Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Lou Krieger (1945-2012)

Late last night the family of Lou Krieger posted a note to his Facebook page relating the news of his passing. Many of us who were friends of Lou knew he’d been diagnosed with cancer, and he had kept us all in the loop regarding his treatments ever since. So while I suppose we weren’t altogether unprepared, it was still a shock for a couple of reasons.

One was the short amount of time that had passed since we’d heard about the diagnosis -- just a few months. The other reason was that knowing Lou, we knew that despite the fact he was an incredibly benevolent and kind person, he was also tough as nails.

As his family pointed out in last night’s announcement, “he fought courageously to the end with the same pride and dignity that carried him through his life,” and “he wanted everyone to know that he did not go peacefully in his sleep but fighting like hell.”

While the news was surprising, it was no surprise to learn Lou had fought to the end. Nor that he wanted to be sure we knew that he’d fought to the end. Let me explain.

Like many I first encountered Lou via books like Hold’em Excellence: From Beginning to Winner (1995) and Poker for Dummies (2000). He’d author or co-author 11 poker books altogether, plus hundreds of columns for numerous outlets including Poker Player Newspaper for which he served as editor up until a few months ago.

I think it was around 2006 or so that I started listening regularly to Lou’s podcast “Keep Flopping Aces” which he then co-hosted with Amy Calistri. I remember early on hearing Lou once talk about his experiences growing up in Brooklyn. While I can’t recall all of the details, the story had something to do with Lou getting into fights a lot. It was kind of funny to hear, actually, this sketch of a young, angry Lou seeming to contrast sharply with the obviously kind-hearted fellow we listeners had come to know.

In fact when I first learned about Lou’s diagnosis via his email, that image of the young fighter immediately came to mind. I wrote him back alluding to this “tough guy” I knew he was, and in our last exchange this fall he mentioned his intention to “finish kicking cancer’s ass.” So while his prognosis wasn’t necessarily good, I guess I still had this idea he’d win the fight, as I imagine others did, too. In any event, I took some comfort in knowing that he was battling.

I continued listening to KFA and would occasionally write about the podcast here. At some point along the way Lou and I got in contact with one another over email. We remained in communication that way for awhile, then I ended up coming on KFA as a guest a few times to talk about poker with Lou and his later co-host Shari Geller, most recently this past May.

During one of those appearances on the show I spent half of the program fielding questions from Lou and Shari, then I became the interviewer for the second half and from that came a Betfair Poker interview which you can read here. I asked Lou a lot of questions about being a poker writer and the publishing business, and his answers provided a lot of insight into both his career and the industry.

One of the points Lou makes in the interview is to note how writing “forces you to clarify your thoughts.” “You can’t be ambivalent,” he says. “You can’t believe it’s one way on Tuesday and another way on Wednesday. You have to take a position about something. You have to offer advice that’s clear, concise, works, and holds up, so you have to think it through. As a result, the act of writing, like the act of teaching... the person that often gets the most out of it is the writer or teacher himself. I’ve learned more from writing books than I could have gotten any other way I can think of.”

I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and so know exactly what Lou is talking about when he refers to the teacher also ultimately learning a lot about whatever it is he or she is teaching. Assuming the responsibility to lead a discussion about anything forces a person to learn a lot about the subject beforehand. Then comes the class where the teacher learns still more from the students sharing their thoughts and responses.

And of course writing can work the same way, if one approaches it similarly. I remember way back when I first started the blog and how one of my primary motives was to try to learn more about poker by writing about it. As Lou says, if you’re going to publish your idea to an audience, you not only have to do the work to formulate that idea, but you also have to commit to it. To take a position regarding it. To fight for it.

Lou had lots of great ideas. And he was especially good at conveying them to others. Thus will the books and columns and podcasts be a big part of how we remember him, with Lou successfully “fighting” for all sorts of poker-related positions -- from how to gauge starting hands in Omaha/8 to the various legislative battles in which poker has been constantly embroiled.

But really, most will not be remembering Lou as a fighter, but rather as a person who brought people together. It’s no coincidence that Lou was at the center of so many different poker-related communities, and that so many people last night and today are expressing their fondness for him and sadness at his passing.

When I think of my circle of colleagues and friends in “poker media,” it seems like nearly every one of them has enjoyed some sort of beneficial interaction with Lou somewhere along the way. And of course others in poker did, too. Like all of them, I’m grateful for having known Lou and from having been a recipient of his kindness and generosity.

Lou makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s characterization of people who are “connectors” (in The Tipping Point) -- that is, “people who link us up with the world... who introduce us to our social circles -- these people on whom we rely more heavily than we realize... [who have] a very special gift of bringing people together.”

Lou always struck me as someone very mindful of the “poker community” and desirous to be constructive when it came to improving that community. Nolan Dalla today wrote a nice remembrance of Lou in which he calls him “the best listener I have ever met.” I think most who knew Lou understand exactly what Nolan is talking about. He was great at giving others his attention and responding meaningfully and thoughtfully to what others had to say. Nolan also mentions Lou being a big reader and often seeking out opinions that differed from his own in his unceasing study of the world, and I think that is just another example of his genuine interest in others’ opinions and experiences.

It’s this openness -- of mind, of heart -- that helped make Lou a “connector” in the poker community. And which serves us all as a great example to follow.

Lou was a fighter, sure. But he fought not against others, but for things worth fighting for -- ideas, the welfare of others, building communities. Things that make life worth living. And that make life worth fighting for, too.

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