Gustav Hansen: A Style of His Own

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In People magazine’s December 2004 issue, Gus Hansen was voted one of the 50 sexiest men alive. He was in good company with the likes of Jude Law, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Jimmy Smits, Donald Trump, Blair Underwood, and Bruce Willis, to name a few.


What does he think of such recognition? Gus smiled, shrugged nonchalantly, and said, “It is pretty cool, but it’s not a life-changing event. I’m still little ol’ me. Sometimes things that happen are random coincidences with effort and skill involved in the mix. It’s all good.”


Gus is easy-going, comfortable with himself, charming, a total flirt, philosophical about life, and, mostly, easy to like. He’s fun; he smiles easily and has no pretenses.


“I Have a Gus”


In 1993, Gus moved from his native land, Copenhagen, Denmark, to Santa Cruz, California, where he lived for a few years. “I started playing poker in Santa Cruz. I saw one guy who always seemed to be winning. He helped me out a little. He was a good player for the game that was there, and he did funky, unconventional things. I said to myself, if he can do it, why can’t I?


“I have always liked to try out new things and test the waters. Maybe it is ridiculous, but I don’t like to exclude anything from my game plan. Every option is an option. Nothing is off-limits. Sometimes I would try something and then overdo it. So, in Santa Cruz, when I would overdo it and show some garbage hand, it became known as a ‘Gus.’ When someone would win with a funky hand, he would turn it over and say, ‘I have a Gus.’”


Military Service by Lottery


“In 1995, I went back to Denmark, where I had to sign up for the possibility of military service. It’s actually a lottery. You pick a number; if it’s a low number, you’re in, but the thing is, it’s only for nine months. Personally, I think it was a good point in time for me to be in the service. I may have needed a break from my gambling career to get back to real life.


“If I had to do it over again, I’m not sure the service was a bad thing. When you pick a real low number, you can choose what part of the service you want to be in. I chose the civil part, where I learned about first aid, fire hoses, helping people in emergencies, and even dragging people out of burning buildings. It was a good experience at the right time.”




Gus is a world-class backgammon player, having won tournaments and big matches. “After the service, I went to New York to play backgammon and gin. In Denmark, I could play backgammon for only small money. I liked New York and the competition I found there.


“I don’t usually say this kind of thing about myself, but in backgammon, I am very talented. I have a good feel for the game. I studied the game and played a lot. I learned the game by playing it and then analyzing situations. I am not a big reader. As is the case with all things in life, I like to form my own opinions. Even though books are a good tool, I think it’s important to always be cautious and not just gobble up the things written in a book. Just because it’s in print doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right. I like to form my own opinions about what I see in front of me.”


Learning to Play Poker


“I learned poker the same way I learned backgammon, by experience. I didn’t do much reading. I read one book when I started out, Hold’em for Beginners by David Sklansky. I also glanced at a few other books — Doyle Brunson’s Super/System, among others.


“In general, I think it’s best to learn by looking at your own mistakes. A very good way to do it is to analyze with other people. It’s interesting to get other people’s opinions. I think it’s very difficult to honestly analyze a situation correctly and think about your own mistakes. Sometimes at the moment it’s difficult to make the correct decision. That’s why it’s important to sit calmly afterward and come up with the right answer. Then, you will know the next time a similar situation comes up. I analyze mostly with myself and sometimes with Howard Lederer. We go to the gym and work out our bodies and minds at the same time.”


Fame and Fortune


Gustav Hansen’s fame can be directly linked to the World Pkv Poker Tour’s (WPT) televised events. However, his fortune can be linked only to his skill, combined with his unpredictable play and mathematical ability.


It all started when Gus was 28 years old. He entered the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic in May of 2002 at Bellagio in Las Vegas, along with 146 other hopefuls. That was the premiere event of the WPT. With a prize pool of $1,416,200, it was an exciting event, with the winner taking home more than half a million dollars.


After the first day of play, Gus was in 10th place with $56,150. After the second and third day, he was in fourth place with $158,000 and $313,700, respectively. He was the leader after the fourth day with more than $1 million.


Gus held on to his lead, and won the title, the trophy, and $556,480. People said he was lucky then and continue to say he’s lucky now, even though statistics prove that he has one of the best tournament records of anyone.


“He’s Just Lucky”


“One thing I think is funny is the fact that people attribute my success to luck. I have been very successful in tournaments over the last couple of years, yet I am the only one with whom the work luck is associated. Perhaps some of the things I do aren’t that bad after all. Everybody can see when somebody gets lucky in a hand, but what is not so readily apparent is that a good understanding of the structure of the game creates its own “luck.” In my forthcoming book, I will reveal and analyze the hidden structure that I believe only a few players are aware of.


“I am definitely more aggressive than most players, but I also have a different philosophy about my game. My outlook is a little more from a mathematical perspective. Other players rely too much on their instincts and reading abilities. Sometimes they allow that to overshadow the mathematical truth. Usually, I let the math do its thing. Sometimes, people put too much into their reads, and ante off all of their chips and then suddenly have no chips at all.


“On TV, they show something I did that was unconventional, making it look like I always play like a wild man. But part of my success is that people always know I will call. Suddenly, I get a free ride because people won’t bet, knowing there’s a good chance I’ll raise. One moment I’m on a total bluff, and the next moment I am playing a mathematical game; I think that makes it very hard for my opponents to read me.”


