Bob Thompson, the World Series of Poker tournament director from 1999-2002, passed away on Sunday. He was 80 years old.“He was the fairest and most decent person I have ever worked with,” Nolan Dalla, the WSOP’s media director, said about Thompson after hearing of his death. “He was as honest as the day is long and a leader who spoke up for the players at every opportunity.”Thompson, who was nicknamed “the Silver Eagle,” was a respected and revered figure in the poker community, a leader in the industry in the pre-Moneymaker era. Jack McClelland, Bellagio’s tournament director, explained Thompson’s oft-used moniker.“He was called the Silver Eagle because of his flowing grey hair under his cowboy hat,” said McClelland. “Bob was one of the first, major pioneers in poker.”According to Tom Sexton, a photographer at the World Series during Thompson’s reign and the brother of 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton, Thompson started out as a dealer at the Sahara casino. He conducted several tournaments at the Stardust in the 1980s, worked at the Golden Nugget, and served as tournament director of a number of poker cruises.But it was at the World Series where Thompson arguably made his greatest impact on the game.In 1999, following the departure of patriarch Jack Binion from the series he created, the World Series was in limbo.“A little-known fact is that the WSOP almost did not happen in 1999. After Jack Binion left, the owners of the Horseshoe seriously considered cutting out all of the preliminary tournaments and leaving only the main event intact. But after much discussion, which involved Bob Thompson, a compromise was made and the WSOP was scaled back to something like 15 events that year,” said Dalla. “Thompson made the most of a bad situation and, in my view, shepherded the WSOP through its darkest days.”Sexton described Thompson as a fair tournament director “with an even-keel demeanor,” saying “he was a joy to work with.”In all the times he worked with him, Sexton could only remember one time Thompson got visibly angry. The incident occurred at a WSOP final table, when a pushy photographer tapped the shoulder of an active player who was mulling over an all-in decision. The photographer wanted the player to look his way for a better picture.“You’d probably have to talk to a thousand people to find one time he blew up,” said Sexton. “That was the only time I ever saw him upset.”Sexton, who played Omaha with Thompson in the later years of his life, talked with Thompson just last month.“We reminisced, talked about how much poker has grown,” said Sexton. “I really loved Bob…He was one of the good guys in the poker world. All the dealers, all the floor people, and all the players had a great respect for him. He was one of the fairest people I’ve ever worked with.”Tom McEvoy, the 1983 world champ, described Thompson as “a very creative tournament director” who was consistently fair with players. “He always made good decisions,” said McEvoy. “The poker world in particular is going to miss him quite a bit.”Tournament director Matt Savage echoed McEvoy’s sentiments and commented on Thompson’s legacy to the game.“Poker tournaments wouldn’t be where they are today without his influence,” said Savage. “He did some great things for poker and the World Series of Poker .”After decades in the industry, Dalla believes that Thompson will be remembered for his commitment to the World Series in a time when it needed his leadership.“He held the WSOP together during its darkest days, when there were dealer strikes, player boycotts, and all kinds of problems,” said Dalla. “Bob was a real inspiration. He will be missed.”Thompson’s funeral is open to the public. A viewing will take place Thursday, Dec. 10, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. with a funeral service beginning at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Spring Valley Baptist Church, located at 3135 S. Rainbow in Las Vegas. Call (702) 871-0150 for more information.Editor’s Note: Kristy Arnett also contributed to this article. Card Player would like to thank Nolan Dalla and the WSOP for providing additional information regarding Mr. Thompson.
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