PokerPlayer joins the Great Dane at his pad in Monte Carlo and finds that the high-life is not quite as expected…
Standing outside Gus Hansen’s apartment on the 14th floor of a high rise tower in Monte Carlo, I notice the door has been left ajar. I knock anyway. A shower switches on and there’s a muffled shout which I think is signalling that we can go in. I sidle into the doorway followed by an equipment-laden photographer. Light pours in from the spacious balcony overlooking the city and the beach.
A silver laptop on a plastic dining room table tinnily plays Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. Presumably, it’s the same computer which has borne witness to some huge online pots, but then again, judging by my immediate surroundings, I’m not so sure.
The front room is small, about 12 feet long and 10 foot wide and littered with used t-shirts and tennis shoes. A coffee table sits in the middle of the room replete with Pringles, some half-eaten chocolate and a handful of poker magazines. A shopping bag spills its contents lazily onto the floor by the small television in the corner. Most of the room is taken up by a cream sofa, its cushions depressed from overuse.
Turning around I peer into the kitchen, more of a cubby hole than an actual room, just about big enough for one person. The work surface is home to a few errant pieces of cooked pasta tubes and some chopped raw vegetables but mostly there are just piles of dark chocolate stacked on top of each other. The whole place seems totally at odds with what you’d expect from a millionaire playboy and certainly doesn’t seem to fit the €2.5m price tag.
Just as I consider calling Hansen’s mobile to double-check, he exits the bathroom in a cloud of steam, sporting khaki shorts, a white t-shirt and an enthusiastic impression of Mark Knopfler. Our request for him to be suited and booted is knocked back lightheartedly – but knocked back nonetheless. ‘I like to keep it real!’ he says laughing. ‘I don’t really dress up and this is what I normally wear.’ He drops onto the sofa, ready to pose for the first shots of the day.
The Good Life
Hansen moved to Monte Carlo in 2002 so maybe it’s not so surprising that his pad is not a gilded haven. Back then his only tournament victory was the WPT Five Diamond Classic (albeit for over half a million dollars) and the online nosebleeds didn’t exist. ‘I think I started a trend – I
was the first poker player to move here,’ he says. ‘But now the Finns have joined me, Patrik Antonius, LarsLuzak. Patrik lives in the building right next to me.’
His day-to-day life is outrageously relaxed and despite a healthier bank balance, not greatly different to what he was doing before his first WPT win. ‘I do have more money than I had back then and I can afford to do more things but I’m not an extravagant big spender anyway. I can still do what I like do. Normally I go down to the country club to play tennis or golf but I’ve had some knee problems so I’ve just been hanging out in my apartment, playing internet poker.’
And true to the rumours, it’s also a life which includes a lot of female attention. ‘Obviously having been on TV, having fame and fortunes means that girls sometimes come up to you. It’s no secret that I’m single and I like girls,’ he says with a glimmer of a smirk. ‘I haven’t got a girlfriend – I’m not looking for one.’
As for why he hasn’t upgraded his living arrangements, he says it is less about the money and more about his lifestyle. ‘[Monaco] is a quiet place and I’m usually here by myself so don’t need a big giant place where everybody can come over and party. It’s a small place but it’s fine for me.’
There’s the added fact that he doesn’t spend all his time off the south coast of France. He hops between Denmark and of course Las Vegas. ‘I still spend quite a lot of time in Vegas which is the capital of gambling, the capital of poker. I stay here most of the time but Vegas comes a close second. Monaco is a quiet place – especially during the winter. Shops close down.’
Despite the obvious draws of Sin City, Hansen says that his routine over there is very similar. ‘I don’t have an actual place, but I rent a house a
little bit off the strip to get away from the lights, sounds and the crazy action. I’m actually pretty quiet, I go to the gym, play squash. Obviously poker fills up some time too. It doesn’t mean I don’t go out but it also doesn’t mean I’m a crazy party animal who goes out five days a week and gets stoned and drunk.’
