More Classic Poker Photos from My Private Collection
(Photo: At the 2002 World Series of Poker….with no grey hair yet)
Here’s another sampling of my private collection of poker photography.
All of my snapshots were taken between the years 1997 and 2003. They were locked inside a file cabinet for more than a decade. Now I think is a good time to share these images with those of you who enjoy looking back on the game’s history. With the 2014 world championship November Nine as well as the Poker Hall of Fame announcement and induction ceremony coming soon, let’s now take a look back on some of poker’s best.
Read my original display of classic photographs here: POKER HALL OF FAME: PAST AND PRESENT (A PHOTO ESSAY)
Accompanying each photo, I’ve added some personal thoughts as to what I remember about the photos and the people in them, when they were taken.
Milton Berle (1997) — Let’s start out with something quite unusual. Milton Berle was once known to millions as “Mr. Television.” He was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the 1950s, and was a pioneer of TV comedy. Mr. Berle attended the World Series of Poker in 1997. Well into his eighties by that time, he shuffled out onto Fremont Street and still managed to draw quite an entourage of fans. I snapped this photograph of him while outside in front of Binion’s Horseshoe on the night before the historic Main Event Championship started, which was won that year by Stu Ungar.
Mansour Matloubi (1997) — This photo is even more rare, perhaps even unmatched as a time capsule. Pictured here is Mansour Matloubi, the 1990 world poker champion — who was born in Iran and lived much of his life in England. This photo is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it shows Matloubi playing in a high-stakes cash game (such photography was not permitted most of the time during those years). Second, it reveals the long bygone era when players actually smoked inside the poker room. Photos of this elusive champ remain scarce. Matloubi disappeared from the poker scene about ten years ago. He was closely associated with Russ Hamilton, who got caught up in the UltimateBet scandal years ago, and was last seen living somewhere in Thailand. When he was in his prime, Matloubi was a beast at the table. He also had trouble controlling his temper, which was fearsome. For this reason, Matloubi wasn’t particularly well-liked in the poker world. But during the early to mid-1990’s he was unquestionably one of the top players in the world, winning the WSOP Main Event over Tuna Lund and then making the final table again just a few years later (1993). A side note: I personally liked Matloubi a lot. He was always kind to me. Matloubi even told me some unprintable stories which helped in writing the Stu Ungar biography. I wonder — where have you gone, Mansour Matloubi?
John Spadavecchia (1998) — Here’s John Spadavecchia, the man who British author Anthony Holden once described as a character right out of the movie Goodfellas. Indeed, Spadavecchia always looked and dressed like a wiseguy. He sure looks the part. But in person, he was always very kind and gracious. He made a couple of championship final tables back in the 90s. Away from the tables, Spadavecchia was called “the marble king” for many years. He made a fortune importing Italian marble for luxury homes all over South Florida, from Miami up to West Palm Beach. I miss Spadavecchi a lot and haven’t seen in in a few years. I hope he’s doing okay.
Erik Seidel (1998) — Everyone will recognize Erik Seidel, who looks just a bit younger in this photo taken 16 years ago. I shot this surprise photograph during a break at the 1998 World Series of Poker, while the future Poker Hall of Famer was playing one of his many career final tables.
T.J. Cloutier (1997) — Here’s another random shot from the 1997 WSOP. Interesting layout of the final table area, which was set up in a temporary room located in the back entrance where (now closed) valet parking was situated. Some might recognize T.J. Cloutier there with his hands folded playing at the final table.
Amarillo Slim Preston (2001) — “Amarillo Slim” Preston was quite a personality. One thing was for sure — he was always “in character.” I mean, the real deal. Many people in p0ker couldn’t stand him, but then he was so damned entertaining to listen to that you couldn’t pull away from his outlandish stories. “Slim” and I had a number of dealings together before his death. Not sure I’d call him a friend. Not many did. He used to call me “the fat blonde kid.” Come to think of it, I was never fond of him personally, but I also recognized his contributions to poker and legacy in the game was immense. He was the first real poker superstar. I snapped this photo of Slim checking out the final table action. Near him are Mike Sexton (seated) and Benny Behnen, who is the grandson of the late great Benny Binion.
