Last night it was confirmed that Chad Batista, known as “lilholdem954” online, has passed away suddenly. He was 35. There has been much speculation about the cause of death, but none of it confirmed. His family’s full statement is as follows:
It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved son, nephew, cousin, brother and friend, Chad (lil Holdem 954) Batista, Chad died suddenly this beautiful Thursday afternoon with his family surrounding him. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.
Update: In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations in Chad’s memory be made to Trevor’s Fight. The family is not soliciting any personal donations; any memorial funds and such you may see are fraudulent and should not be supported.
RIP Chad Batista, one of my first friends in poker. He was a troubled soul, but had a big heart. A natural talent! pic.twitter.com/kO9WXw6tUO
— Jared Hamby (@TWKftw) August 21, 2015
Batista was one of the most successful online tournament players of the pre-Black Friday era; his performance in $109 Rebuy events was particularly solid, where he racked up dozens of five-figure scores. In his earlier days, he also did quite well on the live scene, with six-figure cashes in 2006, 2007 and 2008. His reputation, as told by those who knew him, was of a good-hearted, genuine person, but also one who wrestled with a lot of inner demons.
I met Chad at the 2007 WSOP we smoked a J together, very friendly. he threatened to murder me in the chat box a few months later.
— Philip Collins (@USCphildo) August 21, 2015
As it does for a lot of people, Batista’s troubled nature seemed to come out more online than in person; there were several times he went on bizarre rants on social media, and in online poker circles he was known as much for talking trash in chat as for his phenomenal poker skills, though friends say his online persona was nothing like the real man.
In person, he was hard to miss because of the seeming incongruity between his physique and personal style. Baby-faced and small of build, he would often be seen sporting chains and his signature silver grill, and embraced the typically friendly mockery it earned him from the community.
Chad Batista and I texted often about things that bothered him in poker. Always seemed to have a lot of pain but also a ton of passion! #RIP
— Matt Savage (@SavagePoker) August 21, 2015
Correction: Two corrections have been made in the following paragraph. Batista dropped out of school in 11th grade, not 7th. He spent time in country jail, not prison.
Poker has a tendency to attract people with troubled backgrounds, and Batista’s early days were a redemption story of sorts; he’d dropped out of school in 11th grade and was in jail by age 18. After release, he was introduced to poker by Adam “Roothless” Levy and for a time it looked like success at poker was going to turn his life around.
As you might expect for someone whose life revolved around online poker and lived in the United States, things got worse for Batista after Black Friday. Through 2012 he continued to play live events, but failed to achieve much success apart from a 6th place finish in a $2,700 buy-in event at the Borgata.
In 2013, he made the decision to move to Mexico so that he could get back into playing online, which was clearly the better fit for his skillset. At first, the move worked out really well for him, and 2013 was in fact the best year of his career. He put up solid numbers throughout the year, including the best score of his life, taking 3rd in that year’s WCOOP-45, $2100 No-Limit Hold’em for $264,408. It was also the highest-volume year of his poker life, with nearly 3700 multi-table tournaments played. The poker community had already begun to celebrate his triumphant return.
Ultimately, he decided not to remain in Mexico, however. A few months after his big score in WCOOP, he moved back to the United States to live in Las Vegas and resumed playing live poker tournaments throughout 2014. His final cash was in November 2014, when he took 36th place in the Heartland Poker Tour Las Vegas Main Event, for $3,896.
What happened between then and his passing will likely remain between his friends and family, but the poker community at large will always remember him as the complicated, friendly, aggressive, dorky, cocky, entertaining person he was in the heyday of our game, as well as an utter force of nature at the online tables.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.