WSOP 2014: Poker community gathers to remember Chad Brown, and a game well played
Poker players usually make it their business to keep their emotions in check, but today that was different. In the place where he played his first World Series of Poker final table, friends and relatives of Chad Brown gathered at Binion's, in Downtown Las Vegas, to celebrate his life.
Some came to talk, travelling from far and wide to say a few words about how Chad had been a part of their lives. Others simply came to pay their respects to a man who was universally liked across the entire poker community, and then play a charity poker tournament in his honour.
In attendance were familiar faces from the poker community. Chad's fellow Team Pros Fatima Moreira de Melo, Victor Ramdin and Jake Cody were there, as were the likes of Robert Mizrachi, Dan Shak, Allen Kessler, Fabrice Soulier, Dennis Phillips, and challenger for Bluff Player of the Year Brandon Shack-Harris. In a nice tribute, word came moments before the service that should Shack-Harris win that title this year he'll find himself in receipt of the Chad Brown Trophy, the name Bluff Magazine will now call its annual award.
But while all were united in sadness, there was also a sense of celebration, as a room full of people delighted in talking about how Chad Brown had touched their lives in some way.
Speaking ahead of a charity tournament to raise money for the TJ Martell Foundation, which works to find a cure for among other things liposarcoma, Jennifer Winter, who knew Chad for twenty years, across all three of his careers, introduced the service, speaking of how she felt blessed to have known him.
Then came a short video, to the soundtrack of Chad's favourite song Mony Mony, showing pictures of him in each of his incarnations -- the grinning child, the confident young man, the model, the actor and the poker player, the finale being a recording of Chad's appearance many years ago dancing on a TV talent show. "He'll be laughing his ass off that that was the last clip that was shown," grinned Winter.
Chad's ex-wife but close friend Vanessa Rousso then thanked everyone for helping to make the occasion happen. In a very emotional speech, hers was a touching and very personal tribute to a man who had been such an enormous part of her life. A message from Rousso's mother was also read out, further proof of how so many people were grateful that he had been in their lives.
This included Matt Savage, the tournament director of the World Poker Tour, who spoke of meeting Chad in the very room of the service back in 2002 when he reached his first final table.
"It was probably the first stud tournament to be televised," said Savage, before raising a few laughs: "and the last." Savage picked out Chad's inspirational courage which had struck Savage the most, particularly when faced with a terminal illness.
Chad's long term friend Parris Calderon spoke of Chad's confidence as well as his athletic prowess.
He told story of an early video camera he and Chad bought and then shared, and how Chad had asked Parris to set it up at a baseball game so he could record Chad hitting a home run.
Parris, putting this down to bravado, set up the camera as requested while Chad went through some dramatics which presumably were to put the pitcher off his game. He even pointed to a sign on the outfield wall over which he'd hit it. Low and behold he did just that, although as he trotted across home plate Parris had a confession to make.
"I didn't get it," he said, having struggled to work this new technology.
"What are you worried about," replied Chad. "I'll be coming to bat again."
Sure enough he did, and duly hit the ball over the same sign a second time.
Laurence Hughes made one of the most touching speeches. Having known Chad for more than six years, he spoke of when he was first asked if he wanted to hang out with Chad, something Hughes joked that he would brag about with other friends at the time, claiming it was no big deal. Then, he couldn't help but well up:
"It was a big deal," he said, gulping down tears. "Chad Brown wanted to hang out with me. And that was pretty cool."
Chad's girlfriend Stephanie talked of the Chad Brown she knew, who never grumbled or complained, even when very ill. "A rare virtue in any man," she said.
Perhaps some of the most poignant words came from those who freely admitted they were not good at stuff like this. Ali Eslami, a poker players and one of Chad's best friends, talked of how his friend always thought of others, and lived by a creed that said we all have a choice of how to feel.
Nolan Dalla echoed those sentiments, and expressed his gratitude at having known Chad. "A person's life is not measured in quantity but quality," he said. "We're not a community that unites enough. But Chad Brown brought us together. How special a gift is that?"
Jennifer Winter had joked before the service that she'd told Phil Hellmuth he would be speaking "from the cut off". He duly stepped up to say a few words, quoting a message Doyle Brunson had told him earlier that day. "Don't cry for yesterday, celebrate the life that happened," said Hellmuth, before admitting, to great merriment, that Chad had "absolutely smashed me in side games my entire life."
Todd Brunson also stood to pay tribute. "When someone dies they're always 'one of the nicest guys'," said Brunson. "But Chad was the nicest guy. He was the only player I knew who never lost his temper. Besides maybe Phil."
Hellmuth, admitting to being more emotional than he'd expected, concluded by saluting Chad the poker player and also the man, before Chad's close friend Alexander Steel stepped up to describe how he had first met Chad more than 20 years ago at an industry party, describing him as a "happy, fearless, courageous adventurer."
"He was a star in everything he did," said Steel. "A solid character, anchored moral compass, integrity, and enormous charisma."
Others stood up to say a few words. Most talked of how Chad, even when dying, seemed more concerned that he friends were happy, surprising those who had expected to have to comfort him as they visited him in hospital. A humbled Kenna James, fighting back tears, read a poem in honour of his friend, "The game well played."
It was left to Linda Johnson to provide to wonderful light relief. The former WPT presenter thanked Chad for helping her get to the gym. Having worked with Chad, and known his fondness for keeping in good shape, Johnson told how she always kept some training shoes and kit with her in case Chad played, although her motives were definitely ulterior.
"If Chad Brown worked out," said Johnson, "I was always there to watch him work out!"
Picking the best vantage point in the gym Johnson admitted she would indulge in some gratuitous Chad watching. "I always worked out when Chad worked out. When he left, I left."
It was a story to put a smile back on everyone's face, stirring up even more fond memories of a man who will be greatly missed.
As a footnote, registration to the $200 re-buy tournament, in Chad's memory, closed having raised $35,600 for the TJ Martell Foundation. As well as contributing prizes for the winner, PokerStars will be matching the amount donated, making for a total sum of $71,200.
A game very well played indeed.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter. Photos by Joe Giron and Jayne Furman/Poker Photo Archive