Erick Lindgren talks exclusively to PokerPlayer about his poker journey: “I spent so much time in front of computer screens that I wouldn’t say I was having a great life”

With nearly $6m won in live, and online poker, we talk to self-confessed sick gambler Erick Lindgren

The first time I met Erick Lindgren we were on the Cruise Ship ms Oosterdam, in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Mexico. It was 2005, PartyPoker was sponsoring a big limit Hold’em tournament on the boat, and the World Poker Tour had its cameras in place.

Plenty of big-name pros were on board, the food and booze flowed prodigiously, and, all in all, it was an upbeat event. Nevertheless, by every indication, Lindgren seemed about ready to jump ship.

Never mind that in the previous year he won this very tournament (he has the giant cheque to prove it). And that in 2005 he made the money but just missed the final table. By the time we hooked up, Lindgren was already out of the action and antsy as hell.

Shifting from foot to foot, he resembled a public school kid who didn’t give a damn and was obviously bored out of his skull. He stood on the deck, looked up into a perfectly blue sky and told me, ‘Yesterday I would have paid a helicopter pilot $20,000 to get me off this boat. Today I’m at $15,000 and tomorrow, with the cruise about to wind down, it’ll be 10.’

The cash games on the boat were too small to interest Lindgren, and, with nothing to gamble at, he was bored out of his mind. Obviously, he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to enjoy wandering around tourist towns, taking in the culture and shopping for straw bags or snow globes. ‘Maybe,’ he grumbled, ‘next year I’ll just import a floor full of strippers and bring my own party onto the boat.’

At first I figured that Lindgren was showing off, that he’d never actually do anything so ballsy – though I had heard about him winning $10,000 playing online while driving from California to Las Vegas, which, in and of itself, is fairly impressive.

Of course, I now know that he absolutely would do that (or at least something like it), especially if he could shoehorn in a wager with someone who didn’t believe he’d be able to pull it off.

Action hero

Though I’m not sure about Lindgren’s true feelings for strippers, I know that he loves action. He’s not a degenerate casino gambler or the kind of poker pro who continually plays in games that his bankroll can’t fade (in fact, he assiduously avoids the Big Game; its stakes are too high, and he’s not yet suitably adept at all the mixed games), but he loves wagering on sports, loves making prop bets, loves to gamble it up on the golf course (he once dropped $50,000 to Phil Ivey after failing to par the ninth hole at Shadow Creek).

This mentality is what first opened Lindgren up to poker, and, initially at least, long before he racked up nearly $6m in tournament winnings, came damned close to breaking him. ‘I didn’t know that you could slow-pay bookies,’ he remembers, recounting a scary moment from his abbreviated college years. ‘I owed a guy money and maxed out my credit cards in order to pay him off.’

For Lindgren, the serious gambling began soon after his 18th birthday. He was still in school but drawn to the casinos of central California. Like everybody who wanders into a gambling den, Lindgren initially found himself risking money at the table games that players rarely manage to beat.

Then he and his friends discovered one of the amazing things about Californian casinos in the 1990s: due to a bit of weirdness in the state’s bylaws, individuals were allowed to back blackjack. In other words, anyone with a big enough bankroll to cover a round of blackjack was allowed to be the house (though they had to give the casino $5 per shoe for the privilege). Lindgren and his friends pooled together their money and played at an advantage.

‘Then I found the poker room,’ he remembers. ‘I left my friends out there to watch the blackjack while I played poker.’ He started out by buying into the $3/$6 limit Hold’em and had immediate success, which pushed him to progress up to the point where he was playing $15/$30 and turning a profit within a year. ‘I won a lot,’ he remembers, ‘but I gambled at blackjack (when he wasn’t banking the game) and had hardly any money. Plus, of course, I had a bookie and whatever was left over from poker I lost to the bookie.’

It could have been a life of degeneracy, of a rapidly ageing Lindgren flopping from one flunky job to the next, and working hard to support his bad habits. But then, at 21, he got a gig as a ‘prop’ (or ‘house’) player. It provided him with $160 per day just for being in the casino and helping to get the games going. That was pretty good, as far as it went.

Things got markedly better after a buddy from the casino told Lindgren about an opportunity that sounded too good to pass: a website called, on which he would get $50 in promotional chips simply for signing up. It was 1998, and the notion of poker on the internet was just beginning to gain traction.

Immediately, Lindgren took to the pace and idiosyncracies of playing online. ‘I ran it up to $12,000, found the other sites, and pretty soon I had three computers with eight games going at once,’ he remembers.

