The poker world needs Gus Hansen right now. After a year filled with scandals, squabbling pros and one of the most boring Main Event final tables in history we’re all yearning for the return of the good old days. Even the online high-stakes games have gone a little stale. While there has been plenty of action recently it has all felt very different. Much more understated, much more serious with much less personality. None of the things Gus Hansen stands for.
The crazy Dane was such a feature of the online world prior to Black Friday that it feels right that he is the man chosen to be the face of the new relaunched Full Tilt Poker. Thanks to a deal with PokerStars that ensures all players are repaid in full, Full Tilt Poker is back and so is Gus.
Talking to Hansen over the phone a few weeks prior to Full Tilt Poker’s grand reopening he’s understandably a little circumspect. His answers are full of PR-speak and he’s at pains to stress how pleased he is the players are being repaid in full and the new site is backed by the might of PokerStars. But there is plenty of the old Gus lurking underneath the surface. At times you can sense an almost overwhelming urge to get back to the old times of the high-profile, high-variance, high-stakes games.
‘I enjoy high-stakes action and I don’t think that’s a secret,’ he says. ‘In the beginning it was kind of cold turkey, but that makes me even more happy that in November I can start playing again,’ he adds with a laugh.
When Full Tilt Poker abruptly closed its doors in June 2011 few were as surprised as Hansen. ‘It came as a shock. I was definitely surprised there was a lack of professionalism in the way the company was run and that they were unable to repay the players. That was definitely a surprise to me,’ he says somewhat ruefully.
It slowly emerged that Full Tilt Poker was being horrifically mis-managed by those in charge. Player funds weren’t being kept separate from operating funds and when the site ran into problems with processing online deposits in the US a black hole of missing funds soon opened up. The site’s regulators eventually stepped in and forced the site to close. With no money to repay more than $300 million owed to players the site was placed in limbo for 18 months until a deal could be found to save the players.
Into the breach stepped PokerStars, who negotiated a deal with Full Tilt Poker and the US authorities to wipe the slate clean, repay the players and start again. The conclusion is a bright future for both PokerStars and the newly relaunched Full Tilt Poker, which returns with all of the things that once made it great and none of those that led to its brief and untimely demise.
Despite having $2.5 million tied up on the site, and becoming caught up in the highly public mess surrounding the failure of Full Tilt Poker, there is little bitterness from Hansen over the saga. ‘When I play sports I have a temper and I let loose on my rackets when I play tennis, but I didn’t do that here. When you are dealt a bad hand in poker you hopefully deal with it appropriately and here it felt like everybody was dealt a pretty shitty hand. I felt okay this is a bad situation so let’s try and deal with it.’
When Full Tilt Poker vanished from the online world to a large extent the high-stakes world disappeared with it. The big money games moved back to the private rooms of the land-based casinos, and to a lesser extent to the more understated highstakes tables on PokerStars. For Hansen though it was a chance to stop and smell the roses for a while.
‘I had been spending a lot of time playing poker tournaments around the world and playing online. In my mind I was spending too much time and leaving other things behind. I felt this was really good timing for me to cut back a little and take it easy and see what developed.’
What ended up developing was nothing more than a long period sitting out for Hansen, and while in an emotional sense Hansen felt the timing was right, in a playing sense the timing was all wrong. The online game has been a mixed bag at times for him. He’s been on multi-million dollar upswings, and even bigger downswings. High-stakes tracking site highstakesdb.com puts him as a $3m lifetime loser on Full Tilt Poker, although that’s unlikely to reflect the full picture. ‘I’ve had some really bad years and some really good years,’ Hansen admits with a small laugh.
In a cruel twist of fate, however, he found himself in the midst of one of his best years when the hammer of Black Friday came crashing down. ‘In 2011 I was doing really well and had resolved a couple of issues with my game. I felt I was playing really well and getting a bit lucky, which never hurts. I was feeling really comfortable. So obviously I had a bit of money in my account.’
By a ‘bit of money’, Hansen means almost $2.5m. He claims to have had the second largest amount of money stuck on the site of anyone. But like most things in life, it didn’t rattle him. ‘At first I wasn’t too worried,’ he says evenly. ‘But as time passed it looked a little bleaker. Fortunately PokerStars stepped in and I’m just glad everything worked out in the end. The fact that everyone from someone with $2 to someone with $2.5m gets their money really is the best outcome we could have hoped for as it was looking bleak for a while.’
With that much money locked up online, it’s not surprising Hansen wasn’t seen online for a long time. He disappeared overnight from the limelight and admits he decided to lay low while waiting for a positive outcome. Although he says his time away from the online game was never about the money. ‘I felt that as a sponsored player from a site that was in trouble it was inappropriate. If in any way I could be of help resolving the issue then I would do it. But if I couldn’t do anything to resolve the issue I would just lay low and that is what I have been doing.’
‘When you take poker out of the equation you spend a bit more time with friends and family, and I’ve spent a bit more time staying in shape. I’ve always been interested in sport and played decent tennis at college. I enjoy chess, I play a solid amateur bridge game so there are other things in life beside poker. But poker is a big part of what I do.
But laying low is a matter of definition. For Hansen it mainly meant avoiding online poker, but it’s not really in his nature to shy away from the action for too long. His 18-month sabbatical involved setting up a short lived, if entertaining, blog at www.gushansen.me where he detailed his efforts to become a racketlon champion (a mix of table tennis, squash and badminton). It also involved trips to Australia to play in the Aussie Millions and the WSOP to take on the Big One for One Drop.