Despite a long and bitter rift, reunion was still in the cards

ON GAMBLING

The Kickoff

August 08, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

At its best, poker can brings folks together in a convivial camaraderie.

And, of course, the game can create bitter animosity among players. After all, in the Old West bad beats were frequently fatal occurrences.

But rarely has poker had the impact that it's had for the Rickard family, which was fractured nearly 35 years ago and is currently on the mend.

When 41-year-old Brooks Craig Rickard III was 6, his parents separated. Believing his father had walked out on the family, Rickard said he developed a bitter hatred for his dad.

While his brother and sister occasionally communicated with their father, Brooks Craig Rickard II, young Craig -- who even refused to use his dad's first name -- refused to speak with him or allow his father to have contact with Craig's own children.

Meanwhile, Craig and his brother John, 37, had a close relationship, hunting and fishing together and even working at the same company in Madison, Wis. And they enjoyed playing poker together online at the popular Internet site PokerStars.com.

While on the Web site, the two were often joined by a player Craig only knew as Udog53. Often Udog53 only watched, congratulating players on good hands and offering wry observations. Craig genuinely liked this funny online player who would occasionally sit in on private tournaments in which the brothers and even Craig's daughter played. However, John knew the truth. Udog53 was Craig's and his father.

"I was just happy to get a glimpse into the lives of my son and granddaughter but it was strange, just surreal," said the elder Rickard, who now lives near Kansas City. "I told John that win, lose or draw, his brother had to know who I was."

John Rickard said that the day last year when he tried to tell his brother, he just drew a blank and Craig said, "Just spit it out."

"John just said, `Udog is Dad,' Craig said. "My heart starting pounding, everything rushed to my head. I thought I was having a heart attack."

In Craig's words, it was hard to believe that an online acquaintance he had come to enjoy in a cyber poker room was the person he had spent a lifetime hating.

Since then, Craig and his father have grown to known each other better and the once alienated son said he enjoys his father in real life every bit as much as he did in the virtual world. Many in the Rickard family even reunited at the father's 60th birthday party earlier this year.

The two brothers just returned from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas where John made it to the second round in the No-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship before busting out. And Craig cashed in for more than $3,000 in one of the other 44 tournaments held as part of the seven-week WSOP.

Craig said it remains a wonder how something like an online poker game changed his life.

"It was this big release," he said. "I had all this weight of not having a dad and all of a sudden, he was there in front of me."

The final table of the poker World Series main event is scheduled for Thursday and one Maryland player was still in contention when play started yesterday when the field had been narrowed to 45.

Silver Spring insurance agent Rhett Butler -- same name as Clark Gable's character in Gone with the Wind -- started yesterday with the fourth-largest stack, about 3.2 million chips. Butler remained in the top three through yesterday afternoon as play was scheduled to go late into the night. As of yesterday evening when there were 27 players remaining, Butler was already assured of winning at least $490,000.

Anne Arundel accountant Steve Dannenmann, last year's runner-up in the main event, finally made some noise at this year's World Series finishing 26th and cashing in for $8,935 in a $1,500 no-limit hold 'em tournament over the weekend. In that event, Dannenmann knocked out Phil "Poker Brat" Hellmuth Jr. with whom the Severn CPA had verbally sparred in the Tournament of Champions in November.

Dannenmann had eliminated Hellmuth at another World Series event in which neither placed in the money.

The World Series hasn't been a total loss for Hellmuth, though. He did win his 10th World Series bracelet and has cashed in for over $1 million at the seven-week event.

Anna Benson, wife of Orioles pitcher Kris Benson, made it to the second round of this year's World Series main event but busted out in a flourish when she began to go all-in on several hands. Benson took two bad beats, according to one poker blog, and then went on the attack. She was eliminated when her pocket cards of queen-6 failed to improve.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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