Tom Dwan discusses Full Tilt, why he decided to speak out and his future in poker
For someone who just missed his helicopter from Macau to Hong Kong, which caused him to miss his flight to Vienna and in turn blind away thousands of chips in his $125k buy-in PartyPoker Premier League V heat, Tom Dwan is in a remarkably genial mood.
Barely two minutes into our interview, he’s already been inundated with enough photo and autograph requests to make Phil Hellmuth jealous but remains more than happy to indulge the locals in Vienna’s Montesino. Much to the surprise of the make-up girl, he’s even happy to have his foundation applied as he chats.
‘I think I can multi-task okay,’ he grins. Maybe it’s because he’s been reportedly making a killing in Macau’s Big Game recently. According to some reports he won almost half a million dollars on his first hand on rejoining the game. Unfortunately his mood isn’t so good as to confirm or deny his own fortunes or indeed any of the Macau elite.
‘Some of the players just don’t want it out there. It could affect me getting a seat,’ he says. ‘I think I could still get a seat, I just think it would make it harder for me. They like to keep it private.’ Judging by the recent murmurs that Patrik Antonius has found himself on the wrong side of the most influential players in the Macau game, Dwan’s cautiousness is probably well founded.
Always sunny in durrrrland
Perhaps Dwan’s sunny disposition could also be down to the fact that a year on from Black Friday, the Full Tilt Poker debacle appears to be resolving itself. As we went to press Full Tilt finally seemed close to finding an unlikely saviour. And out of anyone at Team Full Tilt, Dwan probably has the most reason to breathe a sigh of relief over that particular saga drawing to a close.
Last year he appeared on several high-profile news outlets (including Fox News) to give his take on the situation and even set the TwoPlusTwo dogs on himself in an extended Q&A session. ‘Everyone else involved was so tight-lipped and I didn’t think it was right,’ he says, explaining his openness.
On top of that, he is the only Team Full Tilt member who pledged to pay back everything he earned from the beleaguered site should the worst happen.
‘I think it’s the right thing to do,’ he says. ‘I don’t think it’s necessarily right for everyone at Tilt to do that, but I think it’s right for just about everyone involved to give what they can.’ We sat down with Dwan to get his thoughts on his rollercoaster year, why he needs online poker back in his life and what he really thinks of Howard Lederer.
You’ve mentioned being ‘disgusted’ with the Full Tilt Poker situation quite a few times in the past. Is that still your prevailing emotion?
Yeah for sure. Obviously, Tilt did some really ridiculous things, but they had an extremely profitable business and the only way they could mess that up was to not have all the players’ money. It is ridiculous to me that they would ever not have the players’ money. I understand scenarios where sites on small networks don’t have player funds available and I don’t support that. I think that’s really ridiculous, and it’s unfair. But it’s worse for a business such as Full Tilt, which clearly didn’t need to do that. I’m not condoning other sites who need to do that to stay afloat, as they just need to go under, but it’s still a little more explainable than it was for Tilt.
Why did you decide to be so vocal about Full Tilt and the fallout from Black Friday?
Obviously, I didn’t want to be spending my time answering questions on [poker forum] TwoPlusTwo, but it was because everyone else involved was so tight-lipped and I didn’t think it was right. I think the lack of information the public had was very unfair. In hindsight, I regret that I was tight-lipped between May and August, but I kept thinking I was only two weeks away from explaining things. And then those two weeks would come and go and something new would come up, and then it didn’t seem like the right decision. I think I had the right things going through my head, it’s just a shitty course of events. I didn’t want to go out and say: ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of things I know, but the big things I can’t answer’. A lot of that info I had was because of stuff that was technically under NDA [a non-disclosure agreement]. Once the US Department of Justice came out and answered all the big questions I could answer everything else.
If Black Friday hadn’t happened, do you think things would have carried on at Full Tilt for years?
It seems like without Black Friday happening the hole would have been plugged at some point, because the amount of money coming in was so big. It seemed like stuff would have been fixed in time. I’m not at all condoning [what went on] but at least it wasn’t outright theft. It was close but it wasn’t outright theft
You said you have an ‘insane’ amount of money riding on the fact that players get paid out. Can you clarify that?
Yeah, I have the money which I said I’d give back. I have a few people I staked or had a piece of them in the Big Game so I have a liability of a few hundred thousand plus some other shit. It’s bad for me.
‘Some other shit’ meaning prop bets?
I dunno, I don’t want to answer that really…
What about paying back all the money you’ve earned? Is that up in the air?
It’s not up in the air that I’m going to do it. I obviously don’t want a situation where I’ve given some money to some random entity and then can’t get it back. If it [Full Tilt] goes bust I’ll make sure I pay.
Do you regret making that promise?
I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s necessarily right for everyone at Tilt to do that, but I think it’s right for just about everyone involved to give what they can.
Did you say it for effect at the time?
The initial ‘I’ll give $1m’ was definitely for effect, but saying I’d give all of the money I made [from Full Tilt] wasn’t for effect. It was the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s right for me to profi t when I was basically freerolling with other people’s money for the majority of the time I was sponsored. So realistically I should give back 80-90%, but it’s not that much of a difference to say 100%.
Would you say that you’ve always have had the maturity to think so objectively about money?
