What Johnny Lodden thinks about poker is a story that just had to be told: “There were only two guys I struggled against at the highest stakes: Patrik Antonius and durrrr”

Johnny Lodden talks about losing it all, millionaire donks and why he just doesn’t care any more

‘Get the f♣♥♠ing rugby off. No one gives a shit about it,’ Johnny Lodden screams across the room before turning towards me, beer in hand. It’s just gone midday, and while the rest of London bakes in the October heat wave, Lodden’s demeanour in the sports bar of the Hilton Metropole is uncomfortably icy. Dressed in a plain grey T-shirt and frayed jeans, he looks increasingly bored as I bombard him with strategy questions. After my third straight question on the power of position in PLO he lets out a deliberate sigh. ‘I hate doing interviews where you get asked what
to do in this position or that. I’m so bad at explaining this stuff.’

I stare at my notes. He leans back, takes a sip from his beer and stares at me. Silence. Lodden, once the game’s most successful online cash game player, has gone from top to bottom and near back again in recent years. But he’s clearly not enjoying today’s media responsibilities. After what feels like a muted eternity, I ask whether he really enjoys being a poker pro any more. ‘Poker is work now,’ he says. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy playing, but it’s not the same as it was.’

Rise and fall

A few years ago his answer would have been very different. In late 2007 Lodden was king of the nosebleeds before anyone knew what the nosebleeds were. Still in his teens,he tore up the online tables under his infamous ‘bad_ip’ tag, building a bankroll of close to $10m. He was the stuff of
legend. Allegedly, when once challenged to a ‘heads-up for rolls’ contest by an irate opponent, he sat down with over $5m in front of him to his foe’s $190k. ‘I thought you said you had a bankroll!’ typed Lodden in the chat box. Not surprisingly, the game did not proceed.

‘When I was 18 I had roughly a million pounds,’ he tells me. ‘All my friends were working at McDonalds, earning £200 a week and I could just buy whatever I wanted. I enjoyed it, but it was just a figure online. If I had taken the money out and put it in front of me, it would have been f♣♦♠ing huge. But in my head I didn’t understand what I had. I’d lose $200k one day, win $500k the next. When you’re that young, it’s almost meaningless.’

Unfortunately for Lodden, reality soon hit home. After a series of huge losses to his online nemesis, Mohammad ‘Fast_Freddie’ Kowssarie, Lodden hit rock bottom in 2008. He was broke. Rumours of how players used a hack to see Lodden’s hole cards began to circulate, while some claimed Lodden lost it all through a combination of being outplayed and his vicious addiction to sports betting. Whatever the case, the money was gone.

‘It happened, I got f♦♣♥ed, but there’s nothing I can do about it,’ he says without emotion. ‘When you lose it all you’re like, for f♣♦♠’s sake, what do I do now? There’s a light that goes off when you lose that kind of money.’

Born to be a degen

The youngest of four gamble-happy brothers, Lodden was playing cards from the age of five, but it wasn’t until he went to high school that poker caught his attention. The online game was just blossoming, and before long Lodden was watching over his friends’ shoulders as they earned a crust on William Hill and the Prima Poker network.

‘Five of my friends just couldn’t lose, so everybody just stopped studying and played for days on end,’ he remembers, easing back into his chair. ‘They were winning upwards of £5,000 a month and they wanted me to play. So they transferred me some money and I sat and watched them for hours to learn the game. Back then, you could only play limit and I asked them why they did everything, even the basics. I’d never played hold’em before, so I wanted to know why they were
check-raising with a flush draw and so on.’

As he shares stories from his younger days, the icy exterior begins to thaw and a smile spreads across his face. When not dodging questions, Lodden is instantly likeable. ‘The game was easy money back then,’ he adds. ‘If you lost one day out of seven you were really bad. Now if you win one day out of seven you’re a f♣♦♠ing genius.’

Gradually, he became the figurehead of this small group of Norwegian degens, graduating from the lower stakes to £150/£300 limit games and above. With no caps on fourth street betting, the games attracted some huge whales, and as he continues to indulge me with stories of how winning led to partying and the good life, he remembers one ‘donk’ better than most.

‘There was this one guy, I think he was a major sports bettor, and he always sat down with £1 million,’ he says. ‘He was one of those guys who just kept betting, no matter what his hand was. One of my good friends, Erik ‘Erik123’ Sagström, was playing him one day and the board was like
K-Q-T-6-3. They went 26 bets on the river before the fish called. Erik showed J-9 for the second nuts and the other guy mucked. That was the way this guy played. He didn’t know that a straight beat two pair.’

