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Poker News | World Poker News

Brandi Hawbaker - A Short Life and Troubled Times

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*The following is the opinion and thought of the writer, portraying the life of someone that came into the poker world and created a storm, and left life quietly...alone*

Perhaps the most infamous woman in poker took her own life this past week. Brandi Hawbaker, more known for her exploits off the poker table than at them, was found dead in Los Angeles.

Not much is known about Brandi from before her entrance into poker. According to some sources, she lived a very troubled childhood and ended up leaving home at the age of 13. Brandi has stated that she spent six years backpacking around the world doing odd jobs in exchange for a place to stay and food to eat. She returned to the United States in 2005 after spending a summer in Guyana and worked as a project coordinator for a company for a while before somehow, somewhere, someday, she found herself playing poker .

It was her deep run at the World Poker Tour Festa Al Lago event (she finished 35th winning over $20,000 in the process) and her subsequent photo of a online poker site logo covering her bared breast that catapulted her into the poker world. It would be the beginning of the end for the young beauty. That event was on October 20th, 2006. Less than 18 months later she would be dead.

What followed her Festa Al Lago cash is a whirlwind of drama. Her life and the events surrounding it were like a movie. A never ending cycle of men, sex, drugs, money, people getting hurt, and despair. These events were only heightened by the Internet and forums willing to discuss and debate these events at every possible opportunity. Brandi became somewhat of a cult personality, loved by some, and hated by many. Her involvement in these discussions only added to it all. She was often defensive and always had a story to tell. And oh were there some stories to tell. I'm not going to tell these stories in detail because I could write a book (there's an idea) about it all. Instead, here's a quick summary of the events.

Shortly after her WPT cash, she became involved in a mentoring relationship with former WSOP Main Event winner, Captain Tom Franklin. Brandi posted on a well known poker forum alleged events that took place which included Franklin trying to force himself upon her for everything he had done for her. Franklin later came on the same board to deny these allegations.

Mark Newhouse “rescued” her and they became involved. She wiped out one of his online poker accounts to the tune of approximately $30,000. What exactly happened is a he said, she said... Brandi said Mark knew all about it and was there for the whole thing while Newhouse (who on all accounts is much too nice and way too trusting and has been burned on more than one occasion) said that was not the case. In a bit of eerie foreshadowing, Hawbaker locked herself in the bathroom, smashed a bottle of wine, and cut herself. This much was verified to be true by both parties.

There are more minor (or not so minor depending on how you look at it) incidents involving Newhouse and Dustin “Neverwin” Woolf that take over the forums for weeks at a time but it is her new “mentoring” relationship with David Sklansky that really propels Brandi to new levels of notoriety and forever taints Sklansky's name and reputation.

Brandi apparently approached Sklansky to ask for his help. Sklansky is aware of Hawbaker by now because of her presence on his site's forums. He says he will help her in exchange for a staged photo. This begins a “tit for tat” relationship if you will of Sklansky offering his poker mentoring services in return for certain favors from Brandi (most of them being photos of her in various forms). This of course blows up on the forums and results in numerous threads and posts discussing exactly what went on.

I actually was able to witness some of this as a member of the media covering the 2007 World Series of Poker. Brandi made it deep in an event, eventually finishing 55th. Sklansky was there throughout the day peering in at his star student. The deeper Brandi got in the tournament, the bigger the smile on her face. I talked to her a bit throughout the day and while I had heard of all the things that had gone on with her, she seemed nice enough to me. Perhaps that was part of her allure. She looked so happy then. It's sad to think it might be one of the few times left in her life that she would be.

Other rumors surrounding the 2007 WSOP included trysts with Jamie Gold and Gus Hansen. Not at the same time, although I'm sure the forums probably alleged as much at one point.

The end was tragic. She was in a relationship with a somewhat unknown person named Brandon who posted in January that Brandi had taken all of his things out of his house and sold them and taken off. Brandon delved into the problems Brandi had and how he had tried to help her... to get her help... to bring her to a better place but he was tired of it all and was done with it... and her. Brandi's only response was that she was not going to discuss it.

A sex tape of Brandi performing oral sex and dedicated to Brandon hit the Internet and poker forums (in fact, it was Brandon who initially posted the link to it on one of the forums). It didn't seem to matter, however, as in the end it looks like the two had worked things out. In one of her last post before being banned from Sklansky's forum she said “Him and I had decided to be friends again. Yes, we've BOTH done some pretty messed up **** to each other, but at the end of the day we both apologized and made up. As for the groceries and storage bill, that was his way of making things right after he "lied and exaggerated" in his posts about me and had "done it as a way to hurt" me.”

What was it that made Brandi decide to end it? Obviously, she had issues, emotionally and psychologically. I'm sure it didn't help how much pure hatred and venom was thrown in her direction on the forums and the fact that she read and responded to most of it. Did she bring it upon herself? I don't think anyone, no matter how wrong they are, deserves the kind of treatment she was given. Posters would call her names left and right... some even made predictions of when she would kill herself. I wonder how they feel about themselves now that she has.

Poker to quote a James Brown song is a man's man's man's world. Brandi was an attractive young woman in a male dominated world. She was aware of this and even said as much in one of her last postings, a response to Sklansky:

“I don't mind being a woman in poker, even though we all know it's a boy's club. Your site, especially the NVG forum, only proves this more so to be true. NVG is the equivalent of little boys writing on the bathroom wall and "talking shop". I can handle the double standard. Trust me, I've become used to it. But that doesn't mean it does not disgust me.”

Did men try and take advantage of Brandi? Without doubt. Did she put herself in a position to be taken advantage of time and time again. Most certainly. She used what she had to entice men into doing things for her. There were plenty of men willing to do so.

In the end, Brandi Hawbaker decided it was all too much for her and that she couldn't take it any longer. It's a sad ending to a sad story.

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