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David “Chino” Rheem has been a fixture in the poker world for more than a decade. His performances in numerous live poker tournaments have garnered some praise in the industry, and he is known as a fearless and aggressive player with strong reading ability and poker talent.

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His live poker tournament résumé boasts of more than $8 million in earnings dating back to 2004. His first wins in 2005 and 2006 were in Bellagio weekly tournaments, and he went on to earn titles at the Bellagio Cup, various events on the Asian Poker Tour, L.A. Poker Classic, and others. His biggest accomplishments came in the form of victories. In 2008, he won the WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic for more than $1.7 million, he won the now-defunct Epic Poker League Main Event in 2011 for $1 million, the 2013 WPT World Championship for $1.15 million, and last week, he won the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown for nearly $706K.

SHR WPT Final Table Chino Rheem

Credit: Seminole Hard Rock

While Rheem gets some credit from poker fans for being the fourth person in WPT history to claim three World Poker Tour titles – putting him alongside names like Carlos Mortensen, Gus Hansen, and Anthony Zinno – his successes are often overshadowed by his reputation for owing a lot of people a lot of money.

It is time for the poker world to give Rheem full credit for his victories and other successes, as well as to thank him for what he has given to the game.

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Troubles and Mistakes

There is not one among us who hasn’t made mistakes. Rheem just happens to make some of his mistakes in such a way that other poker players and members of the media see them. And those errors have come back to bite him in the form of unpaid debts that were made even more public in order to get them resolved.

Claims of unpaid debts go back many years. Some who have been more vocal about those debts include Ben Lamb, Tom Dwan, Will Molson, Joseph Cheong, and Erik Cajelais. With every win, some debts were paid, but the line of Rheem’s backers is said to be so long that not even the million dollar wins allowed all monies to be repaid.

Rumors of Rheem’s problems have included everything from casino gambling to drugs, from avoiding repayment to defaulting on bets. What is clear is that when Rheem cashes for significant money or wins a tournament, there are people lining up in person and online to claim their portions of those payouts.

In 2013, Rheem opened up to PokerListings about some of the Internet chatter. “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of,” he said in that interview. “I man up to it. I admit it. I try to live each day and make the best of it.” But he went on to add, “The things people say online are not necessarily all true, but there is some truth in what they say.”

Last week, he won his latest big event, a third WPT title. His rail included a mixture of friends and backers like Michael Mizrachi, Chance Kornuth, Mark Newhouse, Lily Kiletto, and James Calderaro. And in his post-game interview, he addressed his past troubles, “Honestly, bro,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about the importance of the third WPT title, “because of where I’m at in life, this is probably number one right now.”

Rheem also addressed the lack of respect he receives in poker: “I get no respect, but that’s okay. I can live with that. I’ve done that to myself, and I’m alright. As far as if I get respect on the poker table, let’s just put it like this. For the years that I’ve been playing, I have created an image that is priceless. The good thing is that at least I know how to, for the most part, take advantage of that image. That’s a really good thing, whether it’s respected or not.”

Contributions to the Game

Yes, I mentioned earlier that poker should thank Rheem. Thank him, you ask? What has he given to the game, you ask?

Rheem is not only a skilled poker player, but he is one of the best. What keeps him from ranking even higher overall in the world is the lack of money to keep playing. While that is his own fault, it doesn’t take away from his skill level at the tables.

chino rheem credit WPT

Credit: WPT

One of the most important lessons for any poker player to learn is money management. In any poker lesson, it is one of the top principles that a player – or even a potential player – must understand. Rheem may understand it but admittedly doesn’t put it into practice, and the price he pays is not only a financial one but one of public scrutiny and shame. Many a player has learned a lesson from hearing about how fast a $1 million payout can disappear into the hands of others to whom payment is owed.

And for his mistakes, Rheem is inundated with snarky and cruel social media posts and comments at live events, not to mention the overall lesser praise for his poker victories than others might receive. But he keeps coming back, likely from a combination of passion for the game and a desire to clear up debts and move forward. He continues to field questions about his mistakes, pay what he can, and keep coming back to a somewhat-hostile environment in order to do better.


Chino Rheem is no poker hero, but he is one of the best players in the game. His skills should be respected and his attempts at redemption acknowledged. And instead of bashing him for past mistakes in person or on social media, consider extending a gesture of understanding and friendship. If our mistakes were broadcast to the public, we might need just that type of gesture, too.

As he said at the WPT in response to a question about his poker legacy, Rheem summed it up nicely: “I never thought about that. Amongst my peers, I just honestly want to be accepted as a good player. That’s good enough for me. You’ll never hear me say I’m the best. I know I’m not. But if my peers can say that Chino can play, that’s good enough for me.”

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.