Lindgren continued to play live games at the casino (he now possessed a bigger bankroll and had moved up to the no-limit game), but online quickly became his primary source of income. ‘I spent so much time in front of computer screens that I wouldn’t say I was having a great life. But it was nice to be making more money than I could blow.’

Counter strike

Facing light competition during those halcyon days of online gaming, Lindgren inadvertently morphed into one of poker’s prototypical whiz kids. He had perfected a flexible style of play, running counter to what his opponents were doing. If they played slow, he splashed virtual chips around the table and pushed others out of hands; if they were aggressive, he opted for a patient game that relied heavily on trapping.

He had plenty of time to perfect his approach. For three years Lindgren didn’t do much more than play online poker, camping out in a bedroom that was barely large enough to accommodate himself, his desk and his monitors. But it was worth it. Over that period of time, between 1998 and 2001, he never won less than $10,000 per month and sometimes took down as much as $40,000 in the same time period.

When the World Poker Tour kicked off, Lindgren was battle-hardened and ready for his close-up. In 2003 he final- tabled the WPT tournament at the Aviation Club in Paris and won in Aruba; a year later Lindgren reappeared on TV, narrowly outplaying Daniel Negreanu on the PartyPoker cruise ship (it was the season before my encounter with him). Upon beating his buddy he celebrated in style, running up a $22,000 bar tab for Negreanu and the rest of their card- playing entourage.

It was the start of the poker boom and Lindgren was well positioned to take advantage of it. He got involved as one of the primary movers on Full Tilt and fell in with a group of talented, young pros. As he climbed the poker ladder, Lindgren formed enduring friendships with Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Carlos Mortensen. His tournament winnings are impressive, and he has taken untold amounts out of the cash games.

In 2007 alone Lindgren’s tournament profits just crept over the $1m mark, and he didn’t even play that many events. Lindgren describes himself as being essentially lazy – but that’s really not true, he just doesn’t have very much financial incentive at the moment.

That said, I wonder how he manages to win as much as he does. ‘I find a way,’ Lindgren responds, sounding a little more cryptic than he intends. ‘Even if I’m not getting good cards, I find a way to keep my chip stack about even. I steal small pots, I play lots of hands. The idea is to slowly build my stack and find a way to get paid off when I have a good hand.

People see me with pocket Aces three times when I play a tournament and they think I got lucky. But, in fact, I gave myself an opportunity to be there by playing well in the stages leading up to that point. You give yourself a chance to win by not bluffing off your stack or taking a stand too soon. I try to stay in a tournament as long as I can with a decent amount of chips, and then I give myself a chance to get hot.’

Tough company

It’s an approach that paid off last January when he took down the AU$100,000 buy-in event during the Aussie Millions. It was a private tournament, consisting mostly of Full Tilt pros (goosed up by a smattering of well-heeled amateurs), with an AU$1m first prize (about US$800k).

Considering that he was going up against the likes of John Juanda, Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius, it sounds like the kind of event that even a seasoned pro would have to enter with low expectations. ‘I don’t know if I had expectations going in,’ Lindgren admits, ‘but you certainly want to win when you put up that kind of money. I don’t think of it as a lot, but you can’t continually buy in for $80,000 and walk away a loser.’

Maybe not. But if he seriously intended to win the event, he certainly had his work cut out for him. Lindgren was at the table with a bunch of top-flight tournament pros, most of whom had seen him play before, and were well acquainted with his style. He’d have to do more than simply see cheap flops and mix it up on the later streets. ‘Normally I play a lot of a small-ball poker and limp a lot,’ he acknowledges. ‘So this time I did a little more bluffing than I normally would.

That seemed a little weird to them, but I tried to make it make sense. I played tighter and did more re-raising pre-flop. Whenever I thought I could take a pot with a raise I did it – knowing that these guys are good enough not to risk the tournament by forcing action – and didn’t care what I had. I just made the move. It worked pretty well. I increased my stack without getting many cards early on.’

By the time he got to heads-up with Erik Seidel, Lindgren was trailing badly. ‘He had a nice chip lead on me, but I managed to build my way up from 300,000 to 600,000 and picked up Kings when he had Jacks.’ Lindgren shrugs the shrug of a man who’s experienced his share of bad beats at the table. ‘If it had been reversed, he would have won the tournament. He had me covered and I flipped it on him. Then I ground Erik down a little and got him all-in with A-7 against K-J, and he bricked off. I thought he played really well.’

As well as Lindgren does on his own, he’s also had some success as a backer of others. He does it in live tournaments and through online play. Lindgren openly serves as the bank for Gavin Smith and, though he doesn’t discuss it with me, after Carlos Mortensen won nearly $4m at the WPT championship in April, Lindgren acknowledged that

Mortensen is one of his ‘boys’ and talked about going out in the Bellagio to celebrate his victory.

