Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hero Call

Super GusI had already decided on both the topic and title of this post when I saw the latest cover of BLUFF Europe featuring Gus Hansen as some sort of superhero (the March 2012 issue). Kind of a funny image, made more so by our knowledge of the many wild ups and downs Hansen has had as a player over the years, especially online.

Speaking of ups and downs, most readers of this blog probably at least heard something about Erick Lindgren’s troubles of late with regard to gambling losses. He became the subject of a much viewed and discussed thread on Two Plus Two in which some to whom he owed money called him out, then others joined in to form a loud chorus of voices that together effectively drowned out echoes of former praises sung over the years for the charismatic and talented poker player.

With over $8 million in tourney winnings, a couple of WPT titles, a WSOP bracelet, and a deep run in last year’s WSOP Main Event (finishing 43rd), Lindgren has well established his credentials as a top tourney player. Winning those WPT titles in 2003 and 2004 helped ensure him landing a central spot amid the cast of new poker celebs featured during the “boom” and heyday of televised poker, making him a star in our little poker world.

Those following either the thread on Two Plus Two or other reports about Lindgren’s considerable gambling debts are familiar with that story’s main theme, namely, that while E-dog had successfully crafted a very likable image of himself to the larger public, those in the know understood the reality much better, including his degen tendencies to gamble it up big and apparently not consider paying off debts a very high priority.

Probably the most compelling and thoughtful contribution to the hubbub came from Haralabos Voulgaris in a post detailing his six-year quest to get Lindgren to settle debts owed to him. There Voulgaris notes how Lindgren not only owed (and still owes) him money but also owes “a bunch of people spread all around the gambling world.” The amounts and number of people owed have increased over several years, the result of Lindgren’s being (in Voulgaris’s estimation) “basically allergic to paying his debts.”

Also worth noting is Phil Galfond’s latest blog post, “Lindgren, Loans, and a Little Advice,” in which he steps back and provides a lot of great food for thought regarding the poker community as a whole and the complicated, mutually-dependent system by which it sustains so many.

Hearing about Lindgren’s troubles reminded me of his WSOP bracelet win back in 2008. It was early in the Series, a memorable $5,000 Mixed Limit/No-Limit Hold’em event in which Lindgren outlasted Justin Bonomo heads-up for the win. I believe it was the first final table I’d ever covered at the WSOP, with Steve Horton and I reporting every hand for PokerNews.

Erick Lindgren after winning his first WSOP bracelet in 2008Looking back, I see I wrote a post here afterwards noting the “genuine sense of joy and even a kind of weird camaraderie in the arena as everyone seemed to share in Lindgren’s triumph.” Most did seem to pull for him to win and thus shed the “best-without-a-bracelet” tag, and while I didn’t necessarily care one way or the other, his being there and winning the sucker did make for a fun, exciting story for a new WSOP reporter to tell.

So yeah, I guess remembering that night did make this recent story a tad more disappointing to hear. Indeed, one aspect of the story of Lindgren’s gambling debts that has cropped up is how it parallels what seem to have been a number of “falls from grace” that have occurred among that generation of TV poker stars with whom we all became familiar during those first couple of years after Moneymaker’s 2003 Main Event win. We could quickly construct a lengthy list of once-revered pros who over the last few years have been involved in various controversies, some much more serious and image-damaging that others.

Got me thinking a little about the whole idea of “heroes” in poker. I can’t really say I ever thought of any players in such a way, although perhaps that says more about me and my (modest) aspirations as a poker player than anything. I’ve heard some players -- serious players -- talk of other players as being “heroes” to them and I don’t doubt their sincerity when they do. But while I’ve been fascinated by certain characters and their stories, I can’t really name any player whom I’ve thought of in that way.

Was writing yesterday about poker being in part an “antisocial” game -- in other words, a necessarily self-interested endeavor in which the idea of having friendly attitudes toward others or even just admiring or respecting them is diminished. That may in part help explain why the idea of a poker “hero” is hard for some of us to imagine. The best, most obviously-skilled players all have their haters, too, right?

Where, then, might we find heroes in poker, if we can’t simply choose among the game’s biggest and most consistent winners? Probably among those who are best able to promote and preserve the game -- the “ambassadors” or others who actively work to keep the game going (so to speak) for the rest of us.

Certainly easier to imagine villains than heroes in that regard, too, I’m afraid. That is, it is easier to think of people who have clearly hurt the game of late than to list the helpers. But there are a few whom we might say are presently trying to improve things, in different ways.

Perhaps this rash of less-than-heroic seeming actions and characters that have given us so many negative stories in poker recently might inspire more to start acting in ways that help poker rather than hurt it.

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Blogger KenP said...

“genuine sense of joy and even a kind of weird camaraderie in the arena as everyone seemed to share in Lindgren’s triumph.”

Or you might have been noting the vast number of creditor looking at the payout and seeing their own payday.

3/13/2012 3:17 PM  
Blogger lightning36 said...

Kind of sad to read your latest post as Lindgren always seemed like one of the good guys of the game -- or at least closer to being a regular guy than many of the miscreants who are at the top of the poker echelon. However, it appears that perhaps part of the formula in becoming one of the best poker players in the world is an almost insatiable thirst for degenerate gambling on any level?

I sometimes wonder how real friendships can be forged at that level when it seems like a loose system of borrowing and paying back is in force.

3/13/2012 3:59 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haha, you're right, Ken. Funny choice of words, for sure. Seems like lot of things written about poker & the pros from just a few years back carry all sorts of unintended meanings when read today.

I agree, lightning36. Check out Galfond's post (which I've included a ref. to up above)... he has some good insight into it all.

3/13/2012 9:38 PM  
Blogger PokerLawyer said...

I hear you re: the struggle to find heroes in this game.

That said, I've got two:

Doyle Brunson, because he's a tough old Texas coot and reminds me of my dad; and, Kara Scott, because she's, well...dude, she's Kara Scott.


3/23/2012 1:45 PM  

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