Monday, January 11, 2010

Live, Laugh, Love: The Life of Amir Vahedi

Amir VahediWoke up yesterday to a collection of messages coming over Twitter from folks sharing the sad news that the amiable, cigar-chomping poker pro Amir Vahedi had died. There are discrepancies online regarding Vahedi’s exact birth date; in any event, his death, stemming from complications related to diabetes, comes much too soon.

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.

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Anonymous Spaceman said...

Like you, I have covered a lot of tournaments that Amir played in but never had interactions with him in that setting. But as it turns out, I do have one Amir story from off the tournament floor.

The first tournament series I ever covered was the 2005 WSOP Circuit in Tunica, which lasted for two and a half weeks. During my stay the casino had a promotion where you swiped your players' card each day and would get some sort of minor prize or another. One day before the main event my minor prize was a $5 free play slot voucher. I figured it was a waste to blow it on penny machines, so I sought out the high-limit room where there were $5 machines in play that would grant me a sizable score if I happened to hit.

When I arrived there was only one patron in the room - Amir, complete with cigar, playing video poker. I tried to decide what machine to play - it had to be the right one, since I only had one pull to win my life-changing jackpot - but I couldn't make up my mind. Now, I'd never spoken a word to Amir before, but I knew he was a friendly sort so I approached him to see if he might help me with my decision.

"Hey Amir," I said, "can I ask you a question?"

He looked up from the machine and quickly said, "Sure."

"Do you believe in luck?" I asked.

He considered the question, looking down for a moment and tilting his head ever so slightly, before replying, "Yes. I do believe in luck."

"Well then," I said, "can you help me pick the lucky machine in this room? My coupon is only good for one pull and I want to make it the right one."

Again he paused, and then, with a smile, he told me this: "Kid, if I knew which one of these machines was lucky, I'd be playing it myself. I'm losing my ass here."

I thanked him and left him to his game and cigar - and immediately discovered that I hadn't picked the right machine when my coupon disappeared, never to be seen again. But I'm glad that coupon led me to that room, or I never would've had any interaction with the man. Poker is better for having had him around.

1/18/2010 6:50 PM  

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