Gus Hansen on Tilt

Bluff November 2012 cover

27 October 2012

It’s finally happened. After a year and a half of chaos, the players have been repaid and, on 6th November, will be able to log on to, access their funds and play poker. No one is champing harder at the bit than the world’s foremost action junkie Gus Hansen. He even gets his funny little avatar back.

You’re the first Full Tilt ambassador under the new management. As someone who was part of the old guard, why do you think you were chosen? Why not make a clean break with someone new?

Obviously, you could make the case for the clean break – to start with a clean slate and so on – but I held my head high during the whole mess, and let’s call it a mess. You could argue that I was a little under the radar during that time, but I didn’t have any inside info, any control of anything that was going on.

So instead of going out and saying this and that or suing the company or whatever, as other players were, I stayed low key. I think, in that sense, I behaved in a good way and I think they felt I was a good fit with my style and reputation. I don’t feel like my reputation has been tarnished in any way by the fact that the US government tried to sue all poker companies. The fact that Full Tilt was not run in the best manner before that – well, I was not in any way shape or form involved with the day-to-day running of the business.

What was your personal reaction to Black Friday and the subsequent revelations about Full Tilt?

I can definitely say I was very surprised. I was back home in Monaco and I logged in and suddenly some FBI thing turned up on my screen. That was the first time I was aware of anything. Obviously that came as a surprise.

As far as the company goes, it was my understanding that everything was fine. I hadn’t heard anything. We hadn’t had a shareholder meeting or anything. In that sense, I had no inkling that things weren’t just moving and progressing smoothly as normal.

Obviously, everybody knew that Black Friday was going to be a big bump in the road, but that the company was not doing well financially was a big surprise. But then I was, like, that’s really bad but, okay, shit has happened, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can maybe deal with that when the problems are solved. For now we’ve been dealt a shitty hand, which you often are in poker, and you have to get the best out of it. That was kind of my point of view. Let’s salvage the situation. Let’s try to make the best out of this. Obviously it was a bigger mess than I or anyone around the world of poker knew. Of course it’s sad when you think you have a company that seems to be doing absolutely fine and suddenly you realise that things are down the drain. Obviously, it took me a couple of hours to digest, and after that I said to myself, let’s move forward and see if we can salvage this situation. Then, when the situation is back on track, the ship is not sinking any more, then maybe we can look backwards and see who is to blame for this entire mess.

Did you watch the Lederer files?

I’m a little bit ashamed to say that I haven’t watched the complete Lederer Files. I have watched a little bit here and a little bit there, but I haven’t watched the seven episodes. To me, from my point of view, Howard has been working hard to get to a situation that would at least leave the players with all their money, which obviously couldn’t have happened without PokerStars and the Rational Group.

We’re finally here. A year and a half later it has got to a situation where things are back on track. Most importantly, all the players are getting paid with the launch at the beginning of November. I think Howard, amongst others, has worked very hard to get to that point. Obviously, if you followed the last year and a half, there have been many people involved – the Tapie group and other names I’m sure you are familiar with - that have been interested in working towards salvaging what was possible. Finally a suitor was found in PokerStars, so in that sense I think that’s really great for the entire poker community.

I think, in Howard’s mind, the reason for all the silence – at least towards the public – has been because he personally thought he couldn’t be sure if the players would be repaid. He definitely thought the best way was to get a deal and try to get a suitor, try to make a deal, get all the players paid, then go out and tell his version of the story. I think that’s basically what he did.

So, how do you see your own role as Full Tilt ambassador?

I’m an all-round poker player who plays all games against pretty much anybody on a daily basis. I think I’m the action kind of guy that’s going to continue that role on Full Tilt, which, of course, was formerly the site for all the high stakes action. In that sense I think I’m a pretty good fit for creating action on all kinds of high stakes tables. In terms of live tournaments, I’m not your Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth who plays 200 live tournaments a year. I pick and choose some of the big ones that I feel are best for me, but I’m going to do my very best to promote the new and improved Full Tilt.

So will the high stakes games be coming back?

Will the high stakes games come back? Well, I’m here (laughs)! I’m a pretty good ambassador for creating action on all the high stakes tables. I think that you will see most of the high stakes action back on Full Tilt.

But the important thing is that, on 6th November, everybody can access their account and free up their money. Some may take it out and disappear, but I hope a lot of people are going to return to Full Tilt. I’ve always really liked the software and I’m really going to enjoy being back on Full Tilt. I can have my cute Gus avatar back again and I think we’ll see a lot of high-stakes action.