World Poker Tour


The World Poker Tour has been good for poker and great for Gus. Let’s take a look at his WPT successes.




In six WPT tournaments, Gus has won a whopping $1,830,876; yet, people are still saying he’s just lucky! Actually, there’s a method to his ostensible madness. It’s just not readily apparent!


WPT Bad Boys


In April of 2004, theWPT invited five previous WPT winners and one sweepstakes winner to play in the WPT Bad Boys of Poker. The players were Mark Richards (the sweepstakes winner, who won his seat from a field of 88,000), Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari (L.A. Poker Classic), David “Devilfish” Ulliott (Jack Binion World Poker Open), Paul “The Truth” Darden (Gold Rush Tournament), Gus “The Great Dane” Hansen (three-time WPT winner), and Phil “Unabomber” Laak (L.A. Invitational).


Gus was widely criticized for the way he played a certain hand against Antonio. Now, he gets his turn to explain:


“Antonio, with the 7hearts 7diamonds, made it $29,000 to go, and I reraised with the 10diamonds 8diamonds, making it $100,000. Antonio came over the top, raising all in for $420,000.


“When Antonio reraised, I spent time thinking, and I said out loud, ‘I don’t think I can fold 10 high.” Phil Laak said, ‘It must be 10-10.’ I called and showed the 10diamonds 8diamonds. A lot of people think I am crazy, but there’s some sense and reasoning behind the things I do.


“Many people said that it was a ridiculous call. As it turned out, it was a good call. When Antonio raised, I didn’t put him on a very strong hand; possibly, he could have a pair of fives, sixes, or sevens. I put a read on him and put him on cards that weren’t very strong. So, I eliminated the big cards. Then, it was mathematically logical. I’m fairly good at taking 10 different variations, adding things all together, and coming up with a good guesstimate of what to do. In my mind, the call looked very reasonable. It turned out right this time. That is the charm of poker. I felt I did the right thing, and it turned out to be correct.”


Girls, Girls, Girls


Gus loves girls, and with his Danish charm and piercing eyes, girls seem to be crazy about him, too. Steve Lipscomb noticed that on the WPT set, girls in the audience were staring, flirting, and falling all over him. He’s just so easy to be around — fun, articulate, and playful. I asked him how he became so amazingly articulate, since his native tongue is Danish. He explained that when he was young, he listened to Pink Floyd and knew all the lyrics, so his pronunciation of words was natural and easy. He is philosophical, and expressing himself comes easy to him.


I asked Gus about his love life. He is 30, and free and single. “I am a very individual person. I like gambling. I love what I do and I love the fact that I don’t have to answer to anyone. It sounds egotistical, but if I have to choose between you and me, it’s me, baby. As far as my situation is concerned right now, this way of life gives me a lot of freedom — no girlfriend, no ties, and I’m not looking. I like to hang out and have fun. I like my independence. I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.”


Gus spoke about his new site: “Some friends from Denmark approached me about a year and a half ago about building an online poker site. I had already created a name for myself and they wanted to have me in the loop. We started out small and slowly. We wanted a site with better features than other sites. We’ve now been open for about five weeks, and things are going great.” has a system by which players can earn back some of their rake and their friends’ rake. Also, players can play four hands simultaneously on a single screen. Players have a choice of OneScreen, EnlargedScreen, DuoScreen, or FourScreen windows. The site also has daily freerolls in which players can win real money without having made a deposit.


Gus told me about something he is personally doing on the site that is wonderful for the new poker player. “I play in a 25-cent or 50-cent game. I chat with people, and randomly pick a winner and announce that he/she won. Then, I transfer between $25 and $100 to his/her account. In the 25-cent game, a player might have $9 in front of him, and then I ship over $100. The people in my promotions department said it was a great idea, and suggested that the next time I have such a good idea, I tell them about it first!”


Anyone interested in discussing his site with him can e-mail him at


His Best and Worst


“I think my greatest weakness is probably that I am very curious. I’m trying to improve that aspect of my game, and it’s probably true that curiosity killed the cat. Sometimes, I’m too stubborn. I become a little too curious and make some bad calls.” That reminded me of the bad poker joke about the player who always went home broke, but never curious!


About his strengths, Gus said, “I think the strength of my game is my mathematical and analytical way of looking at things. When I am focused, I feel I can compete with everybody. Because I mix it up, I am hard to read. I don’t really play my hand, but I play my opponent’s hand. If I know someone won’t commit all of his chips, I just have to bet. The next time, I might bet with the nuts, and players can’t tell the difference.”


Why Gus is a Winner


“I think I am very good at adjusting to the situation at hand. A lot of people have one game style; they tend not to adjust at all. I am fairly good at switching from one situation to one with other parameters, but sometimes I overdo it. If I have a plan that works, it usually can have a great impact on my tournament result; if I try something and I’m wrong, everyone talks about it. I think it’s right to try out new things. Most people have rules. It’s OK to do one thing but not another. In my game, every option is an option. I’m not saying that style would work for other people, but it suits me.”


In the final analysis, statistics speak for themselves. In the last two years alone, Gustav Hansen has won almost $2 million in WPT events alone, to say nothing of his many other wins. He is a young, fierce winner who has only just begun demolishing opponents at the poker table.





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