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Remembering Rod Pardey, family man and unsung seven-card stud poker champ

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Rod Pardey at the final table of a 2003 World Series of Poker event
Photo: IMPDI Worldwide / Official WSOP Photographer

Once, in the middle of a game, seven-card stud player Rod Pardey realized that the dealer was skimming money from the top. This was back around 1980, before poker was as honest as it is now.

Rod Pardey, fourth from left, with other poker greats, as portrayed in a painting by Steve Venet

Rod Pardey, fourth from left, with other poker greats, as portrayed in a painting by Steve Venet

“Dad caught him red-handed, grabbed his wrist … flipped his hand, made his hand open up and found a $100 chip in there,” his son Rod Pardey Jr. says. “That was the environment that Dad was dealing with, where you not only had to be a good poker player, but you also had to be aware of who was cheating you.”

On August 1, the elder Pardey died at age 75 following a stroke. The two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner was one of the best seven-card stud poker players of all time. While other competitors came and went, Pardey sustained a 50-year career, living off poker until COVID-19 shut down the casinos in March. Pardey amassed $725,834 in total live earnings, which put him inside poker’s top 100 all-time money list, according to the Hendon Mob database.

Under the radar

Despite decades of poker success, the longtime Las Vegan was never a household name. How did such a great player fly under the radar?

Call it a quirk of history. During Pardey’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, seven-card stud was the predominant game. “If you had moved to Las Vegas in 1980 and you wanted to play poker professionally but you could only master one poker game, it’s very likely that you would choose seven-card stud,” says Pardey Jr., who learned how to play the game professionally from his dad.

Although he wasn’t old enough to play at the time, Pardey Jr. remembers how the Dunes hosted daily high-limit seven-card stud games where players would win or lose $50,000 in an evening. “Dad dominated those games in the early ’80s,” Pardey Jr. says. “He was playing with the very best poker players in the world and winning [against] people like Stu Ungar, Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson.”

Rod Pardey’s poker winnings

• Total live earnings: $725,834

• Placed 2nd and won $162,100 at the 2015 WSOP $1,000 No Limit Hold ’em Super Seniors tournament.

• Placed 2nd and won $77,229 at the 2009 WSOP $1,500 Seven Card Stud tournament.

• Placed 1st and won $132,000 at the 1994 WSOP $2,500 Seven-Card Stud tournament.

• Placed 1st and won $133,600 at the 1991 WSOP $2,500 Seven-Card Stud tournament.

• Placed 1st and won $25,500 at the 1985 Stairway to the Stars $1,000 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo tournament.

• Placed 1st and won $30,000 at the 1985 Stairway to the Stars $5,000 Limit Seven Card Stud tournament.

But as poker went mainstream, the easier-to-televise Texas Hold ’em took over the popular imagination. Once only played at Binion’s Horseshoe (now called Binion’s) on Fremont Street, Texas Hold ’em soon became ubiquitous. Pardey Jr. says his dad never liked Hold ’em, sticking instead to seven-card stud, even as it lost popularity. In his later years, the elder Pardey followed his game to California, often playing at the Commerce Casino in LA.

“Being able to play seven-card stud is like being able to speak a lost language. The game isn’t played anymore,” Pardey Jr. says. “I’m very happy that learning how to play brought me so close to my dad, because that was such a big part of who he was.”

Pardey didn’t chase the spotlight, preferring cash games to tournaments.

“He was a great player who didn’t have a lot of flash,” says Poker Hall of Famer Eric Drache. The two players were friends and competitors for almost 50 years. “He’s relatively unknown outside of the seven-card stud circle. But if you played with him, you’d know how good he was.”

What made Pardey so talented at poker? His friends and family chalk it up to a combination of innate intelligence, preternatural card sense and a sense of determination and sportsmanship.

Making the game legit

In a 1979 Sports Illustrated feature about the new generation of poker players, journalist Roger Dionne wrote that the younger players viewed poker as a legitimate profession rather than as a semi-outlaw lifestyle. “They chose to become poker players as one might choose to become a doctor or lawyer,” Dionne wrote.

