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WSOP Rookie Roundup: Jeff Sarwer

WSOP Rookie Roundup: Jeff Sarwer 0001

If you've ever seen the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, you may already know a bit of Jeff Sarwer's story as portrayed by the character Jonathan Poe. Born in May 1978, the Canadian took to chess as a youth, teaching himself how to play by feel as much as by studying the long-established tactics and positioning. Starting from age seven, Sarwer entertained crowds annually on Canada Day, playing up to 40 challengers at a time during some captivating "simultaneous chess" sessions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He was soon awarded a lifetime membership to the Manhattan Club, a privilege traditionally reserved for Grand Masters, and his lazy afternoon speed-chess matches with the locals in Washington Square Park drew impressive crowds.

At age eight, Sarwer was considered one of the brightest prodigies in the game, and the club's manager, Bruce Pandolfini, called him "the most amazing young player [he'd] ever seen." He won the World Youth Chess Championship two years later. According to the head of the American Chess Foundation, Sarwer was "stronger at nine than Bobby [Fischer] was at eleven."

A young Sarwer playing to the crowd on Canada Day
A young Sarwer playing to the crowd on Canada Day

Fast forward more than 20 years and you'll find Sarwer actively pursuing a new game of strategy — poker — a natural transition for many a burned-out chess player. Sarwer's attacking, unorthodox style has translated well from the board to the felt. Since late 2008, he has been a fixture around the European Poker Tour circuit, traveling from his home in Poland to play against some of the best players in the world with remarkable success. He cashed in his first-ever EPT event, taking 54th place at EPT Prague in Season 5. Since then, he's amassed nearly a half-million dollars in tournament earnings, including a third-place finish at EPT Vilamoura and a runner-up showing in the EPT Berlin High Roller event.

Along the way, Sarwer has befriended some of the game's top young minds, and the impressions they have of him are consistently reverent across the board. Jon "FatalError" Aguiar thinks Sarwer is going to make some waves this summer as he aims for his first bracelet. "Jeff is going to blow at least thirteen gaskets," Aguiar said. "So many people are going to walk out of there going, "What the hell just happened?" Shaun Deeb has been in that spot courtesy of Sarwer in at least one major tournament, and the two have since developed quite a rapport. "I think Jeff will enjoy the atmosphere as much as playing," Deeb said. "You won't be able to tell it's his first rodeo at the WSOP. And I think he'll build some awesome chip pyramids over there too."

If Sarwer's EPT performances are any indication, the fields at the WSOP are going to have a whale of a time figuring out what he's doing at the table. Sarwer has been out-thinking and out-playing people in skill games for his entire life, and the WSOP is the perfect stage for people to start taking notice. Rest assured, if his opponents fail to adjust to his style and quirks, Sarwer will have no trouble positioning himself for the checkmate.

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