Remembering Those Poker Players and Personalities Who Passed Away in 2023
The New Year is not only an opportunity for poker players to look ahead, perhaps setting new resolutions and goals, but also a chance to look back at the year gone by. In 2023, that entails remembering those players who passed on.
Heres a look at some of those we lost over the past year.
Las Vegas Poker Player & ARIA Regular Hank Yang Passes Away
Hank Yang, a Las Vegas poker player who frequented the Aria poker room, passed away in January.
The news was announced on Twitter by Jesse Segall, who referred to the late poker player as "the most generous/friendly player around." That is the reputation Yang, originally from Virginia, built up over the years playing mostly cash game poker. His cause of death isn't publicly known at this time.
Yang was a regular in the cash games at Aria for years and built up a reputation as one of the classiest players in the room. He wasn't much for tournaments but did record $178,492 in career tournament cashes, according to the Hendon Mob.
EPT Prague Champ Julian Track Dies in Traffic Accident at Age 39
Julian Track, who won the 2013 European Poker Tour (EPT) Prague for 725,700, unexpectedly passed away after a traffic accident on January 17 at the age of 39 according to Poker Firma.
Born November 11, 1983, Track was a prolific online player under the moniker jutrack where he had sustained success over the past decade playing primarily pot-limit Omaha (PLO).
In September 2013, Track started to play online satellites for live events and won a package to the EPT Prague.
Track amassed $1,038,891 in tournament earnings in the live realm according to the Hendon Mob. Almost all of that $994,463 to be exact came when he topped a 1,007-entry field to win the aforementioned EPT Prague in 2013. It was there he defeated a stacked final table that included Georgios Sotiropoulos (2nd - $959,245), Stephen Chidwick (3rd - $517,992), Ole Schemion (5th - $299,147), Max Silver (6th - $219,530), and Jorma Nuutinen (8th - $115,931).
Jeffrey Fogel Passes Away After 10-Year Fight Against ALS
On January 25, Jeffrey Fogel passed away at the age of 51 after a 10-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
ALS affects the nervous system with the progressive degeneration of motor neurons, which in time painlessly shuts down the body. It's the same disease theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has suffered from since 1963, which is when doctors gave him just two years to live. Fogel was initially given three to five, but proved those estimates wrong and used his time to advocate fighting against Lou Gehrig's disease.
Sending my condolences to the family and friends of Jeffrey Fogel. His love for sports, sports cards, and poker was a recipe of common interest that led to so many conversations over the past 15 years, said former Director of Poker Marketing for Seminole Hard Rock Tony Burns.
His short video Who is Lou Gehrig? inspired so many during his over decade-long ALS fight. Im sad that I will not be able to attend his funeral tomorrow, but will have him and his 1Luv motto on my mind. Rest in peace, my friend!
Mike McClain, Who Took Bad Beat by Raymer at 2004 WSOP Final Table, Passes Away
In February, the poker world received the news that longtime grinder Mike McClain passed away from stomach cancer.
McClain had a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and previously worked in the computer industry before taking up poker full-time.
Mike had been a poker mentor to me. Just listening to him describe hands made me a much better player, poker author Lee Jones, a friend of McClains, shared in a remembrance on Poker.org. He would drive down from his home in the Sacramento area and sit in Bay 101s $60-120 LHE game for a few days, make enough money to last a month, then drive home.
Lee explained that McClain, who was diagnosed in 2021, recently make the decision to end chemo and spend his remaining days with family and friends.
Mike didnt make decisions like most people do, but in the years I knew him, he made many more correct decisions than he made wrong ones, Lee added. His last important decision was certainly tougher than any of us would want to face, but Ive no doubt that Mike made the right decision for himself and his family thats all that matters.
According to the Hendon Mob, McClain had $1,303,837 in lifetime tournament earnings including a career-best of $470,400 for finishing ninth in the 2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. In fact, it was that tournament where he first got major time in the poker spotlight thanks in no small part to battling with eventual champ Greg Raymer.
Online Poker "OG" Thayer Rasmussen Passes Away
Thayer Rasmussen, a veteran online poker player from Florida who helped a whole new generation of players get into the game from pre-Black Friday and onward, passed away in early April.
Shaun Deeb, who called Rasmussen his "1st poker friend," posted a statement from Rassmussen's family on Twitter on April 2 that they asked him to share with the poker community.
"Anyone who knew Thayer knows he was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but make no mistake, Thayer had the biggest heart and leaves behind love worthy of it," the statement read. "The six of us knew every second how much he cared for us, but perhaps many of you did not know how much you meant to him. It wasn't just stories we never thought we would hear, it was the way he tackled world issues or debated sports topics. Thayer's been intelligent, almost to a frustrating degree, since he was a baby, but y'all helped mold him into the man he became."
"All you want for someone you love is happiness, and we can confirm he brought that while we were lucky enough to have him with us. To anyone who was a part of that, thank you."
