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The Man Who Came in Second

Frank “Second-Best” Henderson

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Sep 17, 2010


Frank HendersonI ran into Frank Henderson at this year’s World Series of Poker. Frank, one of the most likeable guys in poker, always has a funny story to tell. My favorite is the one about the time he was playing in a lowball game that included four women at the table. Jokingly, he asked if they had an interest in anything else besides lowball — sex, for example — and one of the women replied, “Do you mean sex-five or sex-four?”

Henderson has a bracelet in pot-limit Omaha from 1989, but he is known mostly for carrying around a pad and pencil and selling pieces of himself in tournaments. He is so anxious to have his fellow players share in his successes that he is acknowledged to be the undisputed master of letting others take chunks of him. During his long career, in fact, he’s sold more pieces of himself than a Hollywood Boulevard hooker. Maybe that’s why one of his nicknames is “Hollywood Henderson.” Another of his nicknames is “The Manager,” for his adeptness at doing the math and promotion as he rounds up prospects. If he could figure out how to do it, he probably would try to sell pieces of his bracelet. One year, he even took his business to a new level when he attempted to auction off pieces of himself on eBay.

That inspired me to write a column a few years ago in which I described how Henderson went into the business of selling players the rights to have poker hands named after them, similar to the way the International Star Registry sells the “rights” to have a star named after you — both offers being equally sanctioned and legitimate.

But this time when I ran into him, Henderson had a different request. “Can you write a poker movie about me, Max?” he asked.

“Well,” I replied, “Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and a few others have asked me the same thing, so you may have to wait awhile. But why do you want one?”

He began complaining that nobody remembers that he came in second in the 1987 main event, the year that Johnny Chan won his first championship.

“Well, nobody ever remembers anyone who finished second at the World Series,” I said. “In fact, Nolan Dalla, the WSOP media director, wrote a story to that effect. And remember what Bobby Unser, the race car driver, once said: ‘Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second.’”

“Maybe so,” Henderson persisted, “but everyone remembers that Erik Seidel came in second when Chan won his second championship the following year. You know why? Because they showed that scene in the movie Rounders. Now, if you could write a movie showing my final-hand matchup, maybe I could finally get the recognition I deserve.”

I explained that it would be hard to write an entire movie script about a single hand, but Henderson wouldn’t give up. “But the hand has a place in history,” he persisted. “Chan had ace of spades, nine of clubs and beat my pocket fours when the nine of hearts came on the river. Then, in 2000, Chris Ferguson beat T.J. [Cloutier] with exactly the same two starting cards, and also won when the nine of hearts came on the river.”

“Oh, that’s different. I’ll think about it,” I said vaguely. Then, seeing the hurt look on his face, I tried to make amends by giving him a new nickname. “From this day forward,” I proclaimed, “you shall be known as Frank ‘Second-Best’ Henderson.”

That gave me an idea. If the Star Registry can sell star names, and Henderson can sell poker-hand names, maybe I could sell poker nicknames to players. Yes, I know there are already more nicknames in poker than in every other sport combined, everything from “Eskimo” Clark to Robert “Chip Burner” Turner to Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. (Incidentally, I’ve never understood something: If Chris likes to be known as “Jesus,” why does he walk around in a cowboy hat and coat instead of a robe and sandals? But that’s another story.)

Anyway, there are lots more monikers to go around. For example, I could think of at least three for Brent Carter alone: “Chariot,” because he once was a professional harness race driver; “Big Gulp,” for the 2-gallon cups of soda he is constantly lugging around; and “The Spoiler,” for knocking Barbara Enright out at the 1995 WSOP main-event final table when he called her all-in bet with the 6Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit, a call that Jim McManus in his book Cowboys Full aptly described as “bizarre,” and proceeded to outdraw her pocket eights. And how about “Duke” for Tom McEvoy, because he’s such a sharp dresser (yeah, right; he favors pigs-on-motorcycles neckties)? “The Poker Queen” would be perfect for Barbara, not only for her countless poker titles, but because she treats me like a peasant. See, there are plenty of names left. I could think of a dozen just for Sam Grizzle, although I doubt if Card Player would print any of them.

When I asked my sweetie what she thought of my idea, she said that I ought to start off by coming up with a nickname for myself.

“How about ‘Chain Saw’?” I suggested.

“Allen Kessler already took that name,” she reminded me. “And in any event, ‘Feather Duster’ would be more appropriate for you.”

“Well, then how about ‘Max the Ax,’ or ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’ or …”

“Let’s be realistic,” she said. “I think ‘Dead Money’ would be perfect for you.”

I wasn’t exactly thrilled with her choice. Then, while doing nickname research on the Internet, I discovered a site,, that will generate a nickname for you. Excitedly, I went there, answered a few questions about myself, picked a few cards, and lo and behold, the site came up with a nickname for me: “Grape.”

Grape! Are they trying to be funny or something? OK, Queen Barbara, you win. “Dead Money Max” it is. Maybe I’ll write a part for myself in Frank’s movie. Spade Suit

Max Shapiro, a lifelong poker player and former newspaper reporter with several writing awards to his credit, has been writing a humor column for Card Player ever since it was launched more than 20 years ago. His early columns were collected in his book, Read ’em and Laugh.