Isaac Haxton’s First WSOP Bracelet in a Life of High Stakes Poker

  • Haxton burst onto the scene with a runner-up finish at the 2007 PCA
  • He won loads of money for years after that, but often had to settle for second place
  • Before Thursday, Haxton had nearly $36m in live tournament earnings, but no bracelet
  • He has always been an outspoken defender of poker players’ rights
Isaac Haxton
Isaac Haxton finally won his first WSOP bracelet, beating a record field in the $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em High Roller event. [Image:]

Fading hearts on the river

In 2014, the acclaimed American poet and translator Brooks Haxton penned a beautifully poetic memoir entitled Fading Hearts on the River: A Life in High-Stakes Poker or How My Son Cheats Death, Wins Millions, & Marries His College Sweetheart. In it, he conjures the familiar image of a parent living vicariously through his son’s exciting life. He also captures a more specific, uncommon image: watching his boy play for more money in one hand of poker than he has earned for all his prose and poetry books combined.

that relationship between people and games, how we are drawn to them like transitional objects

Risk looms in the book like a portentous shadow, both the uncontrollable kind that comes from the outside and the kind that we welcome into our lives. When an early health scare is juxtaposed next to a life of gambling, the stakes are clear, but so, too, is that relationship between people and games, how we are drawn to them like transitional objects, comfort blankets that provide the illusion of control in a world which is chaotic.

Flitting between different times in his son’s life and spinning out language that is both sumptuous and evocative, Haxton’s book is a poignant rumination on the nature of chance. It is also a biography of a life unfinished, the adventures of a man whose journey in the weird world of professional poker are far from over.

The new school had arrived

The 2007 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure was Isaac Haxton’s first major live tournament and he went deep. He was already a significant winner online, but this was a much bigger stage. With his long hair blowing in the wind at the outdoor final table, he looked like a young rockstar, just a touch of swagger. When he eventually got heads-up against Ryan Daut, another young gun and product of the online poker revolution, it was a pronouncement of sorts. The new school had arrived.

Haxton finished second for $862,000, a position he would find himself in many more times over his poker career. In 2009, he finished runner-up to Vitaly Lunkin in the World Series of Poker 40th anniversary $40,000 event. In 2014, he was bridesmaid once again in the Aussie Millions AUD$250,000. Later that same year, he was second in the Aria $100K Super High Roller. Poker can be funny that way. By the end of 2017, Haxton had accumulated over $15m in live winnings, but if you asked any of the elite players who among them had run the worst, they would have all said it was him.

Live and online, cash games and tournaments, Haxton dominated and in 2018, he got that marquee victory and a deserved feather in his cap when he won the $300K Aria Super High Roller for $3.7m. He has since added a further $19m in live tournament winnings to his tally, putting himself 13th on poker’s all-time live money list.

Passionate defender of poker players’ rights

While establishing himself as one the greatest poker players of the modern era, Haxton has always been an outspoken voice in the poker community. In 2016, he quit PokerStars in the midst of the Supernova Elite scandal, quite rightly citing unethical behavior by the online site.

It was a very principled position during a troubling time for poker and Haxton never let up. In 2018, Alex Dreyfus tweeted about all the good PokerStars was doing for the community to which Haxton replied:

“Nah, good for the industry would be for them to die like other brands that lost track of the line between their customers money and theirs.”

Haxton has always shown a willingness to always use his platform to speak truth to power

On a whole host of issues down the years, Haxton has always shown a willingness to always use his platform to speak truth to power. When he signed as a partypoker ambassador in 2018, poker author Paul Seaton echoed that sentiment, saying: “For a long time, Haxton has been known to be a righteous and passionate defender of poker player’s rights.”

The best without a bracelet no more

Despite all his success, one thing has been missing from Haxton’s illustrious resumé. One of the poker media’s favorite perennial activities is to make a list of “the best without a bracelet.” It’s all a bit silly in a game with so much variance, but there was much ado when Jason Koon got that particular monkey off his back last year. Given his status in poker, one couldn’t help but put Haxton at the top of that list. That is, until yesterday.

A mind-blowing 301 entries made their way into the prizepool of Event #16: $25,000 High Roller No-Limit Hold’em, a record for a buy-in that large at the WSOP. Fittingly, the tournament ultimately boiled down to Haxton and another Ryan – Ryan O’Donnell – to battle it out for the $1,698,215 first prize. When the dust settled, Haxton was victorious, his third win in the last nine weeks and 6th this year.

“One of my biggest accomplishments”

In his post-tournament interview, a grateful Haxton spoke about the satisfaction of posting a win in a bigger tournament:

“I’ve finished second and third many times for my biggest cashes, so it’s nice to finally win. A three hundred-player field for a $25k, yeah I guess it’s gotta be up there with one of my biggest accomplishments.”

This one is a cherry on the top of an incredible career.”

Haxton’s close friend and fellow poker pro Steve O’Dwyer could not have been more thrilled.

“I stayed up until 9am Dublin time to watch the Day 2 coverage live yesterday and until 7am this morning to watch him win,” O’Dwyer said on Friday. “It was great to see and had me reminiscing on how long our group of friends have been doing this and how far we’ve all come. I was on the rail for Ike’s first ever WSOP final table in a $1k NLHE rebuy in 2007 and his 2nd place finish in the first ever WSOP high roller event, the $40k NLHE anniversary event in 2009. Despite being thought of as one of, if not the very best player in the world, he’s run fairly bad in the late stages of live tournaments throughout his career so it’s been awesome to see him put together this amazing string of victories in the first half of this year. This one is a cherry on the top of an incredible career.”

A moving target, the story of Brooks Haxton’s son is still not finished, but this momentous occasion is certainly worthy of its own chapter.

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