Remembering Lou Krieger
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
— Dr. Seuss
Lou Krieger was so fond of quotations.
Yet I sit here now reflecting upon the devastating news of his passing and the extraordinary measure of his character, desperately grasping for the appropriate quip which captures the essence of a man who passed away yesterday.
Of all people, Dr. Seuss provides the best summation of how we should look upon the death, and more importantly the life of the man known by most people in the poker world as Lou Krieger.
Most of us simply called him “Lou.” That was his chosen pen name. Over the course of two decades, during which poker was ushered out of smoky backrooms into international prominence, he wrote hundreds of columns for Card Player magazine. He authored 11 poker books, all on strategy.
Lou was a writer, a teacher, a broadcaster, a strategist, and a player. But his accomplishments within the game of poker – although widely appreciated – were but a tiny fraction of the very full life of the man who was born in Brooklyn, NY and died yesterday at his home in Palm Springs, CA.
Indeed, Lou was actually born as Roger Lubin. The son of Jewish parents, Lou spent his early childhood on the streets and playgrounds of Brooklyn and his summers along Coney Island. Although he later blossomed into a true philosopher and gifted intellectual, Lou never veered very far from his working-class roots. He was able to converse with just about anyone, on virtually any subject, and was able to make those around him feel as though they were both heard and respected — sadly characteristics increasingly rare in society.
Alas, if listening is an art form, then Lou was our Michelangelo. He was the best listener I have ever met. Perhaps that’s ultimately what made him such a respected and beloved figure to those who knew him. Lou was always there to listen.
Lou eventually left New York and moved west to Long Beach, CA where he spent most of his adult years. He worked for a utility company he once described as a “very conservative,” which managed much of California’s precious water supply. One of the reasons he adopted the pen name “Lou Krieger” was to essentially pull off two very real identities – one as a buttoned-down business executive, and the other as a poker player and writer. Both were equally robust.
The first time I talked to Lou was about 18 years ago. I had just begun writing for Card Player myself. One of Lou’s early columns had a particularly strong impact on me. So, I wrote him a short letter telling how much I enjoyed that column. This was back in the days just before the Internet. Imagine my surprise then upon recieving a late-night phone call from one of the poker writers I looked up to as an icon. It was Lou Krieger.
I think we talked on the phone for a couple of hours that first night. It was the beginning of a special friendship. Every time I met Lou from that time forward, all of our discussions were always measured in hours rather than minutes. There were always so many interesting things to discuss with Lou. Or perhaps, he was just such a great listener that I always felt like the most important person in the world when I was around him. I think everyone felt that way when they talked to Lou.
About six years later, Lou and I would collaborate on a poker seminar which was sponsored by PokerPages.com. One of the venues we visited was the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, which had just legalized poker. This was still way before the poker boom. So, poker seminars were rare. Lou attracted a packed house. I served as the warm-up act, but at least I didn’t have to follow Lou as a speaker. That would have been a disaster.
I remember Lou taking the stage in front of about 400 people and introducing me. He called me “one of my best friends.”
Those words always meant something special to me. To be thought of in that way by someone. Especially someone I respected so much.
Over the course of the next decade, we enjoyed many chats together. Many conversations. Even a few arguments. There never seemed to be enough time.
Lou always took tremendous pride in his work. I remember editors telling me he never missed a deadline. Not once (“Why can’t you be more like Lou Krieger!” was a complaint I often heard). I witnessed Lou crafting his writing more than a few times. He would think and re-think each and every word on the page, going over his manuscript repeatedly until he was finally satisfied with the content. He fine-tuned everything he did, and only then was he willing to affix his name to the passages that flowed from his mind to his fingertips and ultimately to thousands of readers around the world.
Then, there was his popular show “Keep Flopping Aces,” which ran for many years on the Rounders Radio network. Co-hosted with poker player and writer Shari Geller, Lou always gave his guests plenty of time to talk and to shine. He respected his guests and always asked provocative questions which brought out the best in those who appeared on the program. I had the great honor of guest appearing on his show perhaps a dozen times. Time always flew by while we were on the air together. I didn’t feel like it was an interview. I thought I was talking to a friend. Lou seemed to have that effect on everyone.
Lou eventually married a schoolteacher and settled down with his lovely wife in Palm Springs, CA. He may have been officially retired from the big corporation, but age wasn’t about to slow down the fiercely-independent man who rode his bicycle daily and who devoured books and reading material like a hungry wolf in a forest. A voracious reader, Lou was interested in just about every subject imaginable. Although opinionated, he often read things that challenged him. He wasn’t content to accept the status quo about anything. Whether it was his own personal development, his status as a writer, or a student of life, Lou always pushed his boundaries. Over time, the very borders that encompassed Lou’s multitude of personality couldn’t possibly contain all the interests he had or the things he wanted to explore.
Oddly enough, Lou and I never saw eye-to-eye politically. In fact, we were almost polar opposites. He was a fierce Libertarian. And despite those differences, we still enjoyed the deepest friendship and camaraderie. He was so engaging as an intellectual force, that it hardly mattered I could never agree with him. I still always wanted to hear more of what Lou had to say and the reasons he felt as he did. Two things I will always admire in Lou were his mastery of logic and his unwavering philosophical consistency.
About eight months ago, Lou announced to his closest friends that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Upon hearing this frightening news, I immediately recalled that this was the same dreaded malady that took the life of the great writer and thinker Christopher Hitchens. Could such a devastating ailment not only take away my idealogical mentor in addition to the dear friend who gave me my first words of encouragement as a fledgling poker writer some 18 years ago?
On Monday morning of this week, Lou Krieger left us. But he leaves us all much wiser, fuller, richer, more optimistic, and infinitely more joyous.
As Dr. Suess might say — We shoud not cry. Instead, we should all smile because Lou Krieger happened.