Another calendar year is nearly in the books. 2020 has been a challenging year for many, a great year for a select few, and for all, at least, a year unlike any other. Over the course of the past 12 months, the poker world has also had to say farewell to quite a few well-known personalities, including players and industry pros alike. Here are just some of the people we’ve lost in 2020:
Poker lost one of its most prominent spokesmen and representatives when the acclaimed “Ambassador of Poker”lost his battle with prostate cancer on September 6th. The Ohio native and long-time Las Vegas resident will be remembered for largely for two achievements — helping create and serving as the face of one of the most important brands in online-poker history, partypoker, and serving as one of the commentators for the famed World Poker Tour for most of its lengthy and ongoing run. Sexton, 72, was an accomplished player himself, winning a WPT title and a WSOP bracelet during his decades-long poker career.
Moon, 56, was the unknown logger from West Virginia who shot to global poker fame in 2009 when he led the way to the final table of that year’s World Series of Poker main event. Moon eventually finished as the runner-up for nearly $5.2 million, being the last of several players to fall to champion Joe Cada’s closing heater. Moon was a quiet and direct man who dodged the fame of his breakout accomplishment, though he eventually agreed to represent the Heartland Poker Tour, where he also frequently participated. Moon died on September 16th following complications from surgery.
Suzie “Suzie Q” Zhao
The most tragic death impacting the poker world was almost certainly that of Zhao, 32, who was brutally murdered on July 13. Zhao achieved poker fame in cash games in Los Angeles, where she played and occasionally commentated on the Bicycle Casino’s “Live at the Bike” streamed cash games. Zhao also logged three WSOP Main Event cashes in the 2010’s. Zhao had returned to Michigan to live with family only weeks before her burned and tortured body was discovered in a deserted forest-preserve parking lot. Her accused murdered, Jeffery Bernard Morris, will stand trial for the crime in 2021.
The Vegas cash-game scene lost one of its colorful players when the 67-year-old Grizzle died on September 20th after suffering a massive stroke. The outspoken and consternating Grizzle could be found in the middle of many heated table discussions (often with Phil Hellmuth), yet he was revered by his many poker-world friends. Grizzle played many tourneys as well, and just weeks before his death, logged the largest cash of his career in final-tabling one of the 2020 WSOP Online events.
Well-known Irish pro Smurfit died on September 13th from unknown causes. Smurfit, 77, was famed for winning the first WSOP event he ever entered, the $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha. A successful businessman in Ireland, Smurfit retired to sunny Miami, Florida while playing in many US and international events. Smurfit logged over $1.65 million in recorded tournament cashes.
“A-Game Rob”, a smiling and well-known player who often participated in Maryland, Florida, and Las Vegas, where he frequented major tourneys, died on August 5th from COVID-19. Gray nearly won his first WSOP bracelet during the 2019 series, finishing as the runner-up to Michael Mizrachi in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low 8-or-Better event.
Two-time WSOP bracelet winner and seven-card-stud specialist Pardey passed away at age 75 on August 1st after suffering a massive stroke in late June. Pardey won both of his bracelets during the 1990’s and logged over $725,000 in recorded cashes during a career spanning at least four decades.
Multiple Passings on Industry Side
2020 also saw an unusual number of well-known industry workers passing on, often in the prime of their careers. Among those left us were player / dealer / tourney director Ethan May, card columnist Danny Fisher, WPT statistician Keith Kozar, and several others.
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