Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chad Brown (1961-2014)

It’s been a tough week. The death of German poker pro Johannes Strassmann at age 29 hit many hard, with stories of his generous personality and friendship signifying how much he’ll be missed. Then overnight came the news that Chad Brown, another much beloved figure in the poker community, had passed away at 52 after battling gamely against a rare form of cancer.

While I didn’t ever get a chance to meet Strassmann, I did have the opportunity on many occasions to interact with Chad, especially over the last couple of years. I feel very fortunate to have done so.

Before meeting him, I had always been kind of fascinated by Chad, primarily because of all the things he’d done before emerging about a decade ago as a “notable” in the poker world thanks to his deep runs in WSOP events. His introduction to most of us came when finishing runner-up in a seven-card stud event in 2004 that was part of ESPN’s comprehensive coverage of that year’s Series.

But Chad had already been notable before that. He might have pursued a professional baseball career, in fact, but as a young man he took a different path to become a model and actor. During his 20s he landed various roles including a couple in low-grade horror flicks, neither of which I saw back then -- when as a teen my interest in low-grade horror flicks was at its zenith -- but did get to catch later on.

He always played cards, too, though, and as he moved further into adulthood he became a serious poker player -- and seriously successful. At the WSOP alone he’d pick up nearly 40 cashes and over $1.2 million in winnings, including two more second-place finishes in 2005 and 2007. He’d become a Team PokerStars Pro, too, and in that role served as an able ambassador for the game.

As I say, I got a chance to know Chad over the last couple of years, talking to him about a wide variety of subjects, including those horror movies, other stories from his acting and modeling days, baseball, and, of course, poker. We’d exchange emails occasionally, too, just to touch base.

Last November I went down to Florida to help cover the WPT bestbet Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble, and I remember him telling me to deliver well wishes to the folks at bestbet who had hosted a “Chad Brown event” there in the past. “We love Chad,” was the response I got, which as you’ve been reading over Twitter and elsewhere over the last several days is a common theme coming from just about anyone who ever interacted with him.

Things took a troubling turn for Chad earlier this year, and he updated everyone about his health in a brave post for the PokerStars blog. There he spoke of viewing his situation as being like a poker hand and being content with the knowledge that he was playing the hand the best he way he knew how, not worrying too greatly about the results. It sounded very much like how I’d heard him talk about those three runner-ups in WSOP events, where in each case he’d done his best and played well, but in the end the cards just didn’t fall his way.

My favorite part of that post comes when Chad explains how he was able to face a life-threatening illness without letting it get him down. “We all have a choice when it comes to how we want to feel about what's going on in our lives,” he explained. “If you want to feel like a victim, that’s your choice. I choose not to. I don’t feel like a victim. I feel very blessed with the life that I’ve had, regardless of what happens. I've never been depressed about this at all.”

A little over a week ago after a flurry of Twitter messages indicating that things had become more grave for Chad, I sent him a note just to let him know I was thinking about him, and he wrote back right away to thank me and give a quick update.

“I am doing fine spiritually,” he said. I already knew he was, but I was glad to hear it again.

Then this week came the honorary bracelet from the WSOP and all of those premature announcements of his passing, all of which kind of helped steel a lot of us against the news we woke up to this morning that indeed he’d left us. As had his own resolve.

Chad was definitely dealt some rough hands, but he was always quick to point out he’d had his share of “run good” as well, and in the end he was well prepared to accept the role chance plays in our lives. More than most.

As I say -- speaking of luck -- I’m glad I had the good fortune to have known him.

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