her Twitter handle: twitter.com/luscious_lon