Chino Rheem: From Florida to World Series of Poker final table

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By Christopher Cosenza

Isn’t it funny how having no money can motivate some people? That’s what pushed David “Chino” Rheem to play better this year, and that’s what helped him secure his spot in history with a seat at the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Rheem, whose connection to Florida reads more like a pamphlet for state tourism than a hometown listing (he lived in Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, mostly because of his father’s job), says spending a year with no cash was reason enough to buckle down.

“Being broke and being in a hole, that’ll definitely motivate you to wanna actually play up to par and make you wanna play good,” said Rheem, 28. “Just being broke a little over a year makes you realize the value of money and it makes you realize what type of position you were in when you had it, and when you screw it off.”

Plus playing for a world title and $9 million doesn’t hurt either.

“For some reason during the World Series I happen to always step it up and bring my A game,” said the L.A. resident. “When I’m with my friends and we’re traveling to poker tournaments I’m always like ‘I’m gonna do good! I’m gonna do good!’ But I never give it my full 100 percent and take it as serious as I do in the World Series.”

Speaking of the WSOP, Rheem has six career cashes there, including another final table this year (he won $93K for his fifth-place finish in the mixed hold’em event that was televised on ESPN). But his spot at the main event’s final dance assures him of the most lucrative cash of his career (he has been given $900K as part of the delayed-final-table agreement). With all of this money coming his way, will he go broke again?

“I’ll be managing my money better,” he said, “and as far as the way I play tournaments, I go in with more of a desire to do well, especially now. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the tournaments I played before I didn’t give it my full effort. Now I just think to give it a little more effort than before and that always helps.”

What also helps is having a poker giant in your corner, such as his relationship with PokerStars.

“I can’t complain at all,” he said. “PokerStars is a great company to work for. They take care of their players. They’ve definitely taken care of me and their other five members that are on the final table. We get to come to London and play in the EPT and things like that. They paid for our trip and stuff so I can’t complain at all. It’s a benefit and privilege to do things like that. I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I not made the final table.”
While in Europe, Rheem stuck around for the WSOP Europe events in London and says European players are not to be taken lightly.

“The main event in London was a lot tougher than the one in America, to be frank. Just as far as the field was a lot tougher, a lot stronger to play against. I’d rather play a tournament full of amateurs who are just taking a shot, chasing a dream, trying to do what they see on TV. I’d rather play against a lot of those players as opposed to the Europeans because they understand the game and they know what they’re doing. They’re just crazy and it’s always hard to put them on a hand. They have no fear. They’ll float you on the flop and try to outplay you. You have to play cautious, especially in deep-stack poker. I just got unfortunate (in the WSOPE) and it’s part of the game.”

Rheem went out on Day 2 of the WSOPE’s main event, but the real main event for him is yet to come. And despite being short-stacked at the upcoming final table, he says the tournament is still up for grabs.

“Anyone’s got a shot,” said the graduate of Palm Beach Lake High. “Anyone who is a good poker player understands that anything can happen. I wouldn’t necessarily consider anyone more of a favorite than anyone else regardless of their chip stacks. Obviously if you ask me who’s more of a favorite, Dennis (Phillips), math-wise, has more chips and can withstand beats. But it’s anyone’s game.”

When the idea of a delayed final table was presented, a lot of people whined it would give an unfair advantage to certain players who could use that four-month layoff to work on their game and to scout other players. Rheem has done nothing other than play a lot of poker since July. But that doesn’t mean he won’t prepare.

“I have gotten a lot of friendly advice from a lot of well-respected players,” he said, “so I listened with open ears to everything they said and just tried to formulate the best outcome for everything they told me. … When I get home we’ve got all of the ESPN episodes prerecorded. So once they all come out I’m gonna definitely watch to see how the players played their hands. For the most part I’ve already played with most of them, but I haven’t done any scouting or investigating on any of the players yet. A couple of weeks before the final table, me and my buddies are gonna sit down and come up with a sensible strategy. For the most part there isn’t much you can do. You have to play your hands the best you can and hope you win the pot.”

When he mentions his buddies, it’s understood that the Mizrachi brothers are included in that conversation. Rheem met Robert and Michael “The Grinder” about six years ago while playing at the Seminole Hollywood Classic poker room.

“They were nice guys and they knew a lot about poker and they were cool to hang out with. We just clicked.”

They hung out at the card rooms in South Florida, occasionally playing $135 single-table Omaha/8 tournaments or heading to the gambling cruises with his dad. But Rheem says most of his Florida poker experience was of the home-game flavor.

“Those were the good ol’ days, you could say. A lot has changed. We’ve all grown up since then, but back then it was more like a family-type atmosphere. Everyone knew everybody there. We were all sort of like a family. Even though we played against each other it was more like a friendly atmosphere than a competition.”

It was those relationships that kept him in Florida for about 10 years before finally moving to L.A. to play poker with the big boys. And now that most of those friends are in L.A. and Vegas, Rheem doesn’t see himself ever moving back to the Sunshine State.

“But I go back a visit all the time. I love where (poker’s) going and where it’s at. I hope it gets better and better. I hope it continues to grow and get larger. Especially for the opportunities we’re given. If you’re a true poker player and you can manage your bankroll right and withstand the variance of tournament buy-ins and stay in action it’s a great opportunity. It’s the American dream for me. You can win a beaucoup amount of money from a relatively small buy-in and if you happen to play well and get lucky you can have great success.”

You may be wondering about all of the hubbub surrounding Rheem leading up to the November Nine. Immediately after it was made public that he had advanced to this famed delayed final table, a story broke that he was wanted on a trespassing warrant here in Hollywood. It was much ado about nothing.

“When I found out what it was actually for, it wasn’t really that big of a deal,” said Rheem, who once dealt on the SeaEscape gambling ship out of Fort Lauderdale. “I found it more like amusing and funny. The day after I make the final table they’re coming out with stories like trying to put bad press out there against me. It wasn’t a big deal. I found out what it was and it was a small thing that I had to take care of. It didn’t really bother me that much. In a way I sort of took it as a compliment because it made me realize that I sort of made it. If there’s anyone out there trying to find dirt about you it sort of tells you that you made it this far and they’re trying to put a bad image out on me.”

So what’s the deal? What happened?

“It was for a trespassing charge,” he said. “One night me and the Mizrachis and whole bunch of friends were at the Diplomat (Hotel); it’s a little place in Fort Lauderdale. I got charged with trespassing there and I never went to court for it so they made a warrant out for my arrest. I happened to move away after that and it was nothing serious at all.”

The charge has been taken care of and he’s been cleared to play, so don’t be looking for any dramatic scene at the final table, unless it involves him winning it all.

“I think all of these gentlemen at the final table are very capable of taking it down,” Rheem said, “and to be honest, I just hope I’m a lot luckier than them on that day.”