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.
Seymour Leibowitz is arguably the nicest guy to ever sit down at a poker table. That’s a pretty bold statement, but I’m thinking that the following 1,300 words or so will help you see that the evidence to suggest such a statement is overwhelming. Much of Leibowitz’s early life is largely unknown, but it’s my guess that if he were around today he would tell you that that doesn’t matter much because his life didn’t really fully start until he started playing poker full-time, despite the fact he didn’t do this until he was already 67 years old.
Leibowitz was originally from Pennsylvania, born in 1914. The first mention of poker in his life came with the fact he was childhood friends with 1984 World Series of Poker Champion, Jack Keller. In his 20’s Leibowitz moved to Florida, where he would eventually both work as a part-time salesman and own his own clothes business. Despite being friends with Keller in his early life, there is very little mention of poker playing in Leibowitz’s first 66 years of life. Keller said that Leibowitz had a reputation of a decent poker player in Pennsylvania, but had other priorities, such as having a family and finding what was considered a more “decent” way to make a living, at the time.
In the 1960’s Leibowitz started to gain a reputation around the state of Florida at being good at a game, but it wasn’t poker. Leibowitz was a tournament Bridge player, something at which he was apparently making good money, but other business ventures got in his way, and before the 60’s were up he had all but given up Bridge to concentrate on his “real” jobs.
In the late 1970’s Leibowitz started playing poker with a passion for the first time in his life in the Miami area. One of the biggest games in which he played featured Bob “The Coach” Ciaffone , who called Leibowitz one of the best lowball players he had ever seen. It was during this time that Leibowitz really fell in love with the game, and he began telling people close to him that as soon as he had the opportunity he would quit his 9-5 jobs and move to Vegas full-time to play poker. In 1981, at 67 years of age, that’s just what he did.
The thought of starting a full-time “anything” at the age of 67 is quite scary, but to start a “job” where most of the people have been doing it their entire adult life, that just makes it down right daunting. If Leibowitz had any of these feelings then he hid them well. It also helps that Leibowitz showed he wouldn’t be intimidated by immediately making some big cashes in some of the bigger tournaments in the area. He finished 19th in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em event his first year in Vegas at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker. That same year he finished 3rd in a $1,000 buy-in in a seven card stud event at the same event. Not bad for a player who fancied himself a lowball player first, and any other event second.
Between 1982 and 1987 Leibowitz finished in the money in over two dozen events, including cashing in WSOP events six times. The 1988 event made history for the number of older players who won bracelets that year. The record heading into that year was 73 years which was held by Johnny Moss for his bracelet winning performance in the Seven-Card Stud High-Low event in 1981. Three people also broke that record in 1988, including Seymour Leibowitz who won the Deuce-to-Seven Lowball event. The other players were Russ Gibe at 78 who won a No Limit Hold’em event, and not to be outdone, Johnny Moss retained his status as oldest to win a bracelet by winning the bracelet in the Ace-to-Five Lowball event less than a month before his 81st birthday. Certainly not bad company for Leibowitz.
What lasts longer in the history of poker aren’t Leibowitz’s outstanding achievements at such an advanced age, but the legacy he left regarding his kindness. In 1981 the WSOP made a special award just for him due to his being “The Most Congenial Player in the Tournament.” If Leibowitz ever complained after a bad beat, it was in private. The closest he would ever come to berating a player who gave him a bad beat is to make a lighthearted joke about it and continue to play the next hand as the one before it.
Leibowitz also acted as a role model for a young Johnny Chan. When Chan first arrived in Las Vegas in the 1980’s he quickly gained a reputation for being a good player, but he often had problems knowing when to quit, a problem that left him broke for his first few years in Vegas. Leibowitz noticed both the potential and the problem in Chan and helped him through his first few years, offering him advice on saving money and how to control his emotions. As you can see, that advice has paid off in terms of millions of dollars.
One of Chan’s lasting impressions about Leibowitz was the way he treated people, both regulars and strangers. It’s been said that pros in Vegas have a fraternity, and while nice to each other, they have been known to not be so friendly to new arrivals. Leibowitz made sure that everybody felt welcome. Right in the middle of hands he would be involved in he would ask his novice opponent if he would like insurance on the hand. Often times the player would look at him dumbfounded, asking what insurance is and time and time again Leibowitz would explain it to them.*
Leibowitz was seated at a satellite at the WSOP in 1987 for an entry into the No Limit Deuce-to-Seven Lowball event. Eventually he became heads up against a player who had admittedly never played the game before. Not only did Leibowitz hold the advantage of being perhaps the best lowball player in the world at the time, but he also held a 2-1 chip stack advantage. Leibowitz told the novice that he had hit a bad streak of satellites and that if he let him enter the tournament that he would give the beginner half of what he won. The beginner agreed and the next day Leibowitz went on to win $80,000. Without hesitation Leibowitz immediately handed over $40,000, thanking HIM for making the deal. Stories mocking this one and his propensity to help people are abundant, and could go on for days.**
Leibowitz died in July of 1995 at 81 years old from a heart attack, doing what he loved to do – playing poker. Of course it is impossible to predict what kind of poker career Leibowitz would have enjoyed, had he done it his entire life, but the achievements he made in less than 15 years equal a full life by other players’ standards. What can be determined was the impact he left on the poker world from those who knew him. Sometimes in life people only have nice things to say about others in front of a camera or to an interviewer, but eventually some truth comes out about how they really were. There is honestly not one mention of Leibowitz ever having a less than flattering moment at the poker table, or away from it for that matter. He left a positive lasting impression on all that played with him, from top players like Johnny Chan, to the beginner player at the lowball satellite.
What Leibowitz would think of the poker world today? One thing is for sure, he would have made it a better, friendlier place.
*The offer of insurance on a hand is not done to be kind or nice to a new player, it is offered because the insurer wants to be in action, all the time, and because the insurer has figured the odds and knows the percentage of winning money on the hand offered. Seymour knew exactly where he was in figuring the odds and he didn’t offer to help to be kind.
**Asking for a deal on winning the satellite and offering up a percentage of the seat in the poker tournament is very common practice. Seymour did what any savvy poker player would do, he wanted to play in the tournament, and he knew his chances of winning the satellite could be at risk with the lucky turn of a card.
Editor’s Note: The writer does a fantastic job of portraying our ‘Where are They Now’ series on PokerWorks. While the writer’s view is that of information gleaned from other writings, the editor has inside poker game knowledge and has dealt to many of the players featured. Seymour Leibowitz was a kindly man and the editor has many memories of table experiences with him. He could be a bit salty when he was losing in a game but he had a keen sense of humor and appreciation for life. When he was ‘stuck’ in a game and the editor tapped the dealer out, Seymour would look up and say, “Get the fuck in here!” When Seymour’s luck remained sour during the editor’s down and the editor was tapped out, Seymour would look up and say, “Get the fuck out of here!” It was never an anger statement nor was Seymour a card thrower or abusive, he was…well…just Seymour. He is missed!