Daniel Negreanu (2001) — Daniel Negreanu has the chance to leave a legacy that might end up unmatched by any player in poker history. He’s the total package — great player, lots of personality, and the game’s premier ambassador. Negreanu just turned age 40 a few months ago. He might be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. We’ll soon hear the results. To think that he still may have four more decades ahead of him as a player seems pretty remarkable.
John Bonetti (2000) — Here’s a photo taken with the late John Bonetti, who I got to know quite well when he was at his best. In fact, Bonetti was one of the very first in-depth personality features I wrote for Card Player magazine, some twenty years ago. At the tables, Bonetti could be both abusive and hysterical, often at the same time. He couldn’t contain his frustrations, so he didn’t bother trying. Back in 2005, we did a huge roast for Bonetti. Everyone in poker turned out for a great evening. The jokes were as good as anything you’d see from a top comedy act. I’ll write about that night sometime — it remains one of the funnest nights I’ve ever enjoyed in poker. A short time later, the three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away about a year later. I sure miss “Bono.”
Men “the Master” Nguyen with The Behnen Family (Benny and Becky) (2000) — This photo shows Men “the Master” Nguyen sitting alongside Benny Behnen and Becky Binion-Behnen, who shared the duties running the Horseshoe. I worked with and for both of them, even the rest of the time when the WSOP ended. I’ve written here about some of those amazing experiences.
Mel Judah (1998) — One of my favorite people in poker has always been Mel Judah, from London. He’s always a gentleman and has done a lot for the game. Judah was one of the first real player advocates. This photos shows Judah playing at the WSOP back in 1998, the year after he finished fifth in the Main Event Championship.
Brad Daugherty (1997) — Here’s Brad Daugherty, the 1992 world poker champion, in a photo taken in 1997, I believe. Daughterty was the first million dollar Main Event winner in history. Unfortunately, Daugherty wasn’t able to profit much from the poker boom. He played mostly around Las Vegas until 7 or 8 years ago. He moved to Asia last I heard. Another nice man I enjoyed being with, who isn’t seen much anymore.
Berry Johnston (2001) — One of poker’s true gentlemen is Berry Johnston, the 1986 world champion. I shot this photo in 2001 of him right after his victory. Johnston was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2004, much to my insistence (back then, it was three people who decided and I was one of them). He still plays at a highly-competitive level. Today, Johnston resides in his native Oklahoma.
Melissa Hayden (2000) — Melissa Hayden has always been a lightning rod. I think she kinda’ likes that. Opinionated and outspoken, Hayden rubs some people the wrong way. Here’s my response — fuck ’em. If a man talked like Hayden does, no one would say a word about it. Instead, she gets a tough rap from some people because of the double standard of behavior that exists not just in poker, but all society. Sure, Hayden and I have some differences (not many). But I’ve always respected her and enjoy hearing what she has to say. Back around 2000 when this photo was taken, Hayden was one of the top female players in the game. Many people forget that.
David “the Dragon” Pham (2000) — This is David “the Dragon” Pham. Some might be surprised to learn I created and then ran Card Player magazine’s “Player of the Year” ranking system the first five years. It’s now been going 17 years and has been copied by just about every other major poker media outlet. Doing the work on that was a real pain, but in the end it was worth it because it was the first system that was widely used to rank players. I first became aware of Pham’s talents when he won the honor back in 2000, which was the last year I did all the tracking. I took this photo in 2001 right after Pham won his first of two WSOP gold bracelets. I like Pham and hope he can get back to the top of his game.
A Final Note: I hope you enjoyed some of these memories and thoughts. I’ll post more photos and comments in the future.