In the world of high-stakes poker it’s not just the money which reaches incredible levels, passions and even tempers run high too, and although there aren’t too many fist-fights breaking out in Bobby’s Room between the biggest names in the game, there are certainly times when the players are at each other’s throats, so let’s take a look at some of the most infamous fallouts…
Money, money, money!
1. Tsoukernik vs Tsang & Kirk
Leon Tsoukernik, the multi-millionaire owner of the King’s Casino in Rozvadov, has certainly made his mark on the poker world, both as an organiser and a player, but his approach to paying off his losses has been called in to question not once, but twice – and very publicly in both instances.
First up, there were sketchy reports of an unpaid multi-million euro debt, which was later ‘confirmed’ by Elton Tsang, the high-stakes Hong Kong pro claiming he eventually received €1.2m but was still being refused the other €2m.
He later explained to CalvinAyre.com:
“Leon sent a lot of people to talk to me during this time, and they hinted to me that Leon is not a boy scout and stuff like that. Hinting that he has a background, etc, etc. I’m like whatever, if he is going to kill me, he is going to kill me".
The second story, which prompted Tsang to go public with his own claims from a year previous, saw Leon tangle with Australian pro Matt Kirk, a late night drunken gambling session costing the King’s man several million – much of which he is again disputing and refusing to pay.
Because this happened in Vegas and not Barcelona, Kirk, unlike Tsang, almost immediately got lawyered up and sued Tsoukernik. The Czech casino mogul, for his part, has hinted at shady behaviour from his opponents in both cases and stated he had faith in the US legal system to sort things out.
Of course, money isn’t the only thing which the high-stakes pros have in common or fall out about – there’s also ego!
Who’s the daddy?
2. Negreanu vs Polk
The description ‘a highly-skilled but rather opinionated multi-millionaire high-stakes poker pro’ would fit both these men equally well, but their long-running feud would seem more fitting for two men poles apart rather than cut from the same cloth.
Nevertheless, Negreanu and Polk seem unable to agree on anything and social media has been their battleground on a number of occasions over recent years, started when Negreanu claimed he could beat online heads-up with only 2 weeks practice. Polk, at the time the undisputed king of the heads-up nosebleeds, took umbrage at this and we were off to the races!
A number of fallouts and petty public insults were hurled at every opportunity, serial vlogger Polk peeved that Negreanu was up for a media award while he himself wasn’t even nominated, arguments about ‘rake being good for the poker eco-system’ which Negreanu wrote about, and a YouTube copyright stramash which hurt both players.
Neither side seem ready to let bygones be bygones, and as recently as last month (September 2017) the arguing duo were back at it, Polk offering some technical advice on vlogging, Negreanu subsequently omitting Polk from a list of 40 of the world’s ‘better than Phil Hellmuth’ players!
Old School bust-up
3. Doyle Brunson vs. Layne Flack
It’s actually very hard to imagine Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson falling out seriously with anyone, but the game of poker has that uncanny ability ‘to start an argument in an ‘empty room’.
Particularly when the ‘empty room’ has a character like Layne ‘Back-to-back’ Flack in it; a man connected closely to Russ Hamilton of Ultimate Bet infamy and well-known for his excesses of drink and women, the opposite of the Brunson we all know.
In a CardPlayer interview some years back, Flack was asked his opinion on re-buys in WSOP events, and whether it was the equivalent of ‘buying’ a bracelet. His response was a shocking one, as he stated:
“That’s bullshit!... You want to talk about buying a bracelet? Let’s talk about Doyle’s bracelet when there were eight people in the tournament. The critics should look back in history and see where a bracelet has been bought.”
Quite a claim, and not one which Doyle was happy about, naturally.
“As a rule, I don’t say anything about things people say in interviews,” wrote Doyle on his blog, “but I can’t help being deeply offended by the article. I thought this man was a friend of mine,” he added, saying that, “Back in the early days of the World Series of Poker, I certainly didn’t even consider that a bracelet would have any value.”
“If I could find that bracelet, I would send it to Layne and tell him to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.”
Flack, of course, backed down (or sobered up, or both) responding to a Facebook question about his Brunson falling out with the simple “What feud?” A good move on Flack’s part, but as no stranger to controversy, ‘back-to-back’ Flack likely had bigger things to worry about – drug addiction, going broke, and DUI’s among them.
Flying chips and fisticuffs
4. Hansen vs David Oppenheim
Gus Hansen is a legend in the high-stakes community, but if you play nosebleeds long enough you’ll likely have one or two ‘disputes’ – the Great Dane and that man Tollerene coming to verbal blows at one point after Hansen did a ‘hit and run’, Tollerene typing in the chat box:
"You act like an #$%%$## all the time and then play 6 hands."
However it was Hansen’s live high stakes encounter with David Oppenheim which hit the headlines, granddaddy of poker Doyle Brunson tweeting about it:
Hansen himself took to social media, his Facebook post stating:
"Another update from the ins and outs of highstakes poker in Bobby's room - tensions got high, voices got loud and chips literally went flying when David Oppenheim and yours truly Gus Hansen got into a serious argument - no punches were thrown - but I think it is safe to say that both of us thought about pulling the trigger."
The secrecy of high stakes games mean that only a fraction of what gets said and happens ever makes its way to the public sphere, but when punches actually fly you can be sure we’ll hear about it.
Just such an incident occurred earlier this year (2017) when one unnamed player decided that facing off with Phil Ivey’s bodyguard was a good idea – despite Ivey’s man being the size of a medium-sized mountain!
Jimmy Fricke tweeted about it:
And this time there was actual footage of the short and sweet takedown… which has subsequently disappeared from YouTube! Here’s how Doug Polk covered the incident…
Phil Hellmuth, not exactly a man with the look of a ninja warrior about him, was nevertheless involved in a ‘car-park dance’, to use some Scottish parlance, early in his career after a serious falling out with Sam Grizzle - Grizzle proving that his street-wise hustler-style had far more of an edge away from the tables, knocking the Poker Brat on his ass!
So, money, ego, broken promises and tempers fraying – it all shows that when millions of dollars are at stake, the players can be every bit as ‘normal’ as the rest of the population, they just get much better paid for it all!