Jack McClelland — A Man With Heart
There’s bitter irony to the news Jack McClelland needs a heart transplant.
As poker’s grand inquisitor for the past 30 years, Jack has been the very heart of the game for as long as I can remember.
I first met Jack when he served as Tournament Director for the World Series of Poker during the 1980s. Teamed with his longtime confidant Jim Albrecht, together they were the most respected 1-2 duo in the game. Like pocket kings.
Things were much different when they started out. Poker really was the wild west. Law and disorder. Then all the sudden, the town had two new sheriffs riding down Fremont Street — named Jack and Jim.
Many of us first noticed Jack when he announced one of the most famous poker hands in history when Johnny Chan defeated Erik Seidel heads-up in the 1988 world championship. Since then, he’s been closely associated with many of the biggest movers and shakers in the game, whether it was the WSOP, World Poker Tour, or the Bellagio Poker Room. Indeed, Jack commands universal respect not only because he’s been an integral part of poker for such a very long time, but he’s made the game so much better with his unwavering dedication, grace, and professionalism.
It’s been said that all good things come to an end, and those words were never more true than when Jack announced his retirement a few months ago. The Bellagio held a party in his honor, certainly a nice gesture, but hardly enough gratitude for the thousands of tournaments he’s supervised, the tens of millions of dollars he’s paid out in prize money, the many rules and procedures he’s crafted and refined, or the countless people in poker that he’s helped, promoted, and inspired over the years — including yours truly.
Since raking in the thanks of many who gathered at his retirement party in November, he’s been dealt a series of really bad beats. Many of us who know and care about Jack came to find out that he needs a heart transplant. A virus he picked up many years ago while traveling abroad ended up doing lots of damage to his lungs. Pretty soon he’s going to need help breathing. When you really think about it, that makes winning a WSOP gold bracelet and millions of dollars pretty trivial, by comparison.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jack contacted me. He relayed the latest news on the state of his current health condition, which is getting more serious by the day. Next, he’s headed to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angles this Friday for a series of tests and treatment. Part of the process will be a thorough evaluation of his condition and the assessment of his chances for recovery by a medical board. Imagine being dealt into that game and having to play those cards.
Naturally, all of us are rooting for Jack. We hope he gets what he needs and deserves, which is the chance to enjoy many years of retirement in good health after giving so much to our game, and so many of its players, for so long.
You got class, Jack. You’ve given us pride. You’ve given us joy. You’ve even given some of us jobs. You’ve got a lot of heart.
Please stay strong and get well.
Note: Photo credit (Card Player Magazine)