Dan Harrington – The Mayfair Club
Dan Harrington, along with a star studded list of poker players that reads like a who’s who of poker stars, got their start playing at The Mayfair Club in Manhattan, New York.
Most of these players were originally backgammon players who played at the Club. As poker was introduced, many would make the switch and eventually poker would take over as the main game played. The Mayfair Club would go on to be a breeding ground for many of poker’s great superstars who got their start during the 1980s in this intimate setting.
Famous poker players who began their careers here would include Dan Harrington, Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, Steve Zolotow, Jason Lester, Jay Heimowitz, Mickey Appleman and Paul Magriel. The legendary Stu Ungar was also known to drop in to take part in the high stakes games.
From Bridge to Backgammon
The Mayfair Club was originally founded in the 1940s by 12 time national bridge champion Harry Fishbein as a bridge club. The Club would maintain its status exclusively as a bridge club until the 1970s when backgammon was introduced. Eventually, backgammon would surpass bridge in popularity and become the main game of choice played at the Club.
Most of the legendary poker players were primarily the Club’s best backgammon players during this time including Harrington, Seidel, Zolotow, Lester and Magriel.
From Backgammon to Poker
There are various stories about the introduction of poker at The Mayfair Club.
One goes that Magriel and Zolotow played a game of backgammon with a handicap imposed. After the game, they decided to play a double or nothing challenge of Texas Hold’em poker using the backgammon chips as poker chips. This custom caught on and Texas Hold’em became increasing more popular eventually overtaking backgammon as the most popular game.
Another story credits Erik Seidel with introducing Texas Hold’em poker to The Mayfair after returning from a trip to Las Vegas in 1985.
A third story credits the new owner Mike Shichtman with introducing poker when he took over in the mid-eighties. Shichtman was a professional gambler and worked to introduce poker at The Mayfair.
World Series of Poker Success
The Club members were a close knit group who would often hang out at pool bars after a game of poker and discuss strategy and plays from the day’s game. Through this learning experience, the members were able to learn and improve their poker game leading to some of the most remarkable results for any group of poker players.
The members would start taking part in the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 1985 and some members would succeed in making the final table in some of the events in their 1st year.
In 1986, Mayfair would claim its first WSOP bracelet when Jay Heimowitz won the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event.
The year 1987 would see The Mayfair Club show up in full force at the World Series of Poker Main Event. That year Dan Harrington, Howard Lederer and Mickey Appleman would all make the final table and Heimowitz would not finish far behind in 11th place.
The following year, Erik Seidel would finish as the runner-up in the Main Event to the legendary Johnny Chan. Erik Seidel would go on to win eight WSOP bracelets placing him amongst the top bracelet winners of all time.
Dan Harrington would win the No Limit Hold’em Main Event in 1995 and make back-to-back Main Event final table appearances in 2003 and 2004 despite the incredibly large number of entrants.
Howard Lederer would also win two bracelets and go on to found the popular Full Tilt Poker online poker room.
In total, Mayfair Club members hold 25 World Series of Poker bracelets and have won 5 World Poker Tour titles amongst them.
In Pop Culture
The Mayfair Club would appear as the Chesterfield Club in the movie Rounders starring Edward Norton and Matt Damon.
Poker After Dark would also do a feature called “Mayfair Week” which would feature players who credit their poker beginnings to the Mayfair. The six players who took part were Dan Harrington, Howard Lederer, Steve Zolotow, Mickey Appleman, Jay Heimowitz and Mike Shichtman.
The End of the Club
The Club would be closed down in 2000 as a result of Rudy Giuliani’s “Quality of Life” campaign which ensured that any underground poker clubs were closed as per the existing laws that made it illegal to garner a profit from operating a poker room. The Mayfair was not spared from this crackdown.
Despite its closure, the players who were raised and trained at the Club remain as a testament to the quality and atmosphere of the Mayfair and the legend lives on.