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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where are they now - “Gentleman” Jack Keller

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Jack Keller jumped into the public’s eye in 1984 when he won the 1984 World Series of Poker Main Event, but he was a well respected player among his peers long before that. Keller would leave the world much too early, but in his time here he surely made the most of it.

Jack Keller was born on December 29, 1943, right in the middle of World War II. Perhaps it was because of his time of birth, but after a childhood spent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he entered the United States Air Force. Like a good majority of his counterparts from this era, he became increasingly interested in gambling during idle times in the service. It is unclear whether or not Keller was a winning or losing gambler while in the Air Force, but what is sure is that something during this time decided that he would be a professional poker player, and the poker world is better for it.

Shortly after his stint in the Air Force he moved to Las Vegas to pursue his new found profession with 100 percent devotion. After refining his skills in most of the poker games, his hard work started to bring him riches in 1984. His first of three bracelets came in the $5,000 Seven Card Stud event, where he took home $137,500. Keller’s best game is considered Seven Card Stud, but it was the same in his era as it is in this era, you weren’t really considered among the best until you win the big one. Keller didn’t wait long to win the Main Event, winning it just a few days later after his first career bracelet.

The biggest turnout yet for a Main Event had arrived at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, 132 of them. While this seems tiny by today’s standards, what must be considered is that back in this era and before, the field generally consisted of the very best players, while today’s Main Event sometimes has more of the appearance of a crap shoot, than a skilled game. For example, the 1984 Main Event featured eight of the ten past Main Event Champions. The odds didn’t look good for a WSOP rookie.

By the end of day one, the field had been reduced to just seventy-two players. Of those eight previous champions only two remained heading into day two, “Puggy” Pearson and Bobby Baldwin. Keller, meanwhile, was quietly building his own stack while avoiding any major hits.

Day two shrunk the field down to the final table, nine players. Neither Pearson nor Baldwin survived day two, meaning there would be a new champion. Coming in at second place was Keller. Keller had been able to make it this far in the tournament keeping a relatively low profile, something he would do throughout his entire playing career. When it got down to heads-up, Keller was able to outlast Byron Welford and walk into poker immortality, along with a prize of $660,000. Not a bad year.

Keller would go on to win one more WSOP bracelet in the $1,500 Omaha Limit, during the 1993 event, but his overall tournament statistics remain some of the most impressive ever. In this age of giant prizes in all the major tournaments, Keller’s three million dollars plus in winnings doesn’t seem like too much, but among his peers, it is very exceptional. For starters, Keller cashed in an amazing 58 WSOP events. He is currently 52nd in the all-time WSOP money list. In the entire history of poker, only 43 players have won more money than him in all of the tournaments combined. What is ironic about this is that Keller considered himself a better cash game player than a tournament player. Keller is clearly one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of all time, but his lack of notoriety may be because of his quiet demeanor.

The “Gentleman Jack” nickname was given to Keller because he was just that, a gentleman. Even before the internet and television boom in the late 90’s most poker players tried to get themselves “out there.” Keller never went on talk shows, never voiced out his concerns in a public manner, and never participated in highly publicized stunts, or “prop bets.” Keller was simply content with being just a poker player. Also, it isn’t uncommon to hear of these great champions of the past berating dealers, or cursing at other players after a particularly bad beat. Keller has never been associated with any of these types of stories. Much like the late Chip Reese, Keller would steam, but he would do it in his own private ways. He also would never boast after a large win, something he had plenty of opportunities to do.

In Keller’s later years he started having health problems, and decided to move away from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Unable to fully take himself away from poker, he moved to Mississippi, where he spent the rest of his days playing in high-stakes cash games, and smaller tournaments at the Tunica Casino. Keller died on December 5, 2003, just four months after cashing in his final tournament.

Keller’s impressive stats will surely be dwarfed as time goes on due to the tournaments growing larger every day, but when you put his accomplishments in the proper context and perspective, it’s hard to imagine many better players. What makes Keller that much more refreshing is that he didn’t feel the need to do anything else in a convoluted effort to be more popular from just the game itself. Keller was properly congratulated for his contributions to the poker world in 2001 when he was inducted to the World Poker Hall of Fame. Perhaps Keller’s most famous contribution to the poker world was that of his daughter, famous poker player Kathy Kolberg. Kolberg has kept the Keller tradition alive by continuing to cash in the biggest poker tournaments in the world.

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