Though Smith is a profitable player, with whom Lindgren has clearly had good fortune, Lindgren acknowledges that the business of backing can be double-edged. ‘You lose, lose, lose, and then someone pops you off,’ he says. ‘When you have to travel to Foxwoods with $80,000, to put seven people and yourself in, it’s not fun. The cost adds up quickly when no one does well, but when they win, it feels like free money, even though it’s not.’

On the other hand, the people he backs tend to be his friends. It’s a way of assisting them and it also provides a hedge against running bad. ‘It helps close up the holes of anyone who needs a little help,’ says Lindgren – including, presumably himself. The problem, though, is that ‘the buy- ins are so heavy that most people don’t have the pain thresholds for backing other players. But I’m a little sick. I don’t worry about it. I know my guys will win.’

Plus, action seems to be as integral to his survival as oxygen. During the football season, Lindgren and fellow poker pro Bill Edler work hard to beat the college games (Lindgren has six monitors mounted on the wall of his living room so that he can keep track of the games in which he’s got a stake).

A little less seriously, Lindgren and his pals bet hard and heavy into the professional lines every Sunday; his fantasy football wagers will total half a million dollars in 2007, and he’s always willing to back up random opinions with his bankroll. ‘I had a cool bet at the WSOP Europe,’ Lindgren remembers of the event in which he finished 26th and snagged approximately $60,000 (‘I’ll take it,’ he says nonchalantly).

‘I saw a guy sitting nearby, he looked like a competent young kid, and I said to the people at my table, “I’ll bet anyone $1,000 that this kid has won a million dollars online.” Nobody would take the bet. Then I saw Ted Forrest at the next table. He took it and I won.’

Extreme pain

While poker is clearly Lindgren’s primary source of income, he’s quick to point out that for sheer fun and excitement nothing beats watching football with the boys and playing golf with his pals. Of course, there’s always loads of money riding on both of those activities. As Lindgren puts it: ‘The next best thing to winning a big bet is losing a big bet.’

On a recent weekday afternoon in Las Vegas, I witness that philosophy in action. Lindgren, Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith and Shawn Sheikhan convene for some high stakes action at Canyon Gate Country Club (Sheikhan is a member and he’s hosting the round of golf).

There’s lot of gambling, of course, and just as much ribbing (the guys are all accusing each other of hustling and Sheikhan takes every opportunity to snake in and out of bets).

Nearing the final hole, Lindgren tells me, ‘If things go well, I’ll owe $40,000 to Negreanu and win $20,000 from Gavin and Sheiky.’ Then he smiles in a way that almost makes me believe I misheard him and that he will actually be up on the round. Without the slightest bit of irony, Lindgren says, ‘Losing $20,000 at golf? That’ll be a beautiful day for me. Just perfect.’

Of course, gamblers being what they are, a whole series of big bets get made on the final hole, pretty much guaranteeing that somebody’s going to win a lot of money and somebody’s going to lose a lot. Smith winds up the former, Negreanu is the latter, and Lindgren finishes $1,000 in the black.

Surely you’d think it’s better than losing, say, $20,000? As it turns out it pretty much turns the day into something of a waste. Lindgren’s of the school that in order for gambling to be interesting there has to be extreme pleasure or pain attached to it. And winning a thousand bucks, for him, is neither.

But that’s okay. Lindgren still has a long-term golf bet going with Phil Ivey (a $1m swing is possible) and the high stakes action on Full Tilt is rarely more than a mouse- click away.

His games of choice are $200/$400 pot-limit Omaha, $200/$400 no-limit Hold’em, and $1,000/$2,000 H.O.R.S.E. If you happen to come across Lindgren at one of those tables, don’t expect to catch him playing it safe. ‘Life would be easier if I hadn’t gambled through the years,’ he admits. ‘If I had no gamble, I’d have a steadier income and less stress. But it takes gamble to be a great poker player. You can be a really good poker player, but if you don’t have that gambling gear, you’re not one of the best players.’

And if you don’t believe Lindgren, no doubt he’d be happy to bet you on it.


Though Lindgren acknowledges that he is a ‘do as I say guy, rather than a do as I do guy,’ he does offer a few tips for people who want to mix it up with the big boys.

‘Have a large pain threshold.
If you don’t, take it slow and don’t expose yourself to the kinds of swings that come with high stakes poker.

‘Online allows you to see so many hands, but there is still no substitute for playing live poker. I don’t know any 21-year-olds who are as good as Patrik Antonius and John D’Agostino.

‘I have nine TVs that I watch when I play online. But if you want to take it seriously and win, you should focus on the game you’re playing and nothing else.’

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