By Sean Chaffin
For five years, poker wasn’t fun for 59th-place finisher Gary Sixkiller. The game just brought back bad memories for the 67-year-old. He began playing about 12 years ago when his friend, Ward, invited him to his home for a game. While he didn’t know how to play, Sixkiller’s friend offered to show him the ropes.
He enjoyed that first outing and kept learning. He read books and played at Ward’s house game, winning a few dollars here and there. It was fun being around friends and challenging himself with something new. He expanded his game to casinos and reaped some nice profits. Then, things suddenly changed.
“About five years ago, he got throat cancer and committed suicide,” Sixkiller said of his friend who taught him poker. “It hurt me so bad that every time I played poker I kept thinking about him. So I quit.”
Retired from a career in business management, Sixkiller found other things to do with his time.
“Then I ran into a friend,” Sixkiller said. “She knew him very well, and she knew me. She said, ‘You’ve got to come back and play poker because he taught you how to play. Ward wouldn’t want you to quit.’”
The admonition worked and Sixkiller has now returned to the tables. He was in the field in this Season XVII WPT Choctaw Championship and worked his way to the money from the field of 755 entries, finishing in 59th place for $8,160.
Back to the Table
After getting back in on the action, Sixkiller found some success in a few WSOP Circuit events at Choctaw Casino & Resort. The casino has become his regular stop.
“I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I should start playing again,’” Sixkiller, who lives in Wylie, Texas, said. “So I’ve been playing a little bit when they have big tournaments up here.”
Before his hiatus from the game, Sixkiller had some nice success at a WSOP Circuit stop in New Orleans in 2010. He made four final tables and finished third in a $340 buy-in event for $8,540 after a chop. He now has nearly $35,000 in live tournament winnings.
It looked like Sixkiller was on a heater and primed for even more, but the aforementioned tragedy slowed that down.
“That’s when Ward committed suicide and I quit,” Sixkiller said. “He taught me everything I know about poker.”
Along with his friend, Sixkiller played a lot through the years with Poker Hall of Fame member T.J. Cloutier and credits him with offering strategy advice. The poker legend played in some charity games that Sixkiller attended as well.
“In some of these bigger tournaments we were playing, we got seated side by side,” Sixkiller (pictured below on right) said. “He mentored me and helped me out a lot.”
Ferocious at Foosball
While he may be a grinder at the poker tables now, in the 1970s Sixkiller dominated at another type of table – foosball. He was obsessed with the game, playing for hours every night.
“Back then, there were pool halls with 100 tables and 30 foosball tables,” Sixkiller said. “That was the thing. They were all over Dallas. You could play in a foosball tournament every night.”
And he did. The action was intense with players gathered throughout the room making those little soccer players fire those tiny soccer balls across the tables. There was also plenty of wagering, with $100 bets a regular part of the competition. He was soon making a living playing table soccer.
“In 1973, they started having national, city, and state tournaments,” Sixkiller said. “And in ’73 and ‘74, those were my best years. I was state champion in five different states and then the United States champion in 1974.
“At one time, I had a ‘63 Corvette convertible, and my partner and I drove all over the United States playing in foosball tournaments. I didn’t work for two years. And for a solid year, I didn’t lose a tournament.”
In 2017, Sixkiller was inducted into the Texas Foosball Hall of Fame and was sporting his jacket from the event as he made his in-the-money run on Sunday at WPT Choctaw. He still competed regularly even pretty recently and has a table at home, but a bad back has limited his foosball playing as well as his renewed interest in poker.
The poker table is now his realm and he’s hoping the success carries over. No doubt, his friend Ward would be cheering him on.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and host of the True Gambling Stories podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @PokerTraditions.
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