Huck Seed once bet Phil Hellmuth $10,000 that he could float in the ocean for 24 hours without touching the bottom, though Seed forfeited the bet before making an attempt. Erick Lindgren won $340,000 from Gavin Smith, Phil Ivey, and others after he played 72 holes of golf in one day, shooting under 100 each round, in the 108-degree Vegas heat in June 2007. And this past summer, Ted Forrest won $2 million off Mike Matusow after managing to go from 188 lbs. to under 140 (138, to be exact) in the space of just two months. Forrest fasted the final 10 days straight to win that one.
Trumping them all, I suppose, is Brian Zembic, also a poker player though probably more of a blackjack/backgammon player. In the fall of 1996, Zembic won a $100K prop for receiving breast implants, the story of which was subsequently chronicled in Michael Konik’s 1999 anthology The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories.
However much some want to argue that poker is somehow not gambling -- that its significant skill component allows one to approach the game as a strictly intellectual and/or psychological competition -- it is, in fact, a game that involves chance and is therefore a gambling game. Even if it weren’t, poker’s frequently close proximity to all those other gambling games -- usually just a few steps away in the casino (or a click away online) -- would probably increase the likelihood for action-seeking poker players to seek further opportunities to gamble. Especially when they are encouraged by fellow, like-minded “degens” as they are sometimes described, usually with a semi-serious mix of reproach and wonder.
You probably recently heard about another such prop bet, one involving a couple of young poker players, Ashton “theASHMAN103” Griffin and Haseeb “INTERNETPOKERS” Qureshi. Both have emerged over recent years as part of the latest generation of tough, successful online players, with Griffin additionally enjoying some big live scores including winning the $25,000 High Roller Bounty Shootout event at NAPT Venetian in February 2010.
Like Griffin, Qureshi has been involved in some of the highest-stakes online games, including being an early combatant of Viktor “Isildur1” Blom last year. His well-considered thoughts about those battles and their significance were shared by Qureshi on his CardRunners blog last fall (alluded to here).
Here the two roommates bet whether the 22-year-old Griffin, formerly a college wrestler and by most accounts well-conditioned athlete, could run 70 miles on a treadmill within a 24-hour period. The bet incorporated various provisions, and ultimately went off with Griffin giving Qureshi 3-to-1 on a wager of $285,000, meaning that if Qureshi lost he’d owe Griffin $285K and if Griffin lost he’d owe Qureshi $855K. Griffin booked an additional $15K of action with others, meaning he was risking a total of $900K -- not to mention the physical trauma of running nearly three marathons in one day -- to win $300K.
As reported on many outlets earlier this week, Griffin incredibly succeeded in the task and won the bet. Meanwhile, his friend Qureshi appears to have been affected by much more than having lost a significant portion of his bankroll. Yesterday and today Qureshi published a lengthy two-part account of the bet on his blog: The Million Dollar Bet, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.
It’s a harrowing read, one that should give a great deal of pause to those eager to celebrate Griffin’s accomplishment and/or the undeniably fascinating culture that seems to produce such rash, risky behavior. Qureshi is highly self-critical throughout, recognizing the absurdity of the situation of his having bet on his friend’s body to fail him physically -- perhaps even irreparably. The experience seems to have been unrelentingly hellish for Qureshi (who turns 21 this year), and he writes with the self-awareness and perspective that belies his young age (and which he appears to have been lacking when he agreed to the prop).
Near the conclusion Qureshi speculates about “the world of poker players” in which he has lived for a short time, wondering if perhaps there is something “fundamentally unhealthy” present there of which all should be wary. It’s not a new observation he is making. But perhaps it is being made in a new way here -- and from a different perspective -- and thus might capture the notice of some it might not otherwise have gained.
People complain about the overuse of the term “sick” to describe risky maneuvers at the poker table or the awe-inspiring exploits of some of the games’ most celebrated “degens.” Qureshi’s account perhaps invites us to reconsider the term’s applicability to “the world of poker players,” including considering its possibly literal significance for some who inhabit it.