Veteran pro Don Zewin passes at age 69

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: November 2, 2021 7:11 am EDT

Well-known high-stakes pro Don Zewin has passed away at age 69 from undisclosed causes. Zewin died this past weekend and word of his death spread quickly through Las Vegas’s high-stakes poker scene, where he’d been a fixture for four decades.

Phil Hellmuth, who prominently battled Zewin in a couple of famous WSOP events, broke the news of Zewin’s death on Twitter:

Zewin played a key role in Hellmuth’s most celebrated win, the 1989 World Series of Poker Main Event which was the very first of Hellmuth’s record 16 WSOP triumphs. Hellmuth fended off elimination in a hand against Zewin where he had the worst of it, with ace-ten to Zewin’s pocket tens, but spiked an ace to stay alive. Zewin eventually placed third in the event after having had the inside track to the title, while Hellmuth went on to deny Johnny Chan what would have been a record third-straight Main Event title.

WSOP bracelet eluded cash-game expert Zewin

Zewin came up just short of bracelet gold in his WSOP career on several occasions. In 2012, he finished as the runner-up — again to Hellmuth — in a $2,500 Razz tourney. Zewin also logged four different third-place finishes. Besides the famed 1989 Main Event, those finishes included the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship in both 2015 and 2017.

Zewin, who moved to Las Vegas from Buffalo, New York in 1979 to pursue a full-time poker career, eventually amassed over $1.14 million in WSOP earnings, plus at least $700,000 more in other recorded tourney finishes. Yet he was most noted as a cash-game expert with expertise in several poker variants. He was also one of Las Vegas’s larger poker characters and was well liked throughout the poker community, as Hellmuth and others noted.

The 1989 Main Event showing was Zewin’s first recorded WSOP cash, though he finished in the money at the Rio as recently as 2019.

Poker entrepreneurship also part of Zewin’s legacy

Zewin also tried his hand at the business side of poker and gambling. In one interesting tale, he and fellow entrepreneur Yosh Nakano developed and received a patent for a cards-and-dice game that combined poker elements with the luck of the dice.

According to Nakano, the game was to be called “Ace Away,” and it was a modernized version of an old cards-and-dice game called Four-Five-Six. Zewin and Nakano hoped to market the game to casinos and cardrooms. They were following a winning strategy pursued by several other poker players who developed and sold one-off gambling games. Ace Away, though, ran into problem with California’s gambling codes involving the game’s dice element. The two poker veterans developed a workaround that removed the dice element from the project. However, according to Nakano, the game then lacked the special sizzle that they’d hoped would help sell it, and they eventually decided to abandon the project.

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