I just learned Robert Panitch passed away. He was 63.
That name probably won’t resonate with many people. Mr. Panitch was better known as “Uncle Krunk,” an oddball nickname given to him by some younger poker colleagues who traveled around the country with their cranky elder, attending various events along the national tournament circuit. Seemingly weird and often grumpy, the “Uncle Krunk” moniker associated with Mr. Panitch gained a notoriety and hilarity all its own when his fictionalized Twitter persona became a sort of alter ego, often firing out riotous commentary about the contemporary poker scene.
However, as with many seemingly funny people who appear to be “different,” behind the crotchety mask was a deeply caring man with his own private set of circumstances and personal problems which where largely hidden away from public view. Beneath the brusque exterior was a man with valiantly unwavering devotion.
The first time I met Mr. Panitch was at a World Series of Poker Circuit event in 2008, which was played in Hammond, Indiana — just outside his hometown of Chicago. Mr. Panitch came into poker in his mid-50s and made his first final table appearance As I was about to introduce him to the crowd, I asked for clarification on how to pronounce his name correctly.
“You can say ‘PAN’ can’t you?” he asked.
“You can say ‘ITCH’ can’t you?” he asked.
“Now put the two words together — ‘PAN-ITCH.’ There, that’s not too difficult for you, is it?”
As I said, if you ever met or played poker with Mr. Panitch you probably remember something unusual about him.
Take for instance his strange eating habits while sitting at the poker table. Mr. Panitch always carried a knapsack louded with various snacks tucked inside plastic baggies, and he nibbled at them constantly. He consumed vast amounts of nuts and fruits and granola bars over the course of a day, which come to find out was part of a special diet. When I reluctantly asked him once about his eating all the time, he informed me that he had health issues which required him to eat certain foods for their nutritional value. He must have downed 10-15 snacks a day, but never seemed to gain a pound.
However, the most peculiar thing I remember about Mr. Panitch was his apparent repudiation of all forms of technology. Once, when he qualified to play in the WSOP National Championship (in 2013) I asked Panitch for his e-mail address.
“I don’t have an e-mail address,” he snapped. “I don’t use it.”
I’m not sure if he even owned a cell phone. Mr. Panitch’s grumpy old man ways and “get off my lawn” crankiness was certainly no act. He was the real deal. Accordingly, a group of younger poker players somehow took this persona and created a Twitter account in his name, along with his photo, affectionately named “Uncle Krunk.” While Mr. Panitch had nothing to do with either setting up the account nor any of the content, the Twitter posts made the semi-pro poker player famous for a time to the point where he enjoyed a cult following.
“Uncle Krunk” posts became laughably obscene, often spewing profanities, and yet he was almost always dead on accurate with scathing commentary about other players and the wackiness he and others observed at various tournament stops around the country. The anonymous account set up with Mr. Panitch’s persona became a sort of inner demon and the collective consciousness of all tourney grinders, forced to put up with the incessant tanking of their opponents, poor hygiene, inane table chatter, and the innumerable challenges of trying to support oneself by playing poker. “Uncle Krunk” became a lovable devil.
The real Mr. Panitch seemed to take it all in stride. Eventually, he became aware of his notoriety as many players mistakenly thought those were his posts, and actual thoughts. To the very end, Mr. Panitch played the cantankerous role to perfection, although a select few who got to know him better came to realize there was something far more interesting and commendable about this man beneath the surface
Mr. Panitch was indeed a caring uncle to several nieces and nephews, in the words of Chad Holloway, who recently wrote a nice tribute to his passing, which occurred on May 1st. He was also a loyal son and brother to the other members of his close-knit family, perhaps confirmed best by the selfless act of taking care of his elderly mother for many years before she passed away just a few years ago.
With his death, poker has lost yet another of its most colorful characters, his memory now made all the more vibrant by finally realizing that behind the surly exterior at the tables we often witnessed was actually a deeply devoted and sensitive man who will be missed, but not forgotten.
Read a more comprehensive feature on Robert Panitch here at POKERNEWS.COM
Special thanks to Rex Clinkscales for the post on Facebook which announced Robert Panitch’s passing.