Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A High Roller in the Family

Had a couple of people draw my attention to an article in The New York Times Magazine from over the weekend written by PokerStars’ Team Online member Isaac Haxton’s father, Brooks Haxton, titled “Playing the Cards.” It’s an interesting article, kind of pointing out a familiar lesson regarding poker in a different way.

The piece begins with Haxton telling the story of he and his wife discovering just a year ago that Isaac was playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars online. We don’t get the full context and I think can probably assume the parents knew all about Isaac’s profession and that he played for significant sums, but it sounds like they hadn’t known before that point that he was playing for quite so much.

In any case, Haxton immediately relates the circumstance of his son’s tolerance for mega-swings and high-stakes risk and reward to a very difficult decision he and his wife had to make regarding Isaac’s health shortly after his birth. I won’t rehearse all of the details, but it was literally a life-or-death situation, and while Isaac survived in good health, the parents came away having learned something important about risk-taking, “play[ing] the cards as they were dealt,” and also getting lucky.

This experience in turn appears to help Haxton understand both his son’s special skill set and what it means to face risk and make decisions logically and under pressure. It’s an interesting twist on a somewhat familiar idea that poker can teach us about decision-making away from the tables -- in this case, it was a non-poker experience that appears to help the elder Haxton understand poker (and poker players).

I’d seen the piece even before people drew my attention to it in part because Isaac had tweeted about it while also letting his followers know that his dad has written a memoir that appears as though it is concentrated largely on his son’s poker playing. The book is called Fading Hearts on the River: A Life in High-Stakes Poker and is due out next month.

Isaac is a thoughtful guy -- and great, of course, in the commentary booth, as we heard him today on the EPTLive stream from the Grand Final. The profile done by Ryan Firpo and the 918 Films crew is a good one (that is a still from it up top), and adds further to our understanding of why he such a talent at the tables. (It also includes that awesome reraise-shove on the river with 3-high from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure from way back in 2007 when we were all first introduced to Haxton, then looking like Joey Ramone.)

His dad seems pretty thoughtful, too, making me look forward to reading his book once it hits the shelves. And perhaps by doing so learning still more about poker and poker players.

By the way, that photo at the bottom (click to enlarge), is of Haxton checking the payouts at the final table of Event No. 2 of the 2009 World Series of Poker, the $40,000 “40th Annual” No-Limit Hold’em event in which he’d eventually finish runner-up to Vitaly Lunkin. I believe B.J. Nemeth was the one who snapped it (perhaps he remembers).

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