The thing about being in a wheelchair is that no one expects us to be anyone of consequence. We are the opposite of a threat. Us, beat them…in anything? No way. Most people just view us as a novelty. Thinking of us as equal competition would be a crazy reality.
And this is exactly why wheelchair poker players have such an advantage. We can wheel our way in and bluff with the rest of them, but we totally get in on the sneak advantage factor – no one expects us to be good. Meet Jillian and Stuart, both quadriplegics, as well as Ethan, a paraplegic, who have in total won over $250,000 in professional poker events.
As a C2 vent-dependent quadriplegic, Jillian make have one of the best poker “looks” ever. When she rolls up to a poker table, PCA by her side who helps her hold her cards, the last thing any of the other typically male AB-players is thinking is, “Better watch out. She may totally take my money.” No, they are likely thinking something along the lines of, “Oh crap this is gonna be weird,” or “How adorable!”
And this is exactly what Jillian wants them to think, as she has been able to slowly move up the ranks in the pro world of poker. “I always love to watch them squirm after I win a big pot,” she says. Jillian was injured when she was 19-months-old in a car accident, and started playing poker before she was five. Now 28, Jillian plays prefers playing at charity events, especially if the cause is for spinal cord injury research. She especially loves the annual Poker4Life tournament and plays regularly for money every 2-3 months.
You can’t get any bigger than Ethan Ruby when it comes to paralysis and poker, well at least when it comes to SCI-related poker events, and his brainchild – Poker4Life – has been able to raise some serious coin for spinal cord injury research. Paralyzed when he was hit by a car in Manhattan when he was 25, he became a T6 paraplegic, and suddenly unsure about where to take his life.
And this is how his love for poker and the idea for founding a poker tournament for SCI research came to be. In 2006, was the first ever Poker4Life tournament and they’ve been silently raising money for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis since. And Ethan plays the World Poker Tour where to-date, he has won over $50,000.
Since the age of 17 when he was in a car accident, Stuart “The Donator” Paterson has lived life as a low-level quad, and his top-level poker skills are no joke. Believe it. He’s won over $200,000 since going pro as a poker player, and he shows no signs of stopping. Stuart first got into poker after playing online, and so far his best showing has been at the 2006 World Series of Poker, where he had a serious finish. Well-known poker players Josh Arieh and Michael Mezrach also mentored him, making Stuart the awesome force he his today.
When Larry was paralyzed in 1978, he began to take a liking to poker. Reading up on how-to books, consulting with poker experts, Larry began to get extremely good, and today he’s known as a top poker player. While he doesn’t like tournament play, he regularly competes in the World Series of Poker, which he was allowed to play in again after being banned for buying out better players to give himself a winning chance (classy).
He also likes tp throw high-stake games regularly either at his Bel-Air home, his private Gulfstream IV jet or at his L.A. Hustler Casino where he plays with famous poker players like Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein and Phil Ivey. But he’s not always lucky. Poker great Amarillo Slim claims he won $2 million of Larry’s money in a game.
Poker may have its various draws, but to the wheelchair-user there’s really only one – it puts you at the same level as everyone else. The other players may not think so, and that is exactly what makes this almost the perfect game for the average wheelchair-user.
Do you play poker? Have you used your disability as an advantage in poker?