Thursday, January 03, 2013

Ungrateful Gus; or, Hansen on High

A little over a week ago, Gus Hansen fired off three tweets from his Twitter account.*

The first came on Christmas evening. “Never underestimate stupid people in large groups,” wrote Hansen, cryptically adding that an “explanation will follow.” Without any context -- and given the date of posting -- it initially came off like some sort of complaint about Christmas shoppers or perhaps some weird, unflattering reference to religion.

But Hansen wasn’t talking about either, as he made clear with a second tweet about 20 minutes later, then a third the following morning:

Talk about Christmas spirit! In less than 280 characters, one of the new Full Tilt Poker’s ambassadors -- or “Professionals,” as they’ve dubbed them -- offered a sweeping condemnation of pretty much the entire poker community, characterizing those who are critical of Howard Lederer and his involvement in the Full Tilt Poker fiasco as “stupid,” needing to “get a fu**ing grip,” and perhaps so deeply under the spell of a couple of other poker pros that they are unable to form opinions of their own.

It’s a strange, highly off-putting message Hansen has sent the poker community. My first thought when reading the tweets was to think how utterly far removed Hansen’s world is from the one I inhabit, and I’m not just talking about the way he routinely wins and loses millions within the space of mere days or even hours. No, it’s a complete disconnect, a huge divide over which something resembling “sympathy” has little chance of crossing.

Seriously, how could Hansen sympathize with anyone whose bankroll of a few hundred -- or a few thousand, or even tens of thousands -- has been inaccessible for what is now going on two years (as is the case for us American players)?

Among the responses to Hansen’s tweet was a predictably diffuse 2+2 thread, a thoughtful commentary by Haley Hintze for Flushdraw, and an expression of justifiable bafflement from Dan Katz over at PokerNews Daily. There was also some back-and-forthing on Twitter, too -- mostly anti-Gus, though not entirely.

Meanwhile, Daniel Negreanu posted his most recent YouTube “rant” yesterday, and when I dialed it up I half-expected to hear some sort of rejoinder to Hansen’s suggestion that Negreanu’s influence in Lederer-related matters is suspect. In fact, Negreanu doesn’t even mention Hansen in his video, and instead begins by listing as a “number one goal” for the new year “to do everything I can to help the poker community be shed in a much better light than it was in 2012 and 2011... and also the people in it.”

Negreanu goes on to explain his meaning, that really he’s thinking primarily of certain individuals who have gotten “off track” somehow and become destructive to themselves or to others in the poker community. Even so, it’s hard not to hear an extreme contrast between the messages of Negreanu (to engage and unite) and Hansen (to divide and estrange).

When I think of this disconnect between the great majority of us -- we “amateurs” or recreational players who love poker yet do not experience the game in the way “Professionals” like Hansen do -- I think back to how things were five or six years ago, during the height of the “boom” in online poker. Even though it was all mostly illusory, there was nonetheless a real sense felt by most of us pushing quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies back and forth online that we really did have something in common with players like Hansen and others we saw on television or railed online.

In truth, this idea of a connection between the pros and the rest of the poker community was part of FTP’s marketing strategy as it helped to concoct the Frankenstein monster known as the “poker celebrity.” Sure, in retrospect it is easier to see how such a ploy was probably driven more by ad-exec-inspired, promotional phony baloney than by genuine community building, but it nonetheless worked. We heeded the call to “learn, chat, and play with the pros.” Even if the connection was more perceived than actual, the sense that we were all playing the same game improved the experience for many.

When Full Tilt Poker 2.0 launched, reports soon followed that Hansen was losing hundreds of thousands within the first few days. According to HighStakes Database (from which that graphic to the left comes), Hansen lost $1.84 million on Full Tilt Poker in November, then about $1.4 million more in December. Hansen additionally lost over $1 million on PokerStars during 2012 (as “broksi”). And he has dropped another $100K during the first two days of 2013 on FTP, too.

As a Team Full Tilter, Hansen earned big time dividends throughout FTP’s rise and fall. Haley points out how “Hansen should clearly know by now that a good chunk of what he was paid -- from late 2010 until Black Friday -- came during a period when Howard Lederer knew that Full Tilt Poker was underwater, with hundreds of millions in unpaid debt and uncollected deposits.”

In other words, while there’s no emotional connection left between Gus Hansen and most of us (the “stupid people in large groups” who played on Full Tilt Poker), there is still one other way we might connect ourselves with the “Great Dane.”

It has to do with the $159 million or so U.S. players thought they had in their accounts on the morning of April 15, 2011. (You’re welcome, Gus.)

*At the time this post was written, Hansen’s verified Twitter account had been under the “@RealGusHansen” handle. Soon after it was changed to simply “@GusHansen,” where one can still read the three tweets discussed above here, here, and here.

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