Erik Lindgren on ‘The Long and Winding Road’ back to the top

Less than a year ago Erick Lindgren was bankrupt and in rehab with a costly sports betting addiction. Now, after a runner-up finish in the WPT and second WSOP bracelet, Lindgren tells Alexander Villegas about his comeback…

Erick Lindgren shouldn’t be happy, but he is. Just last November, Lindgren went into rehab to treat a gambling addiction that tarnished his reputation and put him in debt to the tune of approximately $10 million. Despite that, Lindgren walks through the WSOP with his head – and baseball cap – held high. He doesn’t ignore or refute his wrongdoings. He knows what he’s done and that he can do better. While the US pro is constantly smiling, reminders of the money he recklessly gambled away on sports are constantly there. He’s not a vindicated man, not yet.

The golden boy rises

After the fall of Full Tilt, and the regular income that came to Lindgren from that, he was outed by several notable players for the staggering debts he had run up. The stories stunned the poker world, for whom Lindgren had been the poster boy for the glamorous, high-rolling and free-spending lifestyle. It didn’t look as though he had many options left.

It might have been easier for Lindgren to retire from the poker world, but instead he chose to tackle the problem head on. Driven by dedication and fuelled by the support of his friends and family, Lindgren is starting to climb back. Since his stint in rehab, he has cashed for more than $1.2m in live tournaments, capping off his comeback by winning the $5k six-handed NLHE event at this summer’s WSOP. It was Lindgren’s second bracelet and showed he still has game.

While still heavily in debt Lindgren’s recent scores, bankroll management and dedication to poker have rekindled hope in his colleagues, backers, family and – most importantly – himself.


PokerPlayer: What have you been up to for the past few years?

Erick Lindgren: [Erica Schoenberg and I] were making a baby. Then we were having a baby. Now he’s 21 months old, so we’ve been raising the baby. Other than that, I’ve just lost a lot of money gambling and then started rebuilding. That changed the way I thought about things and did things. I just tried to figure out how to do it the right way for my family. That included playing poker, spending a lot of time with family and just being happier.

PP: It’s been four years since your last WSOP victory and now you’ve won an event that’s dominated by online grinders. Where did your comeback come from?

EL: Poker is always about adaptation. I figure out who I’m playing against and their styles and then make my style contrast with what they do.

PP: You mentioned, after winning the WSOP bracelet, that you played very differently to the internet kids by calling a lot. How did this strategy work out in the $5k six-handed event?

EL: I called a little more. I play smaller because it just feels like we only have so many tournament chips and that by making pots really big, they’re just trying to make it easier on themselves. They play big pots and if they win it great, while if they lose it they are on to the next tournament. Honestly, as someone who’s had a small bankroll for a while I know how to manage it a bit better than they do. My strategy is always definitely to play small pots. I stayed in control and won a lot of them while making it more of a postflop game.

PP: A lot of younger players claim to have figured out the game in a way older players haven’t. Do you think that’s true or is this arrogance that makes them exploitable?

EL: They definitely have figured out a lot of the game, but then again – I think you’re seeing it a lot this series – some of the older guys are catching up as well. They [online pros] came along and played a lot of NLHE while we played a lot of mixed games. We played all the poker games and they studied one form and got real good at it. But if you don’t continue to improve then…I’m working on my game really hard [at the moment] so hopefully I’ll pass them.

PP: What else are you doing to work on your game?

EL: Just really dedicating myself. I’m playing a lot of smaller no-limit games and playing a ton of cash. It’s helping me to figure out the game and all its nuances. I really feel I am becoming a better player.

PP: How does that compare to your strategy in bigger mixed-game tournaments, like the $50,000 Poker Players Championship?

EL: [The $50k Poker Players Championship] is one where you have to adapt to every player. I pretty much know every player and which game they want to play. Everyone has their favourite game, we call it their ‘road game’, and [I avoid] them in that and [make] them play bigger pots in games they don’t like.

PP: What’s your road game?

EL: Right now it’s NLHE but it alternates and changes a lot. I haven’t had a chance to play as much of the mixed games because we don’t have online poker in the States anymore. It really cut down on the amount of H.O.R.S.E. that I play. But big bet games are definitely my focus [in the $50k Poker Players Championship].

