Top 5 Poker Players Who Went Broke
Not all gamblers are compulsive, or addicted or reckless, although some of the names below will certainly fit into that category. Most of these have never heeded the words “winners know when to stop” or “never chase your losses” and “never gamble more than you can afford to lose”.
1. Stu Ungar (-$30,000,000)
Unger’s narcissism at an early age put off many opponents from playing gin rummy against him, his original game and admittedly practically unbeatable at it. He was sarcastic and dismissive of his opponents. He was forced to leave NYC due to unpaid gambling debts at race tracks and ended up in Las Vegas, where he turned his hand to poker, mainly because he couldn’t find opponents willing to play gin rummy against him. To this day, he is still considered the best Hold’em player of all time.
Ungar became famous after winning the 1980 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, the first tournament he had ever played, and this win earned him the nickname “The Kid” as he was so young and slight of build. He won again in 1981, the prize being $95,000.
Being gifted with a genius IQ, Stu won almost $30,000,000 throughout his career using his photographic memory and math skills. But by mid-career, his life began to take a dark turn and his cocaine use, once just a booster to keep him awake through late-night matches, became a full-on addiction.
Ungar turned out to be a compulsive gambler, often losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on horseracing and sports betting. After winning the 1997 WSOP main event that he got staked, he squandered $1,000,000 in just four months on his drug habit and irresponsible betting.
Stu Ungar died penniless in a cheap Vegas motel room in 1998, just 45 years old. His cause of death was found to be heart failure, probably linked to years of drug abuse.
2. Erick Lindgren (-$12,000,000)
Erick Lindgren was well known in the poker world during the poker boom era. Nicknamed “E-Dog,” he was one of online Full Tilt Poker’s sponsored personalities that earned him a cool $300,000 every month.
Lindgren was a winner in the 2008 WSOP, taking home $374,505 in the $5,000 Mixed Hold’em event. He won again in 2013, in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed tournament, scoring $606,317.
Like so many who came before and after him, this world-class poker player couldn’t resist gambling on events he had no expertise and control over. Lindgren bet huge amounts on fantasy sports leagues and also on various sports matches, betting between $50,000 to $100,000 per game.
His gambling problems came to a head in 2012 when he was unable to put together the $100,000 buy-in in a private fantasy league. Fellow players accused Lindgren of owing them money, some as much as in the millions. In 2015, Lindgren was forced to file for bankruptcy, with debts of over $12,000,000.
3. Archie Karas (-$40,000,000)
Archie Karas, aka “The Greek,” is a character who went from zero to hero then back to zero in a matter of three years. Karas travelled to Las Vegas in 1992 with only $50 in his pocket, but with big dreams of making it big. He was lucky enough to get a loan of $10,000 from a gambling friend and turned it into $30,000 playing Razz poker, and repaid his loan in a couple of hours.
Between 1992 and 1995, Karas just could not put a foot wrong. Within three years, he managed a record-breaking, longest winning run in casino history, amassing a personal fortune of $40 million! With his astounding winning streak, willing opponents proved few and far between and he found it difficult to find a table to play at.
So what did Archie do?
A. He invested most of his $40 million wisely, bought a yacht, a lovely beachfront villa and lived in luxury for the rest of his days.
B. Decided to try some other games, throwing away $11 million at the craps table in one day, and the following day losing $17 million playing baccarat. All in all, a total loss of over $30 million, and finally losing his last million over the next two weeks.
You guessed it – the correct answer is B.
4. Gavin Griffin
Not a particularaly well-known name, Gavin Griffin was arguably one of the best tournament poker players of the early 2010s.
Griffin made a name for himself in 2004 when he won a Pot Limit Texas Hold’em tournament at the WSOP, becoming the youngest bracelet holder at the time. In 2011, he won the Triple Crown, becoming the first ever to do so and earning a name in poker history books.
With a very bright future in poker ahead of him, Griffin unfortunately became a gambling addict, wasting millions he’d won from poker on games of chance (as did others mentioned in this article). Today, he speaks openly about his gambling addiction and how dangerous gambling games can be. His story is a cautionary tale of what NOT to do with hard-earned poker winnings.
5. Gus Hansen (- $20,000,000)
Also known as “The Great Dane”, Hansen has been called one of the most notorious losers in the online poker world. As a live tournament poker champion, he has won more tournament titles than most players of his generation.
However, and for whatever reason, online poker has proved to be Gus’s nemesis. He has the misfortune to have the reputation as one of the biggest losers in the game’s history, having lost more than $20 million in online poker.
Fortunately for Hansen, his massive losses at online poker didn’t entirely ruin him financially, and he remains one of the world’s most respected (and feared) high-stakes cash game players.