I don’t think my morals have changed much so I’d like to think that I would have done the same five years ago. I’m not saying any random red pro should give back all the money, as some of those people might not be able to afford to depending on their situation. But I think people shouldn’t profit from the fact that they gambled it up with other players’ money. If they made money from a sponsorship deal and lost a huge amount in a cash game they shouldn’t bust themselves now paying that back. At the same time, they shouldn’t be living super-extra comfortably.
Are you hopeful things will work out?
I still think there’s a good chance that the situation will get resolved. I’ve thought that before and I’ve been wrong. I’m obviously in the situation so I don’t know how much my opinion means. It’s crazy to me that it hasn’t got resolved already. I’ve seen the numbers and the amount of money they were making was absurd even through what I consider was mismanagement.
How would you like to see it resolved?
Just any way all the players get paid. I don’t really care if it takes a year from now or two years. Obviously, it’s ridiculous that it’s taken any amount of time, but realistically the difference between it taking a year or three years is I’d feel more bad. But it’s nothing compared to [players] being stiffed.
Could you see players flocking back to a relaunched Full Tilt Poker?
I don’t see why people wouldn’t go back if there was different management. There were a lot of good things about Full Tilt, and there were a few things which were ridiculously bad. It seems to me like people will go back.
After the Full Tilt experience, will you always make sure you take most of the money out of your account?
It’s kind of a risk you have to take. There’s risks in life and no absolute safety. But any site that I’m sponsored by I’m going to do due diligence, I did basically none the last time.
Phil Ivey seems to have taken quite a lot of flak for his actions in suing Full Tilt. Do you think that’s justified?
I think the reasons for doing what he did were decent, but the way he went about them were pretty ridiculous.
Did you know he was going to do that?
No, obviously if I did I would have yelled at him. I think he was frustrated and although I understand why he did what he did, I just wish he’d done it differently. I think his intentions were good.
Have you spoken to Howard Lederer this year about Full Tilt?
[long pause] I haven’t. I’m not sure how I’ll feel answering questions like that regarding other people, but I guess it’s okay actually. I haven’t talked to him this year. I haven’t really talked to anyone, but I wouldn’t want to create a situation where I was too open with it. If Howard called me up tomorrow and asked me to keep it confidential, I would. That’s the only reason why I’m hesitant. Although I haven’t spoken to anyone from Tilt this year, I wouldn’t want to do anything that impedes communication because I think the more communication there is the better it is for all players, even if it is with people who I think made bad choices or maybe were bad people. Most of the time I think it was bad choices and borderline bad people. I want to increase the amount of communication because if there had been more communication in April, I think Full Tilt would have been sold by June.
When you spoke to Howard the first time after Black Friday, was it an angry phone call on your part?
I don’t think it’s right for me to say. Howard’s done things that I’m not happy with, but I don’t think it’s helpful for me to say anything about that. If he reads this and I call him, he might not be open with me and it’s not like he was very open with me to begin with.
Was it a normal conversation then?
No, I talked to a few people from Tilt and I tried to keep my emotions under control, but there were definitely times I said stuff that I probably shouldn’t have. I personally didn’t hear any outright lies from Howard, however, that doesn’t mean there weren’t misleading things. But there were no outright lies. Most people in his situation would tell outright lies. I’m not really trying to defend the guy. I want to be a fair advocate in any question, I want to say: ‘Surprisingly, even though I’m unhappy with this person, in this situation they acted right.’ I think this is a case of that.
How did the borrowing situation at Full Tilt Poker work?
There’s a lot of poker games all around the world, there’s a lot of Full Tilt-sponsored tournaments and there’s also times when there’s no big games online and suddenly there’s a ton of games. I think the way Tilt was loaning money for the last six months of the year made sense business-wise. But there was a person employed two or three years before Black Friday who gave a bunch of credit, which was just ridiculous. It made no sense. For instance, I think they should give me $10k for a tournament buy-in, however, obviously it’s debatable whether they should give me $100k for a high-roller buy-in. But I thought they were managing it pretty well. I don’t think the credit system was very high.
Would the nosebleed games have existed if Full Tilt’s credit system had been much tighter and there were less player loans?
I don’t think that had too much to do with the games. All those players who owed Tilt money at any point were generally winners in the games. The fish didn’t have much to do with that situation. Occasionally it may have been someone else who had borrowed money from Full Tilt who was sending them [the high-stakes fish] money, but I think those games would have run for sure regardless.
Has the era of nosebleed stakes cash games online passed?
I think in the short- and medium-term, yes. But long-term I don’t think it’s done. I don’t think there’ll be too many $500k games online in the next year or two, because the whole economy has changed a lot. I would expect them in three or four years from now.
Have you managed to get any time in online at all?
I don’t want to lie and I don’t want to answer that…
Are you planning on moving from the US to be able to play?
I’ve been trying to avoid it, but it looks like I might have to. I do like Canada a lot except I hate the cold. Maybe I’ll go to Vancouver for a bit.
What about the Durrrr Challenge vs Jungleman. Is that still on?
Hopefully sometime soon we’ll be restarting that. It could be weird if we need to move out of the country to play, it seemed like that was what we were going to have to do for a while. But now it looks like there might be poker in Nevada and other states.
Some players go from one TV tournament to another. Could you do that?
Yeah, but that sounds terrible! I guess I could play live cash, but I think the idea of playing only live would drive me a bit nuts. There are times when there are no live games for six months of the year, and I like the action online.
Could you live without playing online poker again?
Yes, but I’d need to get a job. I could play live, but I don’t really want to for the rest of my life.
Tom Dwan was speaking to PokerPlayer magazine which you can read HERE