Rasmussen played under the screen name "THAY3R" on PokerStars and other online poker sites beginning in the mid-2000s and through the 2010s. Among the Floridian's online accomplishments was winning a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) title in 2015 by taking down a $530 buy-in 6-Max Shootout event $69,825.
Michigans Cy Church, a Fixture on the MSPT, Passes Away Unexpectedly
The poker world received sad news in early April as Cy Church, a respected up-and-coming mid-stakes grinder from Michigan, passed away unexpectedly.
It is with great sorrow that we share this heartbreaking news. Our world was shattered Friday when our precious son Cy left to begin his journey, his family shared on social media. He had so many who loved him as we have; he was a kind, gentle soul. We have shared this news with those we know were especially close to him, but there are so many that we could not contact everyone individually.
It continued: We have been so blessed to have him in our life here on earth. While we cannot fathom creating future memories withut him, we take comfort in knowing his ancestors have greeted him with open arms in his new life. We welcome your prayers for our family in this time of grief. We are taking the time we need to grieve this unthinkable truth, and if we cannot respond to everyone, please know that your prayers and well wishes mean so much to us and are carrying us through this heavy time.
According to the Hendon Mob, Church amassed $342,414 in career tournament earnings dating back to 2016. The majority of that $263,498 to be exact came on the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) where Church was a familiar face at the felt.
The "Godfather of Poker," Doyle Brunson has Passed Away at 89
On May 14, the poker world is mourned the loss of one of its most iconic superstars, Doyle Brunson, who passed away at the age of 89.
It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our father, Doyle Brunson," Brian Balsbaugh shared on behalf of the Brunson family. "He was a beloved Christian man, husband, father and grandfather. Well have more to say over the coming days as we honor his legacy. Please keep Doyle and our family in your prayers. May he rest in peace.
"Texas Dolly," as he was often referred, rose to poker fame in the 1970s and was a staple in the high-stakes world right up until his death. He even appeared in some televised poker games over the past year, including the 2022 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
Brunson left behind quite a legacy in poker, including 10 WSOP bracelets, tied for second behind Phil Hellmuth (16), and competed in the highest stakes cash games for more than 50 years.
Louise Brunson, Wife of Late Doyle Brunson, Passes Away
In October, Louise Brunson, married to the late Doyle Brunson, passed away. The Brunson's were married for 62 years and spent much of their time together residing in Las Vegas. They met in 1959 and tied the knot in 1962 and had three children together Pamela Brunson, Todd Brunson (Poker Hall of Famer), and Doyla, who passed away at age 18 in 1982.
Louise Brunson's passing came five months after her poker legend husband died. While Doyle played poker right up until the end and all throughout his six-decade marriage, the game was never his top priority. Caring for his wife, who had some health issues in recent years, took precedence.
Pamela Brunson posted a brief tribute to her mother on Facebook. She wrote that her mom passed away peacefully in her sleep.
"I'm sure she is so excited to be in heaven with my dad," the social media post read.
Texas Poker Legend Carolyn Taylor Passes Away
The poker world received sad news on Thursday, June 15 with the passing of Texas poker legend Carolyn Taylor, who was perhaps best known for running a regular poker game in the Lonestar State for more than 50 years.
Affectionately known as The First Woman in Texas Poker," Taylors game was regularly visited by such legends as Cowboy Wolford (her father-in-law), Amarillo Slim Preston, Bill Smith, Sailor Roberts, Bob Hooks, TJ Cloutier, and even country music icon Willie Nelson.
My Hero peacefully passed away this morning and began her journey to the Kingdom of Heaven, her son, Ben Taylor, shared on social media. She has been my rock, best friend, Mentor, & biggest supporter. From raising me as a single Mother all the way to now she has sacrificed & blessed our family beyond measure. Words cannot express the heartbreak, devastation, & grief we are all feeling now as a family.
He added: She was a one of a kind larger than life personality and we are blessed that she was such a huge part of our lives. Mom was the greatest gift giver, travel agent, poker player, joke teller, story teller, & the coolest mom a kid could ever ask for. Mom, we all love you and miss you deeply. Thank you for being the Angel on Earth that we all needed.
Midwest Poker Community Mourns Loss of Poker Player & Advocate Steve Verrett
Steve Verrett, a well-known Wisconsin poker player and activist, passed away on June 25 at the age of 53.
According to the Hendon Mob, Verrett amassed $67,554 in tournament earnings, including a career-best $21,026 for finishing 27th in the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) $5,000 No-Limit Holdem. He was also respected throughout the Wisconsin poker community, and was good friends with online poker legend Mark P0ker H0 Kroon, the two even hosting a poker radio show at one time in Madison.
While Verrett enjoyed poker as a hobby, he showed a real passion for the game as an advocate sering as the president of the Wisconsin Poker Players Alliance. In 2015, Verrett and Kroon challenged the Wisconsin Department of Justice to decide on the skill-versus-luck debate on the game. They raised $10,000 from local players and hired attorney Stan Davis to force a judge to rule on pokers legality in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the judge did not rule in their favor.
