Loni Harwood is having the summer of a poker lifetime. On her sixth cash and third final table appearance of this year's series, the 23-year-old professional poker player from Staten Island, NY provided a packed gallery of friends and supporters with a crowd-pleasing victory that created one of the major headlines of the 2013 WSOP.Harwood topped the $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em event, a three-day competition that began with 2,541 starters. She collected $609,017 in prize money, plus her first career gld bracelet.With this victory, Harwood now has six in-the-money finishes, including 6th, 4th, and 1st place showings this summer. She's now enjoying arguably the best series ever for a female, equaling Cyndy Violette's three final table appearances in 2005. However, the additional cashes and gold bracelet puts Harwood into a category all her own.This marks the second WSOP Harwood has attended. She blanked last year's few events she played, but rebounded in 2013 with gusto. Her summer has been worth a $874,698 in prize money, and she's not finished yet. The Main Event and WSOP Europe remain still to go.Harwood grew up on Staten Island and attended college at the State University of New York at Albany, earning her degree in finance. She credits her father, Joel Harwood, with teaching her how to play. In fact, she used to watch her dad play online and gradually developed an interest in the game. After school, she moved to Florida where her father now lives and entered her first WSOP Circuit event, which was being held at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. Harwood made history that night, winning a gold ring in an (open) event where the top three finishers were all female. That was only the beginning.Months later, Harwood traveled to the WSOP Circuit stop at Harrah's New Orleans where she won gold ring number two. She was undoubtedly on a rising path headed towards greater glory.This year, Harwood attended the WSOP for the second time. While the dream of winning a gold bracelet was very much the goal, even Harwood could not have imagined major success would come this quickly. In fact, with this victory she now ranks third in the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year race, the highest a female has ever ranked at this late stage of the series.Yet for all her accolades and promise as a potential poker superstar, Harwood has retained a “one of the boys” mentality among her colleagues. Over the past 18 months while touring the WSOP Circuit, Harwood has routinely been part of many rails, cheering on her friends during their moments of triumph. They returned the favor in spades, packing the Sunday night rail to full capacity, despite something called the Main Event taking place across the room.When Harwood won the final pot of the tournament holding a full house against Yongshuo Zheng's straight, the final table was flooded with a sea of WSOP Circuit grinders trading hugs and high fives.This moment was undoubtedly the highlight so far of what's been an incredilby impressive 18-month trial as a tournament poker player for Loni Harwood. That said, based on her success and continued dedication, we have certainly not seen the last of this blossoming poker superstar. Indeed, one gets the feeling this might be just the beginning.MEET GOLD BRACELET WINNER – LONI HARWOOD
Name: Loni Harwood
Current Residence: Staten Island, NY / Miami, FL (USA)
Birthplace: Staten Island, NY (USA)
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Professional Poker Player
Specialty: Tournament Poker
Previous Occupation: College Student
Education: State University of New York at Albany (B.A. Finance)
WSOP Cashes (including this event): 6
First WSOP Cash (year): 2013
WSOP Final Table Appearances: 3
WSOP Wins (with this victory): 1
WSOP Career Earnings: $874,698INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION
WSOP: How does it feel to win your first WSOP gold bracelet?
Harwood: I'm pretty overwhelmed. It honestly hasn't hit me yet. It's pretty awesome.
WSOP: Did you approach this summer differently than last summer, when you came to the WSOP for the first time?
Harwood: Last year I did not play in too many events. I only played in like five for the summer. This year, I said I was going to play more.
WSOP: Tell us about how this final table went.
Harwood: It was very tough in the beginning. I was in some bad spots where I was flipping (50-50 on the outcome), and was lucky to hold.
WSOP: You had a great rail. What did they mean to you?
Harwood: I want to thank all my fans [smiling]. My friends here were awesome.
WSOP: So, is this the highlight of your poker career, so far?
Harwood: It's the definitely the highlight of my poker career. Everyone is in search of a bracelet. I can't even believe I won a bracelet today. It's pretty unbelievable. When I won a gold ring when I first started, I thought it was the biggest thing in the world. This is like 100 times better.
WSOP: You took a path that's been on step at a time – first the ring, then two final tables, and then the win. Does that make you appreciate this more?
Harwood: The third time was a charm. It was my third final table.
WSOP: Does this improve your self-confidence as a player?
Harwood: I feel really good about my game. I ran really good at the final table. I played well to get there. I mean, there are lots of hands that won't appear on the record where I played well, but won't be seen.
WSOP: How did you get started in poker?
Harwood: My dad taught me. He played online and was very successful. He taught me for hours. I used to watch him play.
WSOP: How did you get into poker after finishing college?
Harwood: I graduated from college in January of last year and then moved to Florida. I was just playing cash at the time, then started playing some tournaments and started winning right away. I decided to travel more and then that led to me getting here this summer.
WSOP: How do you explain your success this summer?
Harwood: It's unexplainable. To get to a final table, and then get to another, and then to win an event. It's unbelievable.
WSOP: So, you are now third in the Player of the Year” race. You have to go to WSOP Europe now, unless you win the Main Event.
Harwood: I'm going to win the Main Event [laughing].
WSOP: So, how does this all feel right now?
Harwood: I'm pretty much the happiest I've ever been. It's a dream come true.ODDS AND ENDSHarwood is the second female to win a gold bracelet in an open event at this series. Day earlier, Dana Castaneda won a $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tournament.Yongshuo Zheng, from Richmond, BC (Canada) finished as the runner-up. His consolation prize amounted to $378,607.