Why do you have the need to play so high? Psychologically, what makes you want to play the highest possible games?

Obviously, I’ve been a professional gambler for 20-odd years. I started as a professional backgammon player. I would say it’s a natural evolution. I started playing backgammon for $1. Then I moved to $2, then $5, then $10, then $50, and now it’s thousands. If you do well, it’s a natural evolution.

That’s a normal way to go. If you’re doing okay, then you’re moving up and playing the highest stakes. Obviously I’ve been playing high stakes poker for the last ten years so I’m used to playing. We play $4,000/$8,000 limit games, $1k/$2k NL games – a bunch of different variations of high stakes poker – so, in that sense, I think that you choose the level that you feel comfortable with. I feel more comfortable playing $1k/$2k limit than $5/$10 limit. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t play a $5/10 limit hold’em game but I think I’d rather stick to my preferred limit.

How do you cope, mentally, with swings and losses that can be six figures?

It can affect you. If you’re on a bad losing streak then it’s probably a good time to take a break and slow down a little bit. Take it down a notch and play slightly smaller stakes and find your groove or rhythm again. Obviously I’ve lost a lot of money in a one-day session and I’ve won a lot of money in a one-day session so I’m used to the swings. This is not my strong point, I should say, but as long as you keep reasonable bankroll management then you should be fine.

Talking about high stakes, you’ve been playing the big games in Macau. Are there any big hands or crazy pots you’d like to share with us?

Not specific hands. Obviously the games are very high. We’re starting out with US$1,300/US$2,600 NLH games. That’s for starters, and sometimes during the evenings the games get kicked up. One of the players puts on a live straddle and obviously things are going high.

It’s not unusual that you have a couple HK$10m pots, which is equivalent to US$1.5m. Those hands come up. I wouldn’t say quite often, but they do occur. I’ve had plenty of sessions there where I’ve had five to ten US$1m pots during that session. Obviously, those are some serious swings, especially if you’re running a little sour and you’re losing six out of eight. You can do the maths and figure out it’s not going to be a good day at the office.

Obviously the games are really high. It’s a mixture of western pros and local players who are at various levels. I think that’s always interesting when you have eight pros sitting at the same table. They can’t all be winning players in this game. Someone has to be more “pro” than the others. People can argue who is better out of Sam Trickett, durrrr, Phil Ivey or whoever else is in the game. And it’s the same with the local Chinese businessmen poker players. Some of them are better than others.
So far, I’ve enjoyed a very good run in the Macau games. I’ve had some losses but, fortunately, I’ve had more wins so I’m feeling pretty comfortable. I think I’ve been there four or five times this year. So far it’s been good to be me, but that’s not to say that you just go to Macau and take some easy fruit from the tree. It’s a very competitive game. So far I feel like I’ve been playing pretty decent and also have had a good run of the cards. That’s usually a good combination at the poker table – if you’re comfortable, playing well, making good decisions and have a little bit of the best of the cards. If you can do that, you’ll be doing all right.

How do you divide your time these days? You’re obviously doing a lot of jet-setting between Monte Carlo, Copenhagen, Vegas, Macau… Is there such a thing as an average day in the life of Gus Hansen?

Is there such a thing as an average day? I guess you can’t really put me in the normal nine-to-five segment. As a matter of fact, right now, as we’re talking – we’re still a couple of weeks away from launch, and I think it will be different after launch – but, right now, I’m spending a lot of time in Monaco and in Sweden where I’m basically training seven days a week; training for different sports I enjoy playing. I think that goes with my backgammon and poker. I like to play games. I like the competitive nature of trying to compete against the other players. If I don’t do it at the poker or backgammon tables, then I might do it on the tennis or squash court or at the ping pong tables.

So I’m spending a lot of time training to improve my games which is basically the same as you do to improve your poker game. You have to devote some time at the tables playing, but also away from the tables analysing your mistakes, looking at the hands where you made the right decisions or where you can improve the next time you’re up against the same opponent or other opponents with the same kind of playing style.

An average day in my life has been about three to five hours of practise a day. That’s my average day right now, but I’m sure you’ll be seeing me on the high stakes games on Full Tilt – and actually we also have some promotions in the pipeline that I’m not going to disclose right now – but I think there’ll be plenty of opportunity for players at all levels to see if they can beat up on the poor Dane Gus Hansen.