It may seem like a remarkably tame existence from one of the most high profile, highest earning poker players in the world – but then again
Gus Hansen has always marched to his own beat.
This is the man who at the beginning of the year, fought in a boxing match against fellow pro Theo Jørgensen in front of thousands to promote his newest venture GusHansenTV. ‘Theo and I bet a lot – on squash, on the golf course. Then along came this boxing challenge. We were both up for it and that’s basically how it came down,’ he says by way of explanation. ‘He hit me more than I hit him and he won.’
It says something about his reputation that he could call on contacts to organise the whole event for him. ‘With travelling around the world, being on TV and having a little bit of money you can go a long way,’ he says. ‘If you know people who know people then sometime things get done with just a phone call.’
The entire premise of GusHansenTV is typically Hansen in its unorthodoxy. It’s a web-based show streamed directly from his Monte Carlo apartment where he commentates on his own high-stakes hands – like a Big Brother diary room entirely devoted to poker. There’s also an ‘Ask Gus’ section where you can literally ask anything you want. Cue marriage proposals and dedications of adoration from eager female fans. ‘People ask funky things and I think that’s to be expected. I always say, “You can always ask but I can always say no or refuse to answer.”’
The concept sounds highly intrusive but it’s obvious from just a few minutes viewing, that the Dane is completely in his element. ‘It’s interesting recording while I play. I don’t have problems showing me as me; I don’t have to put on a cape. I just say things as they come to mind.’
Hansen is pretty vague about where the site is headed, but it seems more because he doesn’t actually know rather than an attempt to be secretive. ‘The big plan is not decided yet. Like most business projects it’s financially motivated but usually if I invest my time in something it’s because I think it’s fun in some way.’
For now, he’s just enjoying the ride. ‘I think just showing myself playing in the highest game in the world should get a lot of attention. I have to admit that if I had to watch the highest stakes internet games in the world without any editing or some poker tournament with 28 people I’ve never seen before, it’s not even close.’
The Poker Eccentric
The photo shoot ends and Hansen makes a beeline for his wallet and keys. ‘Lunch?’ he says slipping on some flip-flops.
Five minutes later, we’re sitting under the awning of an Italian restaurant across the road. Despite his broken French, his rapport with the
waitress is friendly and familiar. ‘Basically we’re sitting in my local restaurant,’ he says. ‘I’m very good at hanging out and not doing much.
It’s actually one of my favourite things!’
Between mouthfuls of steak and pasta (he ordered two main courses) the conversation switches to poker – yet another area of his life where he is continually shaking things up. In fact, you could say that he’s practically reinvented himself as a player.
The potted history goes something like this: between 2002-2005, he was the most exciting tournament player on the planet. His hyper aggressive, play-any-two-cards style helped him to a record three WPT Championship titles. In the two years following, he dropped off the radar to concentrate on the Big Game where he reputedly lost millions, but claims that he was actually a small winner.
At the start of 2007, he returned to the tournament trail in some style when he won the Aussie Millions, a victory which spawned the book Every
Hand Revealed where he literally documented every one of his hands from that event. Although his live appearances increased, he spent most of
the year getting killed in high-stakes online games. At year end he posted a loss of $730,000 and admitted that he ‘probably wasn’t an internet player and…was making a lot of silly mistakes.’
He just about broke even in 2008, losing at pot-limit Omaha but making up the deficit in Omaha 8 or better. However, with the losses reported
more widely, he became known as the big fish that attracted everyone to the tables. Players like Phil ‘OMGClayAiken’ Galfond quipped that
Hansen was ‘the reason that most of the games run right now’.
Going into 2009 he started to put in an incredible amount of volume – 2,000 sessions and over 120,000 hands – more than any other player. ‘It’s no secret that I like to play poker,’ he says. ‘I think that the many hours I’ve put in have helped my game. It’s like a PlayStation game. You start off very bad and then after 10 times you’re still bad but know how to play and after a thousand times, you’re suddenly very good. I’m not saying it goes exactly like that in poker but practising and analysing is definitely a way to improve your game.’
