The inaugural Epic Poker League held their $20,000 Main Event last week at the Palms in Las Vegas with 137 of some of the best poker players in the world on hand to battle for the million dollar first place prize. But when the smoke cleared early Saturday morning, August 13th, with David “Chino” Rheem declared the winner - the fire of controversy started flaming out of control.
Rheem cashed in his first live event in 2005 and in 2008, made a name for himself when he became one of the famed November Nine and went on to place seventh in the $10K WSOP World Championship Main Event to pocket $1,772,650. He took down the World Poker Tour Five Diamond event in December of 2008 for a $1,538,730 first prize. Since that big score in the spotlight however, it appears that Rheem has been on a downward spiral, losing his money and destroying his reputation.
Over the last few years Rheem has been growing his reputation, but it is not one most poker pros want. He has been tagged by fellow poker players as a swindler, scammer and borderline sociopath; borrowing money and running up debts with no intention of paying up. While Rheem’s name has been in the toilet for quite awhile among the poker community, the public got their first glimpse of the sordid story when poker pro Will Molson posted his grievances against Rheem on the TwoPlusTwo poker forum last week.
According to Molson (who is said to be a member of the Molson beer family in Canada), Rheem owes him $40,000 and has made no effort to make good on the debt. Molson says it went down like this: at the 2010 European Poker Tour London, Rheem asked to borrow $20k to get into the Turbo High Roller event. Rheem promised that his friend, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi (who also wanted to borrow $20k) would pay back the loans by transferring Molson the money from the Grinder’s Full Tilt Poker account. Molson did the transfer via PokerStars but there was a glitch and both Rheem and Mizrachi got $40k instead of $20k.
While Mizrachi paid the $40k back to Molson, he told Molson he never agreed to pay back Rheem’s loan. Not only did Rheem fail to immediately pay back the additional $20k mistake, but he went on to win third in the event he borrowed the money to play in and pocketed $150,000. Even with the big win, he still made no attempt to pay back Molson. As Molson states on TwoPlusTwo.
Molson’s TwoPlusTwo post states in part; “He flat out stole from me and it's at the point where I don't expect to see my money back. He flat out stole from me and had no intention of swapping FTP money with me. I waited awhile to out this mainly because I thought there would be a better chance seeing the money if I kept it low key for awhile and gave him time.”
It may be hard to understand why a poker pro with over $4.7 million in career winnings before his $1 Million Epic Poker win would intentionally screw his fellow pros out of money; other players in the poker community say this is not unusual for Rheem. Former November Niner, Joseph “subiime” Cheong shared his story of how he was "Chino’d” after Molson’s thread went viral. "I had no idea so few people knew about Chino. First of all, he's a very charming, nice guy. Second of all, if he ever won the lottery for $10 mil, I guarantee he will pay everyone back (as long as you see him before he sees the pits). I also don't want anyone else getting scammed, so I'll say this: he has also scammed me for $40k, and I know others in the same spot’ said Cheong.
Cheong also posted; “The poker world is full of borrowing and lending money, so when a well-known player comes to you with believable collateral, it's hard not to lend money. For me, the collateral he offered was that he had a piece of the Grinder at the WSOP Main Event last summer. The Grinder confirmed this for me. But clearly it was offered to multiple people and I never saw a dime back. Of course I hate having to eat $40k but there is nothing we can do in this situation. I'm not gonna get money back through violence. I can't sue (and even if I did, he's broke he can't pay). He still plays everything through either more scams or through his numerous connections in live poker so we do have to see him all the time . . . Moral of the story: Do not lend Chino money."
November Niner Ben Lamb took to Twitter, claiming that Rheem welshed on a bet from this year’s World Series of Poker. More stories of players being ‘Rheemed’ by Chino have been keeping the poker forums burning, with most players agreeing that because he was broke, Rheem has dug a hole so deep that he continually has to scam someone new just to stay in the game. In spite of Rheem’s poker résumé and high-profile friends like Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi who continue to befriend him, Chino’s shady reputation has caught up with him.
When Rheem was at the final table of the Epic Poker Main Event over the weekend, the crowd started gathering. All along the rail, people like Cheong, to whom Rheem owed money, were watching and waiting, hoping Rheem would win the event and they would get paid back. When Rheem won the event, the line of creditors formed quickly and it is said those who had been ‘Rheemed’ were being paid 10¢ on the dollar. The only one who appears to have been paid back was Ben Lamb, who tweeted, “Omg Chino won $1 million and paid me my money (most people got 10 percent paid) I got all. #hardass.”
According to the poker forums, the reason so many who have been duped by Rheem are coming forward is to warn others to not fall for his scam. Others think Rheem should be black balled in the poker community and prevented from playing in big events, starting with the Epic Poker League (EPL).
With Rheem winning the inaugural EPL main event, it has put the EPL in an awkward position due to their much hyped Standards of Conduct rules. Aware of Rheem’s reputation, Standards of Conduct Committee member Michael “Timex” McDonald posted this statement to the TwoPlusTwo community:
“I only read the first 200 responses but I'm going to make a post on behalf of the EPL in regards to why certain people are eligible to play. I am one of the members of the standards of conduct committee for EPL and Monday we had a long but confidential meeting regarding players who have previously acted in a manner that would be deemed unprofessional. Offenses such as cheating, poor sportsmanship, public intoxication, a criminal record, and failure to follow financial agreements are all things that the league will not stand for.”
"We compiled a list of all players who we believed had previously conducted themselves in a way that if continued would lead to their elimination from the league and personally reminded each individual that they will not be allowed to participate in the league if their future behavior is the same as their past behavior,” said McDonald. "I don't want to talk about any specifics, but I will say that people who are poor representatives of the game of poker will not last very long in this league and the EPL will publicly 'out' people who are kicked out of the league rather than simply tell them not to show up and keep it hush-hush."
If McDonald is speaking as a representative of the EPL, it seems that Rheem won’t be punished for his past conduct, but could be kicked out of the league if he continues to either scam people or welsh on debts. While it is unclear just how much money Rheem actually collected from his $1 million payday, speculation is that he had a backer or had sold a big piece of himself. After paying 10% here and there to those he owed money to and paying his backers, some say he probably has less than $5k left in his bankroll to make a run at winning more.
It is doubtful Rheem can ever fully restore his tarnished reputation, but attempting to pay back those he owes is seen as a solid goodwill gesture by some on Twitter:
Randy Dorfman: Will Chino Rheem payback Will Molson and J. Cheong $40k each with his Epic League cash? Hope they wait at cage while he cashes out!
Brent Hanks: Congrats to Chino and his 5k profit... #lostinpitswithin15minutes.... and a serious note, congrats to everyone who's collecting their loot.
In his post-win interview Rheem said, “It’s just surreal, it’s just crazy, like, cause it’s not only a good feeling just to win it, it’s a good feeling because, like, it means a lot to me personally. There’s a lot of like . . . nothing could be bad for me right now, you know what I mean, it’s just everything is good.”
Maybe everything was good for Rheem – before he hit the cage and saw the long line of people he owed waiting for him with their hands out. It is sad however that the new Epic Poker League now has such a poor representative of poker forever associated with their first Main Event.