Knowing that someone elderly is about to leave this world doesn’t make it any easier or less sad when the news becomes official. This morning I woke up to read the sad news about the passing of Cardplayer Lifestyle’s Senior Contributor George Epstein.
George and I first connected way back in September 2013, when he was writing for Gaming Today. I had reached out asking if he’d kindly review my Poker Notes Live App, and he graciously did so with a glowing column. Little did I know that that initial correspondence would evolve into a genuine, incredible friendship.
Curious by nature, George replied with some questions about me: where did I live? What games did I play?
I had no idea at the time that I was corresponding with an octogenarian. Slowly, but surely, we got to know each other better.
When I started sending out the Cardplayer Lifestyle newsletter in 2016, unbeknownst to me George decided to subscribe. Numerous times, on his own volition, he replied to me personally saying how much he enjoyed the newsletters, offering extremely positive and insightful feedback. Sometimes, he just wanted to send a few words of encouragement. They meant the world to me.
At some point in our correspondence, George mentioned to me that he had authored two poker books, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing them. “Of course!” I said. I’m happy I did because more than I learned about poker, I learned about George. Here was a man who knew how to engineer success at (and away) from the poker tables.
It was then that I had the additional good fortune to become acquainted with George’s daughter, Sue. Oh, how grateful I am to still have her friendship today.
Through corresponding with Sue, I got to learn even more about George.
Especially as someone old enough to be my grandfather, George’s aptitude for technology always impressed me. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact he worked for decades in the aerospace industry. My friend was quite literally a rocket scientist!
Even so, he didn’t have any social media accounts, so it was always nice of Sue to let me know George’s birthday was coming up.
Our correspondence continued sporadically until out-of-the-blue, in mid-2017, George suddenly offered to write an article for Cardplayer Lifestyle. Things continued to blossom from there, as he soon became a regular contributor.
Out of respect and admiration, I’ve always referred to George publicly with the tongue-in-cheek moniker of being our Senior Contributor. But that’s a distinction he’s most certainly earned. George has written exactly 100 articles for this website over the years, the highest total from a contributing writer second only to me. In fact, I published his latest one a mere eight days ago. Little did I realize…
An Honor and Privilege to Have Met the Man
Things “got real” in February 2018, as our relationship matured beyond the virtual realm. On a bright, sunny day in Los Angeles, I finally got to meet George and Sue. Our delightful brunch that day remains my most treasured memory of him.
I don’t think I could put it any better than I did in the column I subsequently wrote about our in-person encounter.
I remember being in absolute awe of that then-91-year-old man. Though a little hard of hearing, I understood instantly that I was in the presence of a GREAT person. Sharp as a tack, needing no assistance from a walker or cane, head held high, George regaled us with story after story of his poker games at the Hustler Casino, his favorite room.
What I would give to have another brunch with George. It seemed like he’d live until 120.
Robbed of Vitality by the Pandemic
Who doesn’t have a bad beat story over these last couple years? While George thankfully never caught COVID, the fallout from the pandemic sadly robbed him of his favorite activity, playing poker.
Staying active is the key to staying young, and George was blessed to be a “young ninety-something.” He used to catch an Access-a-Ride three times a week to go and play low-limit Hold’em, his enjoyment of and appreciation for the experience far outweighing his wins or losses (he usually won). Unfortunately, when the world changed in those fateful days of March 2020, out of an abundance of caution George mostly had to stay home.
When you’re in your 90s, it’s not so easy to withstand a long winter of loneliness.
George’s body started to age more rapidly.
Yet, his mind did not.
While so many of us pivoted and changed gears, George understood that he had to as well. So, he channeled his energies into researching and writing more poker columns.
A couple weeks ago, Sue revealed to me that George had already penned another 35(!) columns or so that he had been waiting to send me.
One Last Hurrah
In April of last year, I had the good fortune to see George one final time. Being able to pay him a visit genuinely felt like the fulfillment of a calling from Above.
He asked about how my family and I were doing in Israel and we spent the better part of half an hour catching up, as old friends do.
I’m finding myself smiling through tears, remembering George’s words to me then. Before we parted, he said “hopefully soon, things will open back up and maybe I can even get back to playing poker again.”
One cannot continue living without hope, and here was the embodiment of it in the form of a 94-year-old man — pandemic and physical frailty be damned — dreaming about his next poker session.
I left his home feeling impossibly inspired.
Down to His Last Outs
Alas, there was no more poker in the cards for George. In late January, I got an email from him… except it wasn’t from George; it was from Sue.
Cliché though it might be, time does indeed catch up with all of us, and it slowly started to become evident to me – via regular updates from Sue about George’s time in the hospital – that George unfortunately just didn’t have any more “chip and a chair” left in him. His time was coming.
We should all be so fortunate to have children as devoted, loving, and caring as Sue towards her father. George lived with Sue for the past many years, and when George had to leave home, Sue took care to visit with him for many hours each day, always ensuring George had company and that he was getting the best possible care.
My heart was simultaneously broken and warmed to learn that Sue would print out each of George’s articles that we’d publish here and take them to him so he could read them in his hospital bed.
When George learned that I was taking a trip to Las Vegas with my father earlier this month, it was important to him to send us a video greeting:
“Hi Robbie. I wanna wish you lots of good luck – I heard you and your Dad are visiting Las Vegas. Good luck. Win money. Bye!”
A short 20 seconds that filled me with joy and hope.
Dad and I sent George a minute-long video reply from our hotel room, wishing him a speedy and complete recovery, and sharing that he was in our thoughts and prayers.
There’ll Be Time Enough for Countin’ When the Dealin’s Done
As Sue began making the appropriate preparations over the past couple of days, she informed me that she wanted a token of George’s “poker life” to be buried with him and sent me this picture:
I’ve learned many, many lessons from George including this very important one: While humans have an inherent biological need to be heard, this need doesn’t taper away with age. It’s just up to us to keep listening.
The octo-cum-nonagenarian I had the privilege of befriending over much of the last decade still had so much to offer this world in his twilight years, and it has been my absolute privilege to help facilitate that to a small degree.
George’s poker articles have been read by tens of thousands of people and legions more will continue to learn from his poker strategy articles for years to come.
I’ve promised Sue that Cardplayer Lifestyle will continue to publish the three dozen or so remaining articles George penned prior to his passing.
I’m also pledging that a portion of any sponsorship revenues that may be generated from George’s remaining articles will be donated to Alzheimer’s research, something George was particularly passionate about.
Lock Up a Seat for George
Next time an elderly person approaches you, I encourage you to resist the temptation to find an excuse to turn away or suddenly rediscover just how interesting your smartphone is. Take the time to pay attention. Slow down. Listen to what they have to say.
You may end up winning yourself a friend for life.
And when that elderly person’s time eventually and inevitably comes, you’ll cry. Because it hurts to lose a friend, even if that friend passes away at 95 years old.
But after the tears dry, you’ll be able to smile because you know that just by listening and paying attention, you’ve given them the gift of life; and in turn they will have enriched yours in ways you could never have envisioned.
That’s the best hand anyone could ever hope to be dealt.
Click here to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of Cardplayer Lifestyle’s Senior Contributor, George Epstein.