I try and dig deeper for more information on what specific improvements he’s made to his game but Hansen can be pretty closed off when he wants to be. ‘I think overall there are various themes that I have improved on,’ he says cryptically. ‘I can’t reveal them here but I am a little more focused. One of Nike’s slogans is “Do one thing and do it well.” Obviously if you concentrate on one thing you’ll be able to do it better than if you were doing ten things. I’ve cut out some of the silly things like having the TV on in the background.’
Whatever those themes are, all the effort has clearly been paying off. As we went to press, he was up $1.7m for the year and the biggest PLO winner of the last six months, just ahead of Phil Ivey. On top of that, there are no longer lines of players queuing up to play him. During the final weekend in April he went on a rush and notched up $2.5m. ‘Everyone’s not as eager to play against me. Maybe they’re slowly changing their minds or just taking a break. That’s another likely scenario.’
Although he has found a new gear online, he is under no illusions that his recent success was probably more a product of variance than any magic winning formula he might have stumbled on. ‘Obviously when I won $1.9m I was very lucky. I’m not going to win that much against other top players by just outplaying and manoeuvring.’
As Hansen has been saying for some time, Phil Ivey is the only player who can outplay and outmanoeuvre everyone else on regular basis – which is why he is still aiming for that level of play. ‘He has this intuition which helps him adapt to every situation. Changing gears against Phil Ivey is a good way to play but it’s hard to do. It doesn’t mean that I think I don’t stand a chance against him but I think he’s going to beat me in the long run. If we play for two months straight I fancy his chances.’
Hansen remains elusive about his long term plans but for now is happy to keep the status quo. He hasn’t completely retired from live poker but it’s getting harder and harder to motivate himself for even the bigger buy-in events. ‘Sometimes I have a tendency – and I know some of the
other high-stakes players have the same – to be very careless at the beginning of a tournament. We sit down with $10k and the blinds are $25/$50 but we’re used to playing $500/$1k with $100k behind online. I’m playing a tenth of what I usually play and I usually play heads-up and this is a ten-handed table, so it’s slow!’
However well he does online he will always have his detractors but remains as nonplussed as ever. ‘As far as I’m concerned people can say whatever they want to say,’ he says leaning back in his chair. ‘If it’s true, it’s true; If it’s untrue then it can’t really bother me. People can always tell stories or spread rumours and I can’t prevent it. I just smile. The numbers that I really concentrate on are the ones that say I’ve played against what most people consider the best players in the world, Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Durrrr, and after 2 years, 8 months I’m ahead – so how bad can it be!’
That doesn’t mean that he is going to cut loose and start lobbying for $1k/$2k to become the regular game. If anything he’d support a subtraction in the stakes. ‘I think it’s already high enough. To tell the truth, the swings in some of the games that we play are really too big for a lot of players to afford. I’m still phased by it. Sometimes I contemplate moving down to $200/$400 because the swings are very serious. During my losing streaks I should have taken a step down just to get back into the swing of things. I think players in general should do that more often. It’s hard sometimes, people are stubborn and have too big egos.’
Side projects like GusHansenTV will continue – even though he has no qualms about scrapping it at a moment’s notice. ‘It’s in an start-up phase and if it moves along in the right direction it’ll continue, if it doesn’t then we’ll shut it down.’ Ultimately, Gus Hansen is in the enviable position of being able to do what he wants, when he wants. ‘I think that’s the thing that I appreciate the most,’ he says.
And nowhere is that ideal more prevalent than in his chosen method of transport around Monaco. In a place where Bentleys and Lamborghinis are ten to the dozen, the Dane has opted for the humble push bike. ‘No, it’s not extravagant, it’s not the Ferrari to pick up the girl but I don’t really give a fuck, I don’t even have a fucking car!’ he says defiantly. ‘I only have one in Vegas because it’s so big. I don’t need big transportation for me and 27 girlfriends. People laugh at me because I ride around on a bicycle but that’s the easiest way to move around! I’m my own boss and nobody can tell me to do this or that.’
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