Poker is often said to be a close-knit industry, a community built around a card game that translates around the world. Because of this, poker players are immediately accessible to us all in this world of social media and instant connection in a way they never were in the past.
Despite this, there are still some players and industry personalities who are almost certain never to go deep in a feature with any poker media outlets due to a variety of reasons. But who are they?
We don’t mean a couple of bitesize nuggets of media speak, with a deferred credit to any opponents and a promise of ‘lots more to come this year but I can’t talk about it right now’. We’re talking a ‘warts and all’ deep dish interview feature.
Let’s look at five stars from the felt who we are unlikely to ever hear from again in any meaningful sense despite them still being a big part of the game we all love.
1. Chris Ferguson
It’s easy to summarize why Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson would be a draw for any poker media outlet worthy of the name. The 2000 WSOP Main Event winner was always a hot ticket for a few quotes about the game we adore down to his skill and success in poker. That exclusivity ramped up to ‘11’ a decade ago, when Ferguson was implicated by many in the ‘Black Friday’ scandal that took down Full Tilt Poker and skittled online poker in the United States in the process.
For years, Ferguson has protested his innocence, but refused to really go into what happened, instead promising the ‘full story’ will come out one day. It’s very hard to see that happening 10 years on with the final line drawn under Black Friday in recent months and radio silence from ‘Team Jesus’ ever since.
Could Ferguson arrive at the 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas later this year? We’d bet money on it. Will he say more than two words to anyone asking for an interview? Having asked him on multiple occasions a few years ago at the Rio ourselves, we’d bet the house against it.
2. Gabe Kaplan
On the face of it, Gabe Kaplan should be first on the hit-list of any would-be interviewer. The man formerly known as ‘Kotter’ in the popular TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, which ran between 1975 and 1979, is back in the poker big-time thanks to his involvement in Season 8 of High Stakes Poker.
The iconic poker series returned in 2020 after Kaplan had previously presented Seasons 1-6 of the show between 2006 and 2010, missing only one season of the action. Back behind the mic now alongside original co-host A.J. Benza, Kaplan’s mischievous style fits the show like a glove and it’s likely that he is now back in poker for good given the show’s popularity.
Outside of poker, Kaplan is a keen follower of politics and remains a witty commentator on American life in particular. We’d love to speak with Kaplan about his years in the game and on stage and television. Let’s hope we’re wrong in feeling like that’s a one-outer of a long shot with only the river to come.
3. Howard Lederer
Another player tarred by the Black Friday scandal, Lederer, also known as ‘The Professor’ was a huge presence in the glory years of post-Moneymaker stardom for the FTP crew. Lederer’s career is still a hugely impressive one, with two career WSOP bracelets and $6.5 million in live tournament earnings alone.
Lederer may not have cashed in a live poker tournament since 2011, or at the WSOP since 2010, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been present. He showed up a few times at the World Series of Poker over the past five years, including playing in a ‘Tag Team’ event with Chris Ferguson!
Lots of people still blame Lederer for the FTP scandal and although he did a couple lengthy interviews in 2012 and subsequently put out a statement taking ‘full responsibility’, many felt that they were full of non-intention platitudes designed to assuage himself of blame rather than to genuinely apologize.
Will the poker world ever get another chance to interview Howard Lederer?
4. Mark Scheinberg
Impossible to ignore is the current set-up at PokerStars and in particular the Scheinberg family. With the poker legend that is Isai Scheinberg, son Mark played a crucial role in Stars’ emergence as a market leader from the company’s germination in 2001.
Scheinberg left PokerStars in 2014, having sold the company to the Amaya Group for $4.9 billion. This in turn led to the introduction of casino games to accompany online poker on the site, and the departure of many of the brand’s most popular Team Pro players such as Victoria Coren Mitchell, and subsequently Jason Mercier, Vanessa Selbst and Daniel Negreanu.
There’s no end to the questions we could fire at Scheinberg, but beyond those it would just be fascinating to learn from his perspective what the journey was really like from 2001 onwards where PokerStars became the most popular poker site in the world.
While Isai recently granted his first-ever interview to Lance Bradley at PocketFives.com, Mark has yet to give one. As the Schienbergs have left the poker industry, it’s increasing unlikely that poker fans will ever get a true look into what remains possibly the most important period of growth in the history of the game.
5. Billy Baxter
A legend of the game, Poker Hall of Famer Billy Baxter is almost the poster boy for a forgotten age of poker. Baxter was a young gambler who was hustling pool at 14, playing poker in taverns as he turned into a young man and who even turned his honeymoon into a nine-month stay in Las Vegas instead.
Winning seven WSOP bracelets in lowball games, Baxter also made his name suing the U.S. government for a $178,000 tax refund, proving that his poker winnings were an “earned income”, something that acknowledged poker as a profession rather than a pastime. This has been a fight that was well worth entering the ring for.
In the years since, Baxter’s battle with Uncle Sam has become one of the most pivotal in poker history in giving the game respect from the rest of society. Add into the mix Baxter’s backing of Stu Ungar and he’d be an incredible potential interviewee. Now in his 81st year, the chance of discussing poker’s path from side hustle to a game played under TV lights sadly seems remote.
Editor’s note: Cardplayer Lifestyle would most certainly welcome the opportunity to conduct a feature-length interview with any of the five aforementioned individuals, should such an opportunity ever present itself. Which of these five would you want to hear from first? Why not get in touch on Twitter and let us know!