Looking beyond the table

As you read this, the poker community is coping with the loss of two of its stars: Chad Brown and Johannes Strassmann. You might find it odd that I use the word "star," since neither of them won a WSOP bracelet or an EPT title. They will not end up in the poker Hall of Fame and books will not be written about their lives.

But note that I said neither "won" a WSOP bracelet. In fact, the World Series of Poker very graciously awarded an honorary bracelet to Chad Brown toward the end of his life. The WSOP wanted to acknowledge that champions come in all forms and Chad was a champion in how he presented himself at the poker table, how he acted as an ambassador for the game, and how he lived his life.

Which is what this piece is about. In his must-read book, Big Deal, Anthony Holden says of his legendary Tuesday Night home game, "Ultimately, it wasn't about the cheques that we wrote to each other, but about the stories exchanged, the camaraderie shared."1

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We no longer have Johannes Strassmann and Chad Brown to tell us their stories, to describe their plans and dreams, or to share ours with them. The money that we would have won from or lost to them - it's all the same. You might win my money, but once it's in your pocket, you won't know (or care) whether it came from me or Chad Brown. But I won't be able to tell you about the games at the Commerce Club near L.A. or working as a professional actor. And Johannes, he obviously had great plans beyond the poker table - he was talking about Silicon Valley and start-ups and who knows what all else.

But now, the stories of their lives have an ending, and we as a community are poorer that Chad and Johannes are no longer here to share them.

And that's the moral to the story, if there is one. When you're at the poker table, remind yourself that the money you win or lose is fungible. You can swap it for other dollars or pounds or Euros and it doesn't change a thing. But the people with whom you're playing, and their stories, are not fungible. They are unique and the story that you hear from a fellow player (if it's not a bad beat one) will be different than any other story you ever hear anywhere.

You know, the word coming from the World Series of Poker is that the senior's event has become the place where you see the most fun being had, the best stories being told, the most laughter per table. Acknowledging my bias as a member of that club, I think I know the two important reasons. First, since they've been around the block a few more times and been to a few more rodeos, the seniors have more stories to tell, and the well from which they draw them is deeper. But just as importantly, they've gotten perspective. They know that the money comes and goes anonymously but the story lingers on, autographed by its teller. So they trade stories as fast as they trade chips, knowing that whether they cash or not, they'll come away richer.

That's a good plan for all of us, at the table and away from it. We can't get the stories and dreams from Chad and Johannes any longer, but there are others to be shared - don't forget to collect them among the flops, turns, and rivers.


1 This is, alas, a paraphrase that doesn't do justice to Holden's eloquence. I can't find the exact passage, even in my Kindle copy.

Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker industry for over 20 years. You can read his occasional tweets at @leehjones.

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