Entrepreneur & Poker Aficionado Lance Funston Passes Away at 80
Back on July 5, noted entrepreneur and philanthropist Lance T. Funston passed away at the age of 80.
From Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, as well as Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, Funston passed peacefully surrounded by his family, including his wife, Christina, and his six children.
Funston, who graduated from the University of Houston in 1967 and later attended Harvard business school, served as CEO for both Core Care America (CCA) and Ultimark Products (he founded the latter in 2000). In 1993, he founded TelAmerica Media, and before that he founded a merchant banking firm that acquired over $500 million in corporate properties in the 1980s.
His obituary further elaborated: Lance was a true renaissance manhis plethora of diverse interests, achievements and zest for life often granting him the title, "The Most Interesting Man in the World." Lance was born in 1942 in Kansas City, Missouri. He was raised by his devoted parents Ida Paschall Hill and Harold Mitchell Funston. Lance graduated in 1961 from Milby High School in Houston, Texas. Lance received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Houston in 1967, where he would later sit on the Board of Visitors. In 2009, Lance made a gift to his alma mater that allowed for the construction of the Lance T. Funston Communication Center, a state-of-the-art production studio within the Valenti School of Communication. In 1967, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson appointed Lance assistant to the director of the FDIC and subsequently as special assistant to a governor of the Federal Reserve Board. In 1968, Lance moved to Boston to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School which he received in 1970. It soon became clear that Lance possessed an untamable entrepreneurial spirit.
Additionally, Funston was known as the marketing genius behind the wildly popular Super Soaker, was a member of the American Samoan Bobsled team, and was both an avid golfer and abstract painter. He also established Poker Players with a Heart, a foundation that organized charity poker events.
East Coast Poker Community Mourns Passing of David Goldberg
The East Coast poker community recently received the sad news that David Goldberg (1949-2023), 74, passed away on July 22 due to complications with COVID.
Goldberg was a familiar face in Atlantic City during the early days of casinos in New Jersey. He was a fixture at the Taj Mahal and eventually the Borgata. In Atlantic City, Goldberg formed a friendship with Phil Ivey, who was just starting his poker career.
David was just a terrific and generous person, and I knew him well during my time coming up the ranks in Atlantic City, Ivey said. David even co-signed my first car loan when I was 19 years old. He will be greatly missed by anyone that ever knew him.
An avid poker player, Goldberg was known for winning a huge pot and saying What did you think I had?
When someone would tell him a bad-beat story, he would often remark that 10 to 1 is not 10 to none.
According to The Hendon Mob, Goldberg amassed $183,595 in lifetime tournament earnings dating back to 1996. That included a career-best $86,440 for winning the 2021 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Online Event #27: $1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship for an online gold bracelet.
Famed Author Anthony Holden, Who Wrote Poker Book Big Deal, Passed Away at 76
The poker world lost famed author Anthony Holden on October 7, 2023, at the age of 76. Holden, who resided in London, suffered a severe stroke in August 2017, one that left him confined to a wheelchair with his left arm and leg inoperative. Fortunately, the stroke did not impair his memory and cognitive skills, and he even spoke about it with PokerNews in 2018.
Born on May 22, 1947, Holden was well known to poker fans as the author of 1990s Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player and the 2007 follow-up Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom. More recently, he wrote He Played Poker for His Wife and Other Stories.
Big Deal documented Holdens year on the poker circuit in the late 1980s and gave the mainstream a glimpse into the mysterious world of poker. Holden ventured to Las Vegas, battled the biggest names in the game, and wound up with a profit of $12,300. Hed earn much more than that from the book that followed as it sold nearly a million copies.
In Bigger Deal, Holden revisited the poker world after the Boom had occurred. He did so by playing in card rooms across Europe and America, in home games, and online. It was a generational transition for the game, and there was no one better to highlight it than Holden, who also served as the inaugural president of the International Federation of Poker (he served until 2013), which argued for poker to be classified as a mind sport, like chess.
Texas Poker Community Mourns Loss of Empire Poker's Edward Garcia at Age 37
On November 27, the Texas poker community lost valued member Edward Garcia, one of the primary operators at the Empire Poker Club.
Born September 29, 1986, Garcia was well-known in Houston poker circles. At the end of November, the Empire Poker Club took a moment to offer a toast in remembrance.
He was the GM basically, but he was the literal definition of selflessness, Matt James said of Garcia. Always put everyone else that worked there ahead of himself. Just an all-around great guy and H-Town poker legend.
Joseph Stevens said: There were always better games, cheaper games, better food, better rooms but none of that s*** matters if you treat your costumer right, and Ed, believe it or not, understood this more than just about anyone in poker. You could learn a lot about how he treated his loyal player base. I believe this will be his poker legacy Ed was always thinking of his friends and family who he loved more than anything.