Isaac Haxton - Poker Success of Brooks Haxton the Poet's Son

Posted by Ellis Shuman, May 19, 2014

Fading Hearts on the River by Brooks HaxtonBrooks Haxton, who teaches writing at Syracuse University, has published six collections of poems and two books of translations from the ancient Greek. He is also the father of Isaac 'Ike' Haxton, who realized his childhood dream of playing the game of poker for a living to become one of the hottest names in online poker, as well as earn more than $8 million at live tournaments.

Brooks HaxtonThree days after Isaac was born, the tiny infant nearly died and was in desperate need of a total blood transfusion. As the doctors described the risks, Haxton's "helplessness felt something like a trance." His wife, a nursing teacher and third-year medical student, suggested an alternative treatment, convincing the doctors to go with her plan to "exchange half of Isaac's blood for an equal volume of saline to dilute the bilirubin." The doctors agreed, and miraculously, Issac's life was saved.

"We played the cards as they were dealt," Haxton wrote of the experience, in an article that appeared in the New York Times last month. His wife "happened to have the presence of mind and the expertise to play them with great skill, and we got lucky."

Haxton relates the full story of his son's life, highlighting the early years of his highly successful poker career, in the memoir Fading Hearts on the River (Counterpoint, April 2014). The elder Haxton, who also grew up in a family that played cards, has a knack for riveting poker tournament hand-by-hand reporting, but he also takes the story up a notch, going into a trip of discovery into his son's mindset as he successfully played bluffs or agonized after unpredictable bad beats.

Isaac Haxton
Isaac Haxton,

The book opens with Isaac sitting at the tables of the $7,800 WPT Championship Event of the 2007 PS Caribbean Adventure. This would be Isaac's first live cash, after he had already proven himself as a highly skilled online player. Isaac, as described by his father, "was still uneasy with the differences between the game online, which he had played for three years daily, and the live game, which he had played much less."

Isaac "luvtheWNBA" Haxton's story is not told to us in linear, chronological order. Instead, Haxton takes us back and forth to different episodes in Isaac's childhood, giving insights to the development of his son's analytical mind. The young prodigy takes on the game of Magic and masters chess, before finding a home for himself in the world of poker.


The author frequently goes on tangents, sharing with us theories of evolution; the workings of the optical nerve; the representations of dreams; and the sinking of a U-boat in World War Two. He also lyrically describes his son's poker tournaments: "The challenge is to choreograph a dance of appearances, with a dance of probabilities and a dance of actions." Only a poet could describe the deal of the cards in this fashion.

Isaac's story is also the story of the boy's love for Zoe, who accompanies him on his career. Standing on the rail while Isaac played could be difficult for his girlfriend, but he concentrated on his cards. "These last two days, which had been putting Zoe through the wringer, were pure oxygen in Isaac's blood and brain."

poker is only a game

While he did have some minor successes at early live tournaments, Isaac became more widely known in the industry when American officials arrested the two Canadian founders of Neteller in 2007 and seized $800,000 of Isaac's online funds as evidence in the case they were building. Isaac "was famous now … for being the person with the most money confiscated in the Neteller prosecution." He would later have substantial funds frozen following the U.S. Department of Justice crackdown on online poker sites on Black Friday.

Being the son of a published bard, Isaac was one time referred to as "the poet's son." Haxton writes, "We thought this was funny. [Wife] Francie said that she liked to think of Isaac as the psychiatrist's son. But the point when they mentioned my standing as a poet was not honorific. They found it droll that a card shark's father would pursue work even more improbable than his son's. Making a living as a poet is like making a living at craps. Though hypothetically possible, it cannot, in fact, be done."

Today, after continued successes at live tournaments in which he has won more than $8,000,000, there is no way that Isaac Haxton could be known as "the poet's son." He has developed a strong reputation for himself and is someone to watch, with respect, at the tables.

Isaac Haxton poker tournaments

"We say, it's only a game, and then, to make it interesting, we play for money," Haxton writes of the game of poker. "It's only money. Money makes the game a business. It's just business, nothing personal, and besides, that personal stuff, it's all a crazy dream."

More than a lot of other players, Isaac Haxton is living that dream.


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Further Reading:  

Titan Poker Benefits
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Poker and the Bible

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Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

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Previous articles by Ellis Shuman:

Poker and Philosophy: Thinking Your Way to Better Poker

The Wolf of Online Processing

The Greatest Poker Songs of All Time

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