There was money to be made, and Lodden was making it hand over fist. They were ‘these stupid guys from Norway travelling around and thinking they’re something’, he says. But while his friends stayed in the limit games, Lodden pushed for new territory. ‘I won a lot in the limit games. Everybody did. But in the end it got stale. Here was me and five of my mates all sitting in the same game waiting for one or two fish to come along,’ he says. ‘In the end, we were just stealing each other’s money. It became boring.’

Onwards and upwards

Lodden took his bankroll to the no-limit tables, and in the months that followed found himself involved in the largest online pots going. But when I ask him why I’m not sitting here and interviewing his friends instead, he seems at a loss. After much umming and ahhing, he tells me they weren’t as willing to take the same risks.

‘They had limit in their blood, but I didn’t want to play for 15 hours to get 30 minutes of action.’
While his friends returned to the security of limit games, Lodden began making waves on the live circuit. He cashed in three separate EPTs in 2007 before final-tabling the William Hill Grand Prix for £35,000. Yet all this was pocket money compared to what he was winning online where $300k pots were a daily occurrence and he was on track to become a legend of the game. Then along came Kowssarie and the horrors of 2008.

When I ask him how he feels about losing it all, he sighs once more before taking another sip from his beer. ‘Of course I care, but I only think about if I get reminded about it by people like you in stupid interviews.’

Thankfully, the smile on his face tells me he’s joking (I think). I suggest to him that in some ways ‘people like me’ are paying him a compliment by picking at his past, acknowledging that unlike the majority of today’s internet pros, he has a story to tell. But he’s already moved on, musing about how different life could have been.

‘There were only two guys I struggled against at the highest stakes: Patrik (Antonius) and durrrr. It’s strange to see how big they are now,’ he says, staring down at his drink. ‘I was always the laid-back guy, the one who the media didn’t really know about until a couple of years later. I didn’t want my name out there and to do interviews.’

But while durrrr and Antonius went on to become superstars, for Lodden it was back to square one. After a few minutes of my pestering, he admits that losing it all affected him badly, that without the help of the ‘awesome’ Norwegian poker community he would have been finished. A friend gave Lodden $50k and told him to fix it. But when you’re used to playing $200/$400, grinding at $10/$20 just doesn’t give you the same rush.

‘It’s stupid actually, because I crushed the lower levels like $25/$50, $50/$100, but even when I was winning $50k, I looked at it like I was still down $2 million,’ he says. ‘That’s a stupid way to think, but I was brain damaged.’

No way back

You might think he misses those high-stakes days, that the hunger to reach the top still burns deep inside him. But you’d be wrong. Lodden’s mind is on other things. His only poker goal is to win an EPT, because he’s been ‘playing those f♣♦♠ing things since season two’. But the modern online game has significantly less interest for him.

‘When I started out there was nothing, you had to teach yourself and everyone had their own style,’ he says. ‘Now, people only make the correct moves.’ Even though I know the answer, I ask how he replicates that rush of old. Sure enough, sports betting is now his drug of choice.

‘I don’t do too much really,’ he says sheepishly. ‘The closest I get [to that rush] is betting on football matches. If you bet big, then go to a live match, it’s awesome. That’s what I get a kick out of.’ When I ask what is betting big for Lodden, he squirms out of giving a definitive answer, just repeating the word ‘big’ over and over. ‘Before, when I used to gamble a lot, I’d bet $100k on a match like it was nothing. Now, well, now it’s only a few occasions,’ he says, laughing. ‘If you go on a losing streak for ten matches, you’re not supposed to bet bigger on the 11th match.
But if doesn’t always work out that way.’

As for poker, he now patrols the relatively tame waters of $5/$10 or $10/$20 PLO. ‘I know I will never play [the nosebleed] stakes again,’ he concedes. ‘I don’t even want to.’

‘At the start of my career I was excited to travel around and the idea of playing a big tournament and some cash games afterwards was fun as hell. Now it’s more like, oh I have to go to London and play the EPT, probably bust day one as usual, get fed up, have to play side events just to make money.

‘I think a lot of guys feel the same. It’s all work now. It’s fun work, but you don’t get that rush any more.’

And that’s really the key point for Lodden. He has lost the excitement that first drove him to win, and sports betting hardly seems like an ideal replacement. As we stand to say our goodbyes, the
bartender finally changes the channel. Rugby gone, I watch while Lodden stares intently at the screen, the day’s football results trickling along the bottom. Upstairs more than 500 players are competing for £750k and EPT glory. But down here, a stone-faced Lodden shakes his head and leaves without a word. I guess he just lost something ‘big’.

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