Whatever happened to…?

Whatever happened to…?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Erik123, JacArama, Sammy George, Jerry Yang...


Jac "Jacarama" Arama was one of the first ever TV poker “celebrities”, appearing on Series 3 of the first incarnation of Late Night Poker, having been invited courtesy of winning the Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam in 2000. He hogged the limelight with an increasingly outrageous array of sunglass and hat combos and an any-two-will-do philosophy. Viewers tuned in just to see what that crazy guy would be wearing this week. Once, he even had a small pair of sunglasses concealed under larger pair of sunglasses, a fact he revealed midway through a hand with excellent comic timing.


Jac decided to knock poker on the head in order to concentrate on his family. Also, he wasn’t really that great at it (sorry Jac). He stills plays low-level buy-in tournaments around the UK from time to time but has significantly toned down the gimmicks.


Here’s a puzzling one. Erik “Erik123” Sagstrom, aka “The Salmon”, aka “The King of Ding”, was the most feared and successful high-stakes online poker player of his time, some rumours suggesting he had made as much $10m in his career. He terrorised the high stakes tables between 2004 and 2007 at a time when Prahlad “Spirit Rock” Friedman and Johnny “bad_ip” Lodden ruled the nosebleeds. He also was part owner, with Gus Hansen and Tony G, of the PokerChamps online poker room, which was sold to Befair in 2005 for €18m.


Erik had everything, riches, fame, even his own poker room, Erik123.com, which launched in 2007. And then he just… fizzled out. A high-stakes player known as DIN_FRU (Swedish translation: “Your Wife”) who was playing on Full Tilt until around 2010 was thought to be Erik, yet it was never confirmed.

In 2009, he finished third in the $50k HORSE event at the WSOP, and was lured out of his “retirement” to the same event in 2011. Since then, not a sausage. Word is that he lives in a mansion somewhere in Sweden and does sportsbetting. We’d like to imagine him as some kind of Howard Hughes figure with crazy long fingernails and a big beard conducting his sportsbetting operations in front of hundreds of monitors. Erik, son, if you’re reading this, get in touch. We’re worried about you.

Sammy “Any Two” George

One day, around 2007, Sammy George turned up at the Vic with lots of money and started playing any two cards. The pros formed an orderly queue. With a knack for self-promotion, Sammy turned a lack of poker talent and a big bankroll into a short-lived TV career that culminated in an epic million-dollar heads-up battle with Tom Dwan.


Where did Sammy get his money? When he took us to dinner in late 2009, he claimed to be an international trader who also took care of footballers’ contracts. There was some exaggeration here – Sammy liked to talk himself up – but he certainly owned a few low level businesses around town. Most of his money, however, was borrowed from poker players who he never paid back (including Tom Dwan, allegedly to the tune of $750k). Then “Any Two” disappeared. Apparently he was spotted a few years ago in a London poker club playing £1-£2. Since then, nothing. If you do bump into him, however, probably best not to spot him a loan.

Jerry Yang

God-fearing social worker Jerry Yang, while clearly possessing a heart of gold, was one of the least talented WSOP Main Event champions ever, relying on supplications to his maker rather than canny post-flop play to negotiate his way through 6,358 players. He was also one of the most absent champions in recent times, apparently reluctant to embrace the role of “poker ambassador” that now comes with the title.


After giving 10 per cent of his winnings to charity, Jerry opened a restaurant, Pocket Eights Bar and Grill, in Mecred California, which, we note, has had good reviews on Trip Advisor with particular praise reserved for the seafood salad. Last year, however, news broke that Jerry’s bracelet, along with other property, had been seized by the IRS and we sincerely hope that thing are picking up for him. Jerry still plays a handful of poker tournaments a year but has thus far failed to set the poker world alight.

Chris Ferguson

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was one of the most recognisable poker players in the world. Now, we suspect, he’s doing everything he can not to be recognised. Problem for Chris is, when most people go incognito, they put on a hat, grow a beard and wear dark glasses – oh wait!

The 2000 World Champion’s fall from grace has been epic. Ferguson was one of the most respected poker players of all time, lauded (and occasionally derided for) for his tight, mathematical approach to the game, not only was he world champion, he was one of the founders of Full Tilt and therefore, we suspected, unimaginably wealthy. Then Full Tilt blew up in his face.


On September 20, 2011, the US Justice Department filed a motion against Ferguson and three other directors of the poker website Full Tilt Poker complaining they were running a Ponzi scheme which they had used to pay themselves $444 million of customers’ money. Ferguson recently settled with the DOJ for $2.35m, which seems he got off awfully light if the above allegation is true.

We’re prepared to believe, however, that he’s guilty of reckless mismanagement rather than intentionally criminal behaviour, although if he turns up to a poker tournament any time soon, he’s liable to be crucified.

Mansour Matloubi

Brit Mansour Matloubi’s Hendon Mob results page in the nineties is ridiculous. Go on, check it out. It’s almost as though he made the final table of every tournament he ever played, and its not like tournament results were particularly well-documented in the nineties, even by the Hendon Mob site, which was launched in the early noughties. Could it be that Matloubi made the final table of every single tournament in the nineties? We think he probably did.

OK, so we know the fields were smaller and softer back in those days, but with such prowess you would have thought he'd at least have hung around for the poker boom. Matloubi started off the nineties by winning the WSOP Main Event, no less, and then followed a ludicrous string of results, which, in 2001, abruptly stopped. What happened? Did he just get bored?

Strangely enough, he randomly turned up in Singapore for the Betfair Asian Poker Tour in 2006; even more strangely, he failed to make the final table, although he did come 13th for $14.5k. We had the opportunity to speak to him there and it turns out he’d been in the Far East all this time, pursuing business interests.

Turns out, Matloubi was one of the original owners of UltimateBet.com and sold his stake at the height of the poker boom for squillions – way before the cheating scandal.

A source we contacted for this article says he was recently seen in Bankok – a true international man of mystery. For us, though, he’ll always be the UK’s forgotten World Champion.

Tags: Jacarama, Erik123, Sammy George, Jerry Yang, Chris Ferguson, Mansour Matloubi