PP: Did you plan on playing in the $50k Poker Player’s Championship before you won your bracelet?

EL: I didn’t make an initial schedule but I definitely have a lot more people looking to invest in my abilities than I did a couple of months ago. So that’s good.

PP: Your recent victories have brought you back into the spotlight in a very different manner than in previous months. How did you feel about all your money woes coming out in such a public way?

EL: That’s a good question. First and foremost I just care what my family thinks of me, and then my close friends. And obviously you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But I definitely went through a lot of difficulties and I’m doing things the right way [now]. I’m trying to rebuild myself and my reputation and trying to get back to the top.

PP: How much longer do you have to pay off your loans and how have recent cashes and the WSOP bracelet helped?

EL: It’s definitely making it better. Every cash game I play won’t feel like a tournament. It’s progress. I’m not trying to get out of this in one day or one tournament – I know I’m in this for the long run and I’m just trying to do the right thing.

PP: Is it hard to do the right thing when you’re surrounded by, and work in, an environment that’s not helpful to overcoming your addiction?

EL: The true test will be when I have some money and how I handle it. I feel like I’m ready for that. I feel that my priorities are in really good order but it’s a tough thing [to deal with]. Obviously I’m not quitting poker and I will be around that type of stuff. So I feel like I’m prepared but we won’t know until it comes.

PP: While you have to deal with temptation on a daily basis, what aspects about the gambling and poker world do you enjoy?

EL: I’ve had a lot of fun. There are highs and lows but there aren’t many better businesses to be in. We’re our own bosses, we work our own hours, and we get to compete every day during the summer with all our friends here at the WSOP. Even at its worst point it’s pretty good.

PP: Layne Flack recently said that success and failure are two very similar feelings. Would you agree with that statement?

EL: I guess it can be for a gambler because you get the endorphins from gambling. Whether it’s winning or losing you get that rush that gamblers get and one that I’ve obviously craved. Winning and losing is a similar feeling – it was a feeling that I craved and now I’m just craving hanging out at home with my family.

PP: When did things blow up for you? Was it the public outing or did you have anything else happen before that?

EL: I had known a few years back that I wanted to change my ways and not just gamble on everything wildly. I was doing some work on that, but after Black Friday I kind of allowed those events to affect me in a negative way. I blamed everybody else but myself and it brought out the worst in me as a gambler. When I needed to make changes and be tighter, I did the exact opposite. I went nuts, lost control and I never want to do that again.

PP: The entire poker world was affected by the events of Black Friday, and Full Tilt only recently regained its footing after being bought by PokerStars. Do you still have any affiliation with Full Tilt?

EL: That remains to be seen. I’m a huge PokerStars fan for them bailing out Full Tilt and really just being the leader in the industry. I wish them all luck moving forward and if we ever work together, they’re one hell of a company so I’d be proud to represent them.

PP: After a few big scores and another World Series bracelet what is next for Erick Lindgren?

EL: I’m just going to hang out with my family for about a month and then there’s a $10 million guaranteed tournament in Miami that everyone’s headed to. Also, for the first time in about seven years I’ll be going to WSOP Europe in France, so I’m excited about that. Last time I was in Paris we got robbed. It was about nine years ago when the poker club got raided. I haven’t been back since, but I love it there and I’m excited.

PP: You have a very young family. How has it been with them these last few months?

EL: It’s fantastic, my son is 21 months old now and one of the twelve words he says is golf. It’s pretty exciting and he has his own ball too. I’m getting into family time. I’m looking forward to [the WSOP] being over and being able to go somewhere a lot cooler, such as the beach with my family. 

PP: Looking into the future, how do you see yourself in the poker world and how would you like to be remembered?

EL: Well, I’ll be here every summer trying to win another WSOP Player of the Year award! I love playing poker and I just love competing. I think the rest will take care of itself as long as I keep playing at a higher level. I still haven’t written the book on how I want to be remembered but we’ll see. As long as my family and friends love me that’ll be good enough.

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