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My Poker Influencers

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Apr 17, 2013


Bernard LeeOver the past several years, I have asked the following question to hundreds of poker guests on my weekly radio show.

What player(s) has influenced you in the world of poker?

The answers have ranged from the Godfather of Poker (Doyle Brunson) to the Phils (Ivey or Hellmuth) to the creator of the poker boom (Chris Moneymaker) to the online superstars (Jason Mercier, Tom Dwan, Viktor Blom).

Recently, the tables were turned as an interviewer asked me the same exact question. Recollecting all the players I had read about and come in contact with over the years, the following people were the ones that truly helped shape my poker career.

Chip Reese

Back in the early 1990s, a college friend suggested that we both travel down to a newly opened casino deep in the backwoods of Connecticut. Not wanting to embarrass myself at the tables, I asked him if I could borrow his copy of Super System by Doyle Brunson. Having been taught poker by my father at a young age, I immediately turned to the section with the game I was most familiar with: seven-card stud.

Thus, while I do have to thank Texas Dolly for compiling his iconic book, David “Chip” Reese is truly one of my earliest influencers, as the Hall of Famer wrote the seven-card stud section. I copied the over 40-page chapter, eventually reading and re-reading this wealth of information over a dozen times during that formidable year.

However, the portion of this chapter that impacted me the most was about Reese’s background. Reese was an Ivy Leaguer (like myself) that gave up a promising professional career (I would do the same 15 years later) to become a professional poker player.
Although I was not delusional believing that I would become nearly as good as Chip Reese, his story did inspire me to improve my overall poker game and that it was acceptable to pursue the game I loved. Additionally, this gave me the confidence that I possibly could play poker for a living one day.

If it wasn’t for Reese’s seven-card stud section in Super System, I would not have been as successful starting out in poker and I may not have stuck with it all these years.

Russell Rosenblum

Many people began watching poker when Chris Moneymaker captured the World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event in 2003. However, I had been a fan of poker for years, even before the poker world changed forever a decade ago.

I remember watching the old tapes of Stu Ungar winning his third WSOP main event title on Fremont Street in 1997. I also recall watching Robert Varkonyi capture the 2002 WSOP main event on ESPN. During that final table, a critical hand made me assess my own poker abilities, inspiring me to further improve my own game.

An attorney from Maryland, Russell Rosenblum was living the dream of any poker player by making the WSOP main event final table. After battling for hours, he was unfortunately eliminated in sixth place, taking home $150,000. Afterward, he was invited to join commentators Gabe Kaplan and Lon McEachern in the booth. As a pivotal hand between Harley Hall and Ralph Perry unfolded, the hosts asked Rosenblum what he thought the players were possibly holding. (Remember, in 2002, hole card cameras had not been introduced so the viewers did not know.) He predicted that Hall held a medium ace and Perry had Q-10 or Q-9. After the two opponents revealed their cards, Rosenblum was exactly on the mark with his prediction, stating “I called it.”

At the time, I thought this was remarkable. Shaking my head in disbelief, I could not believe how Rosenblum could so accurately predict these players’ exact hole cards. Back then, I remember thinking that I was pretty good at poker. But after this hand, I was truly humbled, realizing that I needed to study the game much more if I really wanted to become a top-level poker player.

Years later in 2006, Russell and I coincidentally ended up playing together at a World Poker Finals final table, in which I won my first title and Rosenblum finished third. During one of the breaks, I mentioned the above story to him. He seemed genuinely touched that he influenced my career and we have been friendly ever since.

Tom McEvoy

Wanting to improve my no-limit hold’em game to the next level, I decided to purchase some books to better understand the key strategies and concepts of the game. Back at the turn of the century, there was not the plethora of books which we see today. However, one of the most prolific poker writers of his time was 1983 WSOP main event champion, Tom McEvoy. Having purchased several of his books, the one, which became my early mainstay, was Championship No-Limit and Pot-limit Hold’em written by McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier. After reading this book several times, I adopted many of the concepts, developing what I believed was an excellent foundation.

However, ever the perfectionist, I wanted to take my game to even another higher level, possibly enough to compete with the big boys. Thus, in 2004, I contacted McEvoy to get some private lessons. Not only did I choose him for his book, but McEvoy was also the first WSOP main event champion to earn his seat via a satellite. Since I desperately wanted to play in the WSOP main event, a satellite would realistically be the only way for me to achieve my dream.

After a few sessions (initially by phone, but the last one, I flew into Las Vegas to meet with him face-to-face), I truly felt I had a much better grasp of the subtle nuances of no-limit hold’em. I felt ready to take on the poker world and, less than a year later, I would finish in 13th place in the 2005 WSOP main event.

Billy Baxter

The dream for any poker player, including myself, is to capture a WSOP bracelet. For years, I have stated in the press that if you sincerely want to win a WSOP bracelet, the odds of winning in no-limit hold’em are remote at best. Each of these bracelet events has thousands of players registered, ultimately creating difficult odds to capture the coveted piece of hardware.

Thus, I believe that it would be beneficial to master one of the other mixed games. After taking my own advice and looking at multiple games, deuce-to-seven no-limit single draw fit my personality and style perfectly. The game is considered one of the purest forms of poker, but there are not many books or tutorials about the game.

Therefore, I was extremely fortunate to meet the master of lowball: Billy Baxter. The Hall of Famer holds seven WSOP bracelets, all of which are in lowball games. During our conversations, we discussed different potential scenarios and strategies of lowball. Baxter was able to give me the master’s insights to many of my novice questions.

Fortunately, in 2011, Baxter was assigned to my table on Day 1 of the $1,500 WSOP deuce-to-seven preliminary event. Afterward, I asked him to critique my play during the day. He complimented me, stating that I had a natural feel for the game and that he felt I had played very well. This feedback gave me a lot of confidence and eventually, I would make the event’s final table. That morning, I spoke with Baxter to receive any final words of wisdom from the master. I was truly grateful that Baxter spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me. Although I did not win my first WSOP bracelet (I finished in 4th place), I believe that I have dramatically improved my deuce-to-seven no-limit game, just by listening to the most successful lowball poker player in the history of poker. ♠

Bernard Lee is the lead commentator for WSOP Circuit live stream, poker columnist, author of “The Final Table, Volume I and II” and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on or via podcast on iTunes. Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at