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A Poker Life: Chris Reslock

Jack Of All Trades Finds Success In Poker

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Chris ReslockChris Reslock is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and current record holder of the WSOP Circuit with seven gold rings. He’s also a former cab driver, fire fighter, factory worker, fruit picker, busboy, steel grain tank builder and welder.

The jack of all trades grew up in North Dakota before attending school in Michigan. Then, after climbing to the top of the competitive Scrabble world, Reslock moved to Delaware before settling in New Jersey, where his poker career really took off.

Since turning pro, Reslock has earned more than $1.8 million in tournaments. While not competing on the circuit, the 65-year-old sits down in some of the bigger cash games Atlantic City, New Jersey, has to offer.

Here is a look at his story.

A Prolonged Education

To say that Chris Reslock spent some time at Michigan State University is an understatement. A career student, he studied philosophy, literature and dozens of other subjects over the course of 12 years without ever getting his diploma.

“I regret not getting my degree,” admitted Reslock. “To this day, I still have anxiety dreams about finding my classes and making sure I get there on time. I’d like to say that I avoided graduation because I was in love with learning, but that’s probably too romantic of an idea. The truth is that I was just really unorganized. I liked going to classes enough to keep going, but I wasn’t really concerned about grades. There were many classes that I sat in on, but never received credit for.”

While in school, Reslock’s jobs were as varied as his studies. He drove a cab and also spent four years with the Lansing fire department. But when asked if his jobs contributed to his inability to get his degree, Reslock admitted that poker and substance abuse played a role.

“Poker is one of the villains why I never finished college,” Reslock said. “Really, it was gambling and drugs. I started playing poker very seriously in my early twenties. Another cab driver invited me to a poker game and being the competitive games player that I was, I jumped at the chance. After that, I started playing the games more and even hosted my own game. Back then, our game centered around creative dealer’s choice. The challenge was to invent a game that was simple to understand, but still gave you an edge. I was always pretty good with figuring out the math of the games quickly and intuitively.”

Good With Words

Before his career in poker began, Reslock satisfied his competitive drive by mastering the game of Scrabble.

“I didn’t even like Scrabble until I discovered that you can bluff,” recalled Reslock. “Essentially, bluffing in Scrabble occurs when you put a made-up word down on the board. Your opponent can either accept the word as real, or challenge the word, risking their next turn. Losing a turn is huge, so bluffing happens a lot more than you would think because players don’t want to take the risk.”

A voracious reader since childhood, Reslock discovered that he had a natural talent with words.

“When I look at a word, I instantly know if it’s spelled right or not. Of course, playing Scrabble, you learn that there are numerous variations in spelling that can all be considered correct.”

Though modest about his abilities, Reslock did reveal just how highly he was ranked at the peak of his Scrabble career.

“Scrabble players are rated similarly to chess players. For a brief period of time I was the highest rated player in the world. I was an active player for most of the 1980s, and during that time, I was almost always ranked among the top 10 players in the world.”

Driving A Cab

A relationship brought Reslock to the Northeast before he eventually settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The original thought was that Reslock could continue playing Scrabble with his friends in New York, but the games never materialized.

“I guess I just kind of drifted away from it. The biggest problem with Scrabble is that there was no money in it. My lifetime earnings in the game were right around $1,000. If you got lucky and found someone who was willing to play for cash, then you could make some money, but that was tough to do once your reputation got out. Today, the players can make a little more, but not by much.”

Instead, Reslock turned to a past profession. He wound up leasing a friend’s taxi cab and then used his earnings to buy his own. For him, driving a cab wasn’t just a job, it was a pleasure.

“When I was in high school, my one ambition in life was to have my own car,” said Reslock. “I was in love with the idea of being able to cruise around town with my friends. Driving a cab, in many ways, was the fulfillment of that ambition. The hours were long, but it was an incredibly fun job to have. I got to be the modern day version of the Old West trail guide. Work was like being the star in my own novel, never knowing what would happen next or what kind of interesting person was going to jump in. Others may not understand it, but I still have euphoric dreams about being back in the taxi cab.”

A Switch To Poker

When it came time for Reslock to try his hand at professional poker, he found that his past experience in a taxi cab had prepared him for a career on the felt.

“I’m pretty good at understanding people and finding out where their heads are at,” said Reslock. “I guess a lot of that comes from my time in a cab, but it’s a skill that has definitely helped me at the poker table.”

Furthermore, Reslock believes that his penchant for friendly customer service also extends to poker, a trait that other poker pros often don’t bother to adopt.

“One thing I firmly believe is that if you are making money playing poker, part of your job is entertainment. Your opponents are paying you for that entertainment. In a way, you can compare a really good poker player to an artist. It’s not enough to just win someone’s chips. A good poker player can take all of your chips and have you back the next night to do it all over again.”

Incredibly, Reslock holds the distinction of being the player with the highest percentage of wins who holds over 100 cashes. He has totaled 107 cashes on the tournament circuit and has won an astonishing 25 of them.

“I guess I know how to close them out. If I go deep, I’ll usually win it all. If not, you can find me on the rail relatively quickly. You could call me an all or nothing player.”

Reslock’s first tournament cash came back in 1996 in a no-limit hold’em event, but the crazy mixed games played back in Michigan prepared him to dominate mixed-game tournaments over the next 17 years. Of his 25 live tournament wins, 15 have come in a non-hold’em event, including his WSOP bracelet win in the 2007 $5,000 Seven Card Stud World Championship, where he defeated Phil Ivey heads up.

“I play as little no-limit hold’em as I can get away with,” Reslock said. “I dream of a day when I can play no-limit Omaha hi/lo and no-limit baduecey tournaments instead. Hold’em is a game that somebody invented for the gamblers to play who weren’t smart enough for poker but who wanted to play cards. The biggest criticism that no-limit hold’em specialists have about mixed games is those games lack any creativity. That could be changed, however, if we start playing mixed games for big bets. If you play these games with progressively higher stakes after each street, then the game changes entirely.”

The Record Holder

Reslock has been on a tear in 2013, having won three different WSOP Circuit events. Ironically, all have come in no-limit hold’em. He took the first in March at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City and the next two in May at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

The wins give him a tour record seven titles, breaking a tie with Alex Masek, Ari Engel, Mark Smith, Kurt Jewel and Kyle Cartwright, each now tied for second place with five wins each.

“There is a lot of gratification in winning a tournament. I think it goes back to my history as a games player. It’s incredibly satisfying to win because it means that I have successfully figured out the problem I was presented with.”

For now, Reslock is living happily in Atlantic City with his wife, who is also a poker player. Though the gambling market in New Jersey has taken a serious hit over the last seven years, Reslock says that it hasn’t really affected his action at the tables.

“The games are still pretty good,” he said. “There are still plenty of options for me if I want to find a good mixed game. If not, I can always sit in a no-limit hold’em game until a seat opens up. When the tournaments come into town or nearby, I’ll go, but it’s nice to be able to stay close to home and be with my family.” ♠