I first met Boutros Naim on the staircase outside the Deauville tournament room. He’d suffered a beat so bad that it was as though he were speaking in a trance. I think he’d had aces three times, and been crushed each time. The man needed to talk.
I ran into Naim again in Malta. He’d read the piece, but laughed at the idea of being this kind of ghost, cast away by the poker gods. He was instead a businessman, anthropologist, proud father and staunch pragmatist when it came to the crazy game of poker.
As a man who cannot bear the injustice in poker, Naim at least realises he’s powerless to resist. And yet meets with success from time to time.
He played the entire Season 11 on the back of a super satellite win in Prague. It was to the Super High Roller, which in his own words he would have been mad to play. And so he cashed it in, and with the money free-rolled the rest of the season.
Now, having suffered none of the bad beats of France, we caught up on a few highlights of the year, notably his cash finish in Barcelona, in which he put his unconventional style to full use.
“In four days I played 23 hands!” he laughed. “I folded my way to 61st! And I don’t bluff… everybody believes me when I bluff!”
Naim, 65, has always been a poker player, but turned to hold’em just three years ago. His bad back means sport is no longer possible, and it can make a day at the poker table an agony. But forget the physical pain. It’s the mental kind that he can only laugh at. “In swimming or tennis effort rewards you, but not always in poker. I hate the injustice! There’s no justice!”
But Naim, who lives 12 minutes away from the tournament room, keeps coming back, albeit having a tempestuous relationship with the cards. Case in point: while some dread being excluded from games, Naim insists on it.
When he busts from an online tournament Naim excludes himself for 12 hours. In his mind it prevents any attempt to chase losses or to put those injustices to right. Actually after he saw me on the stairs in Deauville he went back to his room and excluded himself for a month. He has these rules. He’s also not a cash game player either, and winces at the thought of multi-tabling.
“No cash games for Boutros Naim!” he said, rubbing his temples. “No multi-tabling. I get a headache! One table. No more!”
But despite the anguish, the torture even, of modern poker, Naim keeps coming back. As he says, he’s a man living every minute of his life as well as he can, whether that’s in his converted stable in Monaco, or wherever he escapes to when the weather gets hot and the Grand Prix turns things noisy, or at the poker table. One year, missing his son who was studying at Harvard, he signed up for grad school to be near him, hopping on the train to Foxwoods at weekends. “I played like an idiot!” he said, as an aside.
So as we come to the end of another season, this is a salute to players like Boutros Naim, whose fondness for poker doesn’t really fit the younger, more modern mould. Instead he’s that type of player who can teach you a few things at the table, from all that stuff he’s learned away from it.
“You know, I didn’t make a single mistake”, he said before we parted. “But I died with pocket aces – vanquished!”
He was talking about Deauville again. We both laughed at that.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.