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The Odd Couple of Poker

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Oct 30, 2013


Max ShapiroAnyone needing proof of the old adage that “opposites attract” need look no further than Raymond Davis and Allen Kessler, the Donald Duck and Darth Vader of poker.

Both are successful high-limit players. Since 2002 Davis has racked up more than $1.6 million in tournament cashes, his highest score being $177,600 for a tenth in a $50,000 WSOP H.O.R.S.E. event. Kessler has earned more than $2.7 million, his biggest payday being $136,452 for sixth in a no-limit championship event at the Foxwoods Poker Classic. He also cashed eight times at the 2010 WSOP.

But there the resemblance ends. While Davis is gregarious, outgoing and a never-ending fount of oddball and often raucous humor, he describes his friend Kessler as “very frugal, super-smart, with no sense of humor and the personality of a goldfish.” Kessler’s nickname is “Chainsaw,” which pretty much sums it up. When Kessler was a member of Team Ivey, the site posted a headline proclaiming “Chainsaw” as one of the most consistent pros of the last 15 years. “While many consider Allen Kessler the poster child for being a nit, the message read, “he has a poker career that would make most ‘pros’ half his age jealous…with stats that true nits could only dream of.”

So, how did these two dissimilar personalities get together and become friends? It all started with a column that Vince Burgio wrote for Card Player back in 2004. “I was on top of the poker world then,” Davis recalls. I finished in the top 20 in Card Player’s Player of the Year standings, and Vince did a story on me called ‘The Amazing Raymond Davis.’”

In that column, Burgio describes him as “always a likable, very polite, fun-loving young man, at times a little brash about his poker abilities, but always in a fun-loving way.” Burgio noted that Davis had 18 final tables and nine wins in Card Player Player of the Year qualifying events that year. In the interview, Davis gives credit to John Bonetti, Phil Ivey, and Paul Darden for taking him under their wings and tutoring him.

Afterwards, Davis says, everyone wanted to know who this cocky new poker superstar was. “One day a strange-looking guy approached me and said, ‘The amazing Raymond Davis.’ He then began telling me how good I was and everything, I figured I was being primed up for a loan, so I paid him very little attention. Later I noticed the guy was playing $20-$40 stud high-low, so he couldn’t have wanted money. I went up to him and apologized for blowing him off. He said ‘Don’t worry about it, I am used to it.’

“I then started running into him in tournaments and stuff and we became friends, it seemed everyone knew him, so I figured he was like a top player or something, but I began to figure out this guy wasn’t normal. He would do and say strange things to people that I thought were out of line, like if someone busted him with a bad hand he would say to them ‘how could you call with that hand?’ and he would like stalk their table asking other players how bad the call was. As I got more familiar with him, I figured him out, like reading someone in a poker game. Despite his personality, I found him very amusing, so we became good friends. He’s the perfect friend, one with his own money.

“I saw him all the time with the most weirdo cast of characters. One guy named Mike was chubby with horrible acne and all he did was walk around with his head down complaining. Another was this nut case, an older Asian lady who yelled and laughed at the top of her voice, I’ll never forget the day he pissed her off at the WSOP and she took his phone and cracked it over his head! I almost pissed in my pants, Allen picked up the phone and said ‘Look what you did! You broke my phone.’ It was classic, so I guess I wasn’t a big enough misfit to be allowed into his entourage. After that, I didn’t see Allen much but always spoke to him on the phone. He did a lot of traveling and would also let me know where all the best video poker promotions were.”

Though they don’t see much of each other these days, Davis continues to make usually heckling comments about his friend on Facebook. He once asked if a lady could choose between two of the sexiest men in poker, who would she take — Dan Heimiller or Kessler?
Not that Davis spares himself from ridicule. A while back he posted that he was in bad shape after going broke gambling in the pit, and later expressed his gratitude after offers of help came in, especially to the Samaritan who offered to let him sleep in his garage with his dog.

He’s also shared some interesting moments in his life during various online interviews. He once said that he’s never had an alcoholic drink and even declined when Phil Ivey offered to give him $50,000 if he got drunk. Another time he mentioned that he liked to play poker online during sex. When the interviewer asked the strangest thing that ever happened to him during sex, Davis reported that it was the time he lost $18,000 (and his erection) when his aces-full lost to quads.

Finally, after Davis kept bombarding me with material, I asked him to hold off because I would soon have enough for a book. “I was thinking of a movie,” he replied. Better yet, I think I’ll make this a two-part story.
(To be continued.) ♠

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.