TV poker legend Gus Hansen tells us the inside story on his success and more: “If you can change your strategy to whoever you’re playing against, it shouldn’t hurt too much”

Want to know if Gus Hansen really did get down to his bottom dollar from playing in the Big Game?

Having just won the Aussie Millions in one of the performances of his career, it’s easy to forget what a battering Gus Hansen’s reputation as a top tournament and high-stakes cash game player has taken in the last couple of years. From 2002 up until the beginning of 2005, the Great Dane had recorded four WPT major tournament wins and three WPT final tables, making him the most successful player in the tour’s history. But then the results started to dry up.

He wasn’t running over tables like he used to and critics suggested that his loose-aggressive, gambling style had run its course. Also, rumours began to circulate that he was losing millions in the Big Game and that he was broke, owing money to everyone. In this InsidePoker exclusive, Gus Hansen explains – in HIS own words – what was really going on.

The main problem during 2005 and 2006 was that I hadn’t won a tournament like in the years previous. People judge on results, and I can’t blame them for that. Who can remember who came second in Wimbledon four years ago? Nobody knows, but we all know Roger Federer won it. And it’s the same for me – those [victories] are the ones I remember. But one thing with tournaments, compared to three or four years ago, is that the number of players has increased tremendously – which obviously makes it harder.v ‘The level of play has increased tremendously. People are more aggressive at the right time; not just foolishly aggressive. It’s so much easier to glean knowledge about the game, just from all the information out there; the TV, the internet poker you can play from the comfort of your home. People are getting better and better at the game. It’s much tougher to get to the final table.

‘I would also say that it seems like people have adopted that kind of aggressive ‘see a lot of flops’ style. Three years ago I was one of the few players who played that many hands. I would take stabs at the big pots and would hit a lot of them. I built my stack while other people were waiting around. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now there’s four guys around the table taking stabs. People say the hole card cameras exposed my playing style, but I should be a good enough player to adapt to that. So if one guy perceives me as playing every 2-4 offsuit, I should be able to take him off when I have good hands because he never gives me credit for anything. If you can change your strategy to whoever you’re playing against, it shouldn’t hurt too much.

‘People think I just play anything, but there are a lot of times when I’ll play super tight. I played a tournament in France about 18 months ago and at the beginning the blinds and antes were fairly small. I played tight, solid poker; I wasn’t playing many hands. Somebody made a standard raise, I was on the big blind and was getting 3/1 on the call holding 3;-4;. That hand is fine – just ask Daniel Negreanu; he’d play that every time. So I made the call getting a good price on my money. The flop comes down with nothing. No hearts. I check and I’m giving up on the pot. He checks back. The turn comes, check, check. The river comes, check, check.

I have the nut low; the worst possible hand and can’t win. I proudly displayed my cards and the whole table was giggling. Now the entire table had the image of a wacky guy who plays lots of hands. They thought I was playing loosey-goosey and I wasn’t. That was definitely to my advantage. If they think you play one way and you play opposite, you should be in good shape.

Little problems in the big game

‘The first thing I want to say about the Big Game is that I feel – and have always felt – like my level of play is good enough to play amongst the best. If you play in a $400/$800 game, you have to put in a lot more hard work to win the same amount than you would have in a $4,000/$8,000 game. Once in a while, you have to take it slow, because it is such a big game.

‘While last year’s World Series was going on, I lost $450,000 in five hands at the Big Game. That’s a lot of money in five hands. At that point it’s okay to have a bathroom break and just take five minutes and say, how many five minutes of $450,000 do I want to have? That could be one of the reasons why I might go from playing in that game to playing a little smaller.

‘You always have to be aware of your bankroll. The problem is, bankroll management is definitely not my strong point! You don’t want to sit down in the Big Game with your last $500,000. As I said – and as I proved – you can lose that in five minutes.

‘I think the rumours [of his big losses] all started in 2005. ‘I read that I’d lost $4 million in the Big Game, borrowed another $4 million, lost that and borrowed another $4 million. So I then owed $8 million. I even read that I was completely broke – to be fair I’d rather be broke than owe $8 million. That wasn’t true either. In all honesty, I wasn’t really shocked because I know how it works. That old children’s game where I whisper one thing and you whisper to the next person and it gets back to me. It ends up being totally different from what I said in the beginning. The result is that the rumour has kind of followed me around and if ever I don’t do well in tournaments, it kind of sticks a little bit.

‘We played over a stretch of a couple of months. I did very well in the beginning and then I did very poorly at the end. I ended up losing somewhere in the range of $1.5 million – $2 million. That was a bad result, but the swings in that game are huge. I went back to Denmark because I had some business to attend to and I owed a couple of hundred thousand to Chip Reese, who is a good friend of mine. That’s not uncommon. If you don’t have the money right there on the spot, you borrow $100k over the table. He was well aware of the situation; I would go back to Denmark and come back a little bit later. Then the World Series started and I wasn’t back and people are thinking: “Why is Gus not here?” People say: “I heard he lost a lot…” It just escalates in that way.

‘There are plenty of big swings in the Big Game. I’ve gone through stages where I’ve won maybe $3 million, then lost a couple of million. If you average everything out – even if you’re a solid winning player – you might win a big bet an hour, about $4,000 or $8,000, which is still a lot of money. It’s not as much as $450,000, but the thing is, you lose $400K, you win $500k, you lose $300k, you win $200k. Then at the end of the month, you can pull a line through all those numbers and say: “Wow, this guy won $2 million and then he lost $1.8 million.” In the end, if you’re a winning player you’ll see a steady slow income. You just have to be able to have a bankroll to withstand the swings. So even though it seems obscene, at the end of the year it’s not that crazy.

‘To tell you the truth, I’m a small winner in the Big Game. It’s true that I took some beatings in the beginning, but my level of play has definitely increased. Overall I’m not too unhappy with the results I’ve had and am certain that I’ll do well in it from now on.

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