Brandon Shack-Harris is easy to spot at a poker table. He’s the one with his hood usually pulled over his dark-colored beanie.
But until this summer, the 33-year-old from Chicago remained largely anonymous outside of his circle of friends in the poker community.
Shack-Harris has been the breakout star of this World Series of Poker, winning his first gold bracelet and finishing in the top three on three other occasions, and sits atop the WSOP Player of the Year standings entering the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship at the Rio Convention Center.
“If I had seen it on paper, I probably wouldn’t have expected those results,” Shack-Harris said. “But I feel like I prepared enough to where those results aren’t unrealistic to me.”
Shack-Harris was one of 2,144 players who participated in Day 1B of the Main Event on Sunday, up from the 1,942 that entered the second starting flight in 2013. The Main Event continues at noon today when WSOP officials expect close to 4,000 players to be in action for Day 1C.
The tournament runs through July 14, and the nine remaining players return Nov. 10 at the Rio’s Penn &Teller Theater to compete for the $10 million guaranteed first prize.
Shack-Harris had only four career WSOP cashes prior to this year, with his best result a third-place finish in the $1,500 buy-in Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Eight or Better event in 2012. Last summer, Shack-Harris did not finish in the money in any WSOP tournaments.
“Last year, I was just kind of like losing my mind, I guess,” Shack-Harris said. “It was a really hard year for me, personally. This year was much better. I’ve been able to focus on whatever I need to be doing.”
Shack-Harris, who turned to mixed games after having his online poker money seized following “Black Friday,” has cashed in six events this summer. Only one of those came in a Hold ’em tournament.
Shack-Harris topped a record field to win the $1,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event May 30. He was second in the $10,000 buy-in Seven-Card Razz tournament and second in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship.
Shack-Harris has earned more than $1.4 million this summer.
“It’s kind of in my best interest to be as good as I can be in all the games and pick and choose a little more,” Shack-Harris said. “Logging all those hours definitely paid off.”
Shack-Harris owns a slim lead over German pro George Danzer in the Player of the Year race, which will not be decided until the completion of the WSOP Asia-Pacific in Australia in October. In his first Main Event, Shack-Harris nearly doubled his 30,000-chip starting stack by the third level and had more than 50,000 chips at 10 p.m.
“When I won my bracelet, I had played for a week, so the Player of the Year thing seemed very distant,” Shack-Harris said. “Now that I’ve invested more than a month of thinking to put myself into position, it’s something I would like to win.”
Day 1B of the Main Event got underway with actor and comedian Ray Romano entertaining the crowd before giving the “Shuffle up and deal!” command. Romano’s son Matt, who just turned 21, was also in the field.
“I’ve got a last-longer bet with him,” Ray Romano told the audience, “so if anyone knocks him out, I’ll buy you a drink.”
Several other notable players were in the field on Day 1B, including 1995 Main Event champion Dan Harrington and 1996 winner Huck Seed, who were at the featured table along with noted poker author David Sklansky.
Eight-time bracelet winner Erik Seidel was among the chip leaders for much of the day.
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.