Los Angeles native Chino Rheem is a professional poker player best known for finishing seventh in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event. For his efforts Rheem earned a hefty $1.77 million.
The 38-year-old’s poker successes include being only the fourth person in World Poker Tour history (along with Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen, and Anthony Zinno) to have won three WPT titles. Rheem’s poker success is frequently overshadowed by his reputation for owing a LOT of people a LOT of money. He has a reputation for using his charisma and some fast talking to avoid settling his debts.
Chino Rheem early life
Rheem—born David Rheem—had a troubled youth. This included accusations of drug abuse and a four-month stint in jail for marijuana possession and theft.
Chino Rheem first played poker in Hollywood, Florida, at an Indian reservation casino. Between 2005 and 2007, Rheem honed his skills at Las Vegas’ Bellagio. His second-place finish in the 2006 WSOP’s $1,000 NL Hold’Em to Allen Cunningham and $328,000 prize attested to Rheem’s skill and commitment to the game.
In fact, Rheem’s love for poker has remained unwavering over the past two decades. He is, indeed, a good player. Many in the poker community tout his aggressiveness, intelligence, and uncanny ability to turn short stacks into large ones. Look at his impressive wins over the years. You can’t deny Rheem’s innate ability.
However, while Rheem oftentimes touts the importance of money management, he doesn’t appear to take his own advice.
On the felt
As mentioned, Chino Rheem is an accomplished and skilled poker player. In addition to the 2008 WSOP Main Event, Rheem has also cashed in five other WSOP tournaments.
Rheem earned his WPT titles in 2008, 2013, and 2016. His first victory occurred at the Season VII Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic. There he pocketed nearly $1.54 million, truly life changing money. Then, in 2013, Rheem defeated Erick Lindgren heads up to win the WPT Championship event and a cool $1.15 million. Finally, Rheem won the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Finale in 2016, taking home $705,885 and tying Hansen, Mortensen, and Zinno for the title record.
Rheem’s current total lifetime live tournament winnings exceed $8.8 million, placing him 46th on the U.S. All Time Money List.
There is little debate that Rheem is a controversial character. Between his drug accusations and gambling problems, perhaps the strongest accusations result from his mountain of unpaid debts.
A mountain of debts
Granted, while Chino Rheem has enjoyed considerable success playing poker, the real story—the story everyone wants to know—relates to his alleged outstanding debts and his growing negative reputation as a welcher. Unlike others who may not have the funds to repay, Rheem most certainly does. Or, at least, did. For some reason, Rheem has a problem hanging on to his money.
In 2011, Rheem emerged victorious at the inaugural Epic Poker League’s (EPL) $20,000 6-Max NL Hold’Em tournament and took home a hefty $1 million. However, one week later, his league’s membership was placed in probationary status as he admitted to owing several other pros considerable debts.
Rheem owed—and continues to owe—so much, in fact, that rumors swirled that Rheem was not only a debtor but also a swindler and borderline sociopath.
Players like Will Molson and Joseph Cheong took to online poker forums like TwoPlusTwo to tell their stories about how they were “Chino’d” by loaning Rheem $40k apiece for a tournament yet were not repaid with the monies Rheem eventually won. Rheem also allegedly owes Tom Dwan an undisclosed amount. Further, as many as a dozen more players have related their own tales of being “taken” by Rheem, thus making the circumstantial evidence against him quite damning.
However, not everyone is reeling from lack of repayment. Ben Lamb reported that Rheem paid back his $100k debt in its entirety, leading many to speculate how and why Lamb is different than everyone else. Some assert that by repaying Lamb, Rheem is “backhandedly acknowledging” his debts; however, many assert that it is too little, too late and in order to redeem himself, Rheem needs to make some serious changes and right some serious wrongs.
No end in sight?
In 2013, Chino Rheem was in the news again amidst tales that he had far outspent his own poker winnings in large payout tournaments without having repaid his existing debts. Most notably, Guy Laliberte himself backed Rheem’s entry into the WSOP’s $111,111 Big One for One Drop tournament. However, Rheem allegedly not only took the funds and lost it at a high-stakes baccarat table but also allegedly sold additional shares of himself to others.
Rheem took to YouTube in 2013 to explain his commitment to making good on all of his debts; however, many believe that this is merely lip service and another example of Rheem’s smooth-talking nature. Additionally, his demeanor and expressions make other questions Rheem’s sincerity in the matter. Judge for yourself.
While there is no doubt that Chino Rheem is a talented poker player, he needs to make good on his outstanding debts if he ever wants the respect necessary in such a close-knit community. Are you one of those to whom Rheem is indebted? Please share your experiences below.
Until next time.
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Natalie Faulk is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer/blogger and the author of several books. She is an avid low-stakes (for now) poker player and huge Vegas Golden Knights fan.