This was how Rod Pardey treated the game. At age 25, he left a career in professional bowling, moved to Las Vegas and took up poker. From the “sunny living room of his suburban Las Vegas home,” as Sports Illustrated described it, Pardey told the reporter, “You’ve got to have the desire to be a winner, to be No. 1.”

His drive put him up there with the greats of the era. “He was a huge winner and really the talk of seven-cards,” Drache recalls. “He also was investing his money, [which is] something that most poker players failed to do, including myself.”

Pardey experienced a typical Baby Boomer childhood in the suburbs of Tacoma, Washington. He took those classic American values of family and fair play with him the rest of his life.

Although it’s difficult to imagine now, casino poker players sometimes cheated and even some dealers were crooked. According to his contemporaries, Pardey was instrumental in making poker a fair game. They say he never cheated, and he stayed away from the drugs that swept through the sport.

Pardey was even temporarily banned from the Dunes Poker Room by the late poker legend Johnny Moss. The stated reason was because Pardey “won too much and was a damn hippie.” In response, Rod Pardey Jr. says, “My dad may have had long hair and John Lennon glasses at the time, but Dad was not a hippie.” The real reason, according to insiders, was because Pardey took a vocal stand against cheating and corruption.

“In the early ’70s, it was very hard for a completely honest person to always win,” Drache says. “But Rod won, and won consistently.”

A storied life

Having played poker for half a century, Pardey racked up his share of colorful anecdotes and nicknames. He was known as Senior because his son also played professionally; Magoo because of his poor vision; and the Sleeping Possum because he would micro-nap between hands during marathon gaming sessions.

One time, infamous magazine publisher Larry Flynt flew Pardey to his place in LA for a private, high-stakes poker game. As the story goes, after Pardey won a couple hundred thousand dollars, Flynt accused him of cheating and banned him for life.

When he wasn’t playing poker, Pardey bet on sports. The sportsbook at Palace Station was one of his main haunts: “When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, that’s where she went to go [tell] my dad,” his daughter Lucy Campbell says.

Pardey was a famously generous person. He would open his home to anyone who needed a place to stay: degenerate gamblers; an ex-wife (and her new spouse); his children’s friends (even after those children had moved away).

“He had this way of making everything seem like it was this once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity,” says Campbell. “There was always this sprinkling of fairy dust everywhere we went.”

A family legacy

Rod Pardey, far right, with family members at his son Ryan’s wedding

Rod Pardey, far right, with family members at his son Ryan’s wedding

Above all, Pardey was a family man. His son Ryan Pardey remembers his dad coming home for dinner five nights a week: “I met a few other children of poker players, and their dads were usually jerks or weren’t there.”

And while professional poker can be a financial roller coaster, Rod Pardey Sr. created a stable home environment for his children. “I always thought we were rich kids,” says Ryan, a local musician who has been helping to manage Downtown venue the Bunkhouse the past several years. “I didn’t ever know that my dad struggled, had ups and downs. He weathered it and was never emotional. I thought he won every day.”

Pardey taught his son Rod Pardey Jr. and his younger brother Dave Pardey how to turn poker into a profession. Father and son spent years playing together, even sharing hotels. Brothers Dave and Rod Sr. also co-owned a Seattle bowling alley for 32 years.

“He was a top-of-the-line human being,” Dave says. “He was a straightforward person that cared about people when he got to know you. I’m going to miss him dearly.”

Ryan says he’d like for his father to be remembered as “not only one of the greatest poker players that ever lived, but as just an amazing father.”

Now, Pardey’s children are lobbying to get him inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. “At a certain point, it was a given that my father would someday be in the Poker Hall of Fame,” Ryan says. “But as things changed, and people became more interested in [Texas Hold ’em] and the younger generation came in, old-timers like my father were forgotten about.”

The Poker Hall of Fame typically selects up to two new honorees per year, holding an induction ceremony in conjunction with the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Hall of Fame criteria includes: having played against top competition; having played for high stakes; having played consistently well and gained the respect of peers; and standing the test of time. “My dad passes all four of those [main criteria] with flying colors,” Rod Jr. says.

Drache agrees that Pardey deserves the recognition: “If you’re talking about the top three in his profession and his game choice, I’ll don’t think there’s any question about it.”

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