Some of those sending the messages knew Vahedi personally. All spoke well of the Iranian pro most of us probably became aware of thanks to his final table finish at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event (the year Moneymaker won it). All told, Vahedi earned over $3 million in tourney winnings, including one WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event, also in 2003.
As was the case with the untimely passing of Hans “Tuna” Lund a couple of months ago -- another well-liked pro who left us too early (at age 59) -- many were quick to share stories and good words regarding Vahedi.
John Juanda referred to Vahedi as “one of the great personalities & funniest guys in poker.” Matt Savage noted how his “laugh will always be missed.” Over on the Bluff site, Kenna James commented on Lance Bradley’s article reporting the news, noting how Vahedi’s “broad smile and love for people and the game was infectious.”
James also shares an anecdote there about how he and Vahedi had dinner the night after Vahedi finished sixth in the 2003 WSOP ME (in which James finished 38th), and how that was when he’d first heard Vahedi say “You must be willing to die in order to live.”
That will no doubt be the most remembered line Vahedi left us. It has often been quoted over the last few years in the context of the need to play poker fearlessly. Of course, the line has broader application as well, suggesting the need to live one’s life without regret, and to develop the fortitude not to allow adversity to hold one back.
Was easy to think of such broader applications of the line when one considered Vahedi’s own background, having served in the Iranian army during the Iran-Iraq war that began in September 1980. Vahedi would flee Iran as a political refugee as a young man, eventually finding his way to America.
Hearing the news of Vahedi’s death made me think of that documentary No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail, filmed by Susan Genard and Tim Rhys during 2004 (though not released until 2006). The movie features interviews with numerous poker pros, including James and Vahedi.
Although the story of the film largely centers around Genard’s efforts to make it on the pro circuit, the many interviews helped provide a decent view of the pro poker circuit as a whole, right there as things were really starting to “boom.” (Some poker people were critical of the film for various reasons, but I liked it.)
As No Limit progresses, the idea of the “American dream” gradually emerges as a theme of sorts, and I remembered Vahedi speaking in the film about the idea, coming at it from a perspective somewhat distinct from most of the others who were interviewed thanks to his experiences as a young man in Iran and his flight to America. (That is a still from No Limit pictured above.) In the film, Vahedi talks about the importance of freedom, emphasizing how valuable it is not to have to “censor your own mind” -- to be able to think and say what one feels and believes.
Again, it is easy to connect what Vahedi is saying there to that idea that “You must be willing to die in order to live,” as well as to connect it to poker and the need to play a “free” game -- without “censoring” oneself with various ideas or fears.
While I covered Vahedi in a few WSOP events, I never got the chance to meet him and enjoy his wit and personality first-hand. Still, I’m glad it happened that his career coincided with the poker “boom” in such a way that those of us who didn’t know him were nonetheless introduced to that “broad smile” and love for the game James mentions via the WSOP telecasts, “High Stakes Poker,” and other shows. And to that important message Vahedi has left us about living one’s life to the fullest.