The first time I ever saw John Gale, he was a couple of days away from winning the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. That was my introduction to poker: watching a relative amateur win a bunch of money on a big stage.
I never again looked at poker the same way.
To be fair, prior to meeting Gale, every bit of big money poker I’d watched happened on television. Gale was the first real-life human being I met who took down a major tournament.
That’s significant because of this: Gale was the prototype of a real-life human being.
According to longtime poker reporter Tony Kendall, Gale died yesterday at the age of 65.
Saddened to hear from Harry Demetriou that John Gale passed away yesterday. He was just 65. Poker has lost a lovely man, & he was an absolute credit to the game. Thoughts go to Shirley & his family. RIP John.
— Tony Kendall (Tikay) (@Tony_Kendall) November 19, 2019
John Gale was funny. When asked to fill out his biography questionnaire for the World Poker Tour, he balked when he got to the question about his biggest-ever loss. “I can tell you about my biggest win, but my biggest loss? My wife is standing here,” Gale said.
Gale had his share of faults. When I met him in 2005, he battled his need for a Marlboro Red. That need forced itself on him more often than tournament breaks happened, so it wasn’t uncommon to find him in the hall smoking as quickly as he could. “It’s terrible, isn’t it?” he’d say. He’d run back and pick a few of orange and green Tic Tac mints out of a little plastic container and go back to work.
Gale was compassionate. The first week I met him, he hugged every person he knocked out of the PCA. He did that for years.
Gale was pragmatic. In the summer 2005, he got heads-up for his first World Series of Poker bracelet and was one two-outer away from winning. When he didn’t, he spent the next two hours sipping on orange juice and consoling his friends as they lamented his loss over too many drinks.
Gale was tough. Years after his first victories, doctors discovered a brain tumor. Before his treatment, Gale was aching to get back to the PCA. Gale said, “I would dearly love to go back and pray history would repeat itself.” He ultimately survived and was back winning money on the poker circuit within two years.
Gale was talented. After his first big win in 2005, he went on to win nearly $4 million in live poker over the course of his career. In 2006, he finally won his WSOP bracelet. In 2015, he added another for good measure. Gale cashed in his final poker tournament on November 18, 2018…exactly one year before his death.
Gale was a gentleman. Sure, he may have had his run-ins with people at the table over the years, but through it all, he lived up to his nickname.
Many years later, a reporter from Bluff Europe asked Gale who first called him “Gentleman John.” Gale said, he didn’t know.
“It kind of happened after the PCA. I like to have fun at the table. I don’t get nasty or abusive to anyone. If I get unlucky, I just say, ‘C’est la vie, that’s poker.’ I didn’t give myself that nickname. It just sort of happened. Some players, you know, they’re just so serious, and I kind of think ‘Why are you playing? It’s meant to be fun. We’re meant to have a laugh. It’s a game.’” Gale told Bluff.
As far as I know, I gave Gale his nickname the summer after his PCA win when he showed up at the WSOP during coverage of his 2005 runner-up finish.
I might be wrong, but I hope I’m not, because regardless of whether John Gale knew it, I always wanted him and the rest of the world to know Gale was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. From the very first time I saw him at the PCA in 2005 until the last time I saw him at the 2015 World Series of Poker, Gale treated me as he treated so many others. No matter how much success or failure he had, Gale remained a gentleman.
You’ll meet all kinds of people in poker, but it’s rare to find one like Gentleman John Gale. He was gracious when he was successful. He was compassionate when others were down. He was humble to a fault. And even when he struggled, Gale could find a smile.
In 2012, while fighting the brain tumor, Gale reflected on his struggle, and reminded me that no matter how tough it got, he was choosing to focus on the future.
“Life’s too short to dwell on the past,” he said.
Our condolences go out to Gale’s friends and family, especially his wife Shirley who was right there beside him when he won the 2005 PCA.
The world needs more gentlemen. Thanks for being you, John.
EPT Monte Carlo
Winning the 2005 PCA
With wife, Shirley, at 2005 PCA