Danish poker legend Gus Hansen talks in depth about his poker life: “Well, if they’re gonna get cracked, they’re gonna get cracked”

We talk to Gus Hansen Denmark’s finest export about hitting form and cards at the right time

Gus Hansen is one of the most recognisable faces in the poker world due to his success in WPT events, where he’s won four titles and is renowned for playing ‘crazy’ hands. But he combines an aggressive and unpredictable style of play with a calm, calculated approach, which has contributed to his recent win at the Aussie Millions and tournament winnings of $4m. Hansen has also become a regular in the Big Game, on the High Stakes Poker TV shows and has recently become a Full Tilt team member.

Congratulations on winning the Aussie Millions. What a great start to the year…

Yes, it’s a great start and 2007’s definitely going to be better than last year. Things weren’t really going my way in tournaments so winning the Aussie Millions means a lot to me. Apart from the money, title and trophy, a win like this is a nice confidence boost.

You really turned things around from an inauspicious start to the tournament.

I started out at a really tough table with Phil Ivey and a couple of other top pros, so that was definitely not a table I was looking forward to. But I just tried to play my game as well as I could and not think too much about who I was up against – whether their name is Phil Ivey or not. From the start, though, the cards weren’t really going my way. That’s how poker is. A couple of hours in, I was down to 11,000 from 20,000, but then I got moved to a different table and I got right back in the game.

Was that the turning point?

Yeah, there was that and I had a couple of good hands. I felt I was playing well and you also need the cards. I was prepared for hours of play, and with over 700 opponents I knew it was going to be a long time until we had a final table. It’s important not to get frustrated or impatient during this time. I slowly but consistently started to build my stack up over the next few hours. I had a few key hands but mostly I was just chipping away as blinds and antes increased. During most of the tournament I was the chip leader or second chip leader at all my tables, which is a big advantage when you’re an aggressive player. I was playing my A-game all through the final three days and my aggressive approach proved very effective against most of my tight opponents.

Was it a tough heads-up battle with Jimmy Fricke?

When we were three-handed with Andy Black, the cards were running badly for me and Jimmy was in control. When we got to heads-up, he had me dominated 3/1, but it started to turn around and everything kind of went my way from that point on.

After about two hours of headsup play, you got dealt the dream hand, a pair of Aces. How did you play them?

Well, I knew that it could be the final hand. I definitely knew that. The aggressive nature of our headsup game indicated there was a very good chance we were going to get all the chips in the middle. I kind of played the Aces straightforward. There was no bullshitting. I just raised before the flop and it was quite a random board, with no obvious straights or flushes out there. It turned out he had a straight draw and he was probably a 2/1 underdog.

Were you scared that a freak board would come down and crack your Aces?

Well, if they’re gonna get cracked, they’re gonna get cracked. But I was in a good spot, we were heads-up and we were both playing aggressively. I was unquestionably in the right spot. And who’d have thought that Gus Hansen would ever win a tournament with Aces! I’m sure that most people would expect my triumphant hand to be 4-7 off-suit or an equally junk hand.

What makes the Aussie Millions such a draw for the big names?

It’s the other side of the world, so it’s somewhere different to go. The Australian Open tennis was happening at the same time and I used to be a tennis player, plus there’s lots of other stuff to do. It’s a very nice place and I think that’s part of the reason why people flock there.

(The phone rings and Gus takes a call from a friend, ‘Oh, the 20? Sure, I’ll send it down now.’)

How things have changed if rumours are to be believed – Gus Hansen’s lending someone money rather than borrowing it?

Well, that depends on whether you believe the rumours or not. It’s been a long time since I worried about where the next tournament buy-in is coming from, regardless of what you may have heard.

 Even so, do you feel like a weight’s been lifted off your shoulders being part of the Full Tilt team?

After my little venture with Pokerchamps, it seemed obvious to work together with one site. We didn’t have the funding or the people to run a professional organisation, so we sold the site at the right time. I was on my own for a while and Full Tilt came up with a good offer. They’ve got some great players who are friends of mine and I really enjoy my relationship with them. It’s a three-year contract and it seems good so far. I’m from Scandinavia, so I have some good connections there and I write for some newspapers. Hopefully [Full Tilt will] get going in the European market as well. It’s mutually beneficial. I think it’s definitely looking like it’ll work out. I’m happy and I hope they’re happy.

Do you feel more pressure now to get results than when you were flying solo?

No, not really. I know there’s a lot of ups and downs in the poker world, but you can’t always control it. When the last card gets dealt, you can always get done on the river. All I know is that when I play well and I’m focused, then it will come, but it takes time. It’s random – sometimes you just don’t get dealt good cards and you play badly. If you play well then the results will come. You need to be patient, and I’ve been patient.

You’ve been playing fewer tournaments and concentrating on cash games recently. Has the Aussie Millions win given you a taste for tournaments again?

I still play a little bit of both, I just haven’t been on very good tournament form recently, but this might have made me change my mind. There are so many tournaments these days; I kind of pick and choose. There’s no set plan or schedule. Right now, though, I’m in Vegas to relax.

Could 2007 be the year Gus Hansen wins the World Series?

It could definitely be the year, but I’m not counting on it! It’s a big tournament and there are a lot of players, but I’ll give it a good try. It’s a long tournament – you need plenty of rest and to be properly prepared for seven or eight long days. When you go deep in a tournament there’s not really time for anything else apart from a little bit of eating and sleeping.

Many people regard you as a loose, reckless player, largely from how you’re portrayed on television. Much of this is down to the editing, where we’re not seeing the scores of hands you pass and your decision-making processes. Do you feel this has helped or hindered your image as a player?

It’s definitely helped my table image, because I have a good idea of how people I’ve never met before perceive me. They have an idea of how I play, even if it’s not really the right idea.

All of which totally contrasts with some of the remarkable lay-downs you’ve made. There was a hand recently where you and Marc Goodwin were headsup and you were ahead the whole time until he spiked you on the river. What was your thought process there?

The thinking was I really couldn’t imagine any other hand he’d have. There was only one hand that could beat me and sometimes when the hand plays deep enough with a lot of raising, re-raising and even more raising on the river, people usually have a hand. This was one of those cases where I didn’t have the best hand. It kind of didn’t feel right, but I still felt sick to my stomach when I laid it down! But that time it definitely was the right lay-down.

The $400,000 High Stakes Poker hand with Daniel Negreanu is still paramount in people’s minds as the largest ever pot in a televised game. Your quad Fives were totally dominating his full house. It looked like he knew he was beaten, but he just couldn’t put it down.

I definitely think that was a hand he should have passed on. But if the situation was reversed, would I have been able to? That’s always a tough question. I mean, I’m not a fan of big lay-downs!

I’ve noticed you speaking into a dictaphone in between hands at tournaments recently.

I’m writing a general poker book and I’m using my hand histories in tournaments to illustrate it. I carry a tape recorder with me and I move away from the table and record with it in the middle of hands. I’ve been a bit lazy with it recently so we’ll have to see when it’s coming out, but hopefully it’ll be sometime later this year.

You’ve said your sports betting career has not been successful and that you’d like to change that ‘but it seems like maybe it’s best to just quit’. Have you?

I still do the occasional bet here and there. I’ve always been a big sports fan so I bet on things I’m interested in. I guess it adds a little spice. I bet on the tennis and Arsenal v Manchester United – things I like to watch. I had a bet on Federer to win in Australia.

Where’s home for you now?

I live in Monte Carlo, but I spend a lot of time in Vegas, Copenhagen and Monaco, [because] apart from a couple of nice tournaments during the year there’s no live poker in Monte Carlo.

Aside from poker, you’re doing modelling work, adverts for Full Tilt, and People magazine voted you one of the sexiest men alive. Do you enjoy that side of the business, or do you accept it’s just part of the extra-curricular requirements demanded of the celebrity poker player?

I’m very laid back about these things. It’s always nice to be recognised for this and that but it’s not really a big deal. I like to do it; when I’m doing the adverts, I’m acting and playing myself. It’s fun but sometimes it does get to be a little much.

Isabelle Mercier is a well-known protege of yours, but I hear there’s a younger female vying for your mentoring skills…

My niece Sally is 18 months old. If she’s interested I’ll definitely be willing to teach her, but it’s up to her. She’s already started rolling the dice so it looks promising.

You seem to be in peak form at the moment. It’s you and Phil Hellmuth heads-up. Who’d win?

Like I said, in Australia the cards went my way, but I certainly felt like I was playing really well. Me against Hellmuth? I’d definitely consider myself to be favourite.

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