Tournament guru Erick Lindgren

Posted by pokermoney | tournament poker | Friday 22 January 2010 8:15 pm

For as long as he can remember, Erick Lindgren has been driven to compete. Whether sinking three-pointers as an MVP shooting guard on his hometown’s basketball team, scoring touchdowns as an all-world quarterback, or competing at the final table in the Million III, Lindgren has always played to win.

So when Lindgren quit the basketball team and dropped out of Butte Junior College, it seemed only natural that he would find a job that thrived on competition. He’s been competing full time ever since.

“Whether it be basketball or football or anything you could compete in, I always have competed,” says Lindgren, whose win-at-all-costs attitude has landed him a successful poker career among a motley crew of some of the world’s most competitive and narcissistic characters. “Gambling was something like that and then I finally found something in gambling that I could beat, which was poker. It was a natural fit.”

Although 33-year-old Lindgren has already carved out an impressive career in poker circles with tournament winnings totaling over $7 million, finding his “natural fit” wasn’t as easy as playing pocket aces. With pipe dreams of becoming a Las Vegas high roller, Lindgren’s first foray into the glitz and glamour of high-stakes gaming was as a blackjack dealer at a small Indian casino near his hometown of Burney, CA.

Dealing cards behind the tables was about as far from the final table as you could get. “When I started playing poker, I was playing $3 and $6 Hold ‘em in the back room of an Indian casino where everybody was smoking. It was pretty nasty,” he remembers. “Fortunately there was a poker room in the back. I was playing more poker than I was dealing blackjack.”.

Once Lindgren knew he could make more money playing cards than dealing them, he started playing poker full time. It wasn’t long before he realized that making a living at the tables wasn’t as easy as shooting hoops at Butte. “I was starting out when I had just turned 21 and I was trying to play poker without a job,” says Lindgren. “It’s pretty hard to pay the bills.”

To earn a steady paycheck, Lindgren took a job as a prop player at the Casino San Pablo in the Bay Area, where he was paid $150 for an 8–hour shift to help start and keep games going at the tables. It wasn’t any closer to gaming glory than the dealer job in Burney. Instead of being a fish at a big-time table teeming with action, he was getting paid to keep flounders in a poker game just long enough to make the tables worthwhile. It was the ultimate thankless act of guerilla gaming, but it might have proven invaluable in Lindgren’s endeavor for a spot in the pinnacle of the poker world.

Soon enough, Lindgren started practicing his skills online and before long, his days of smoky backrooms and small fries gave way to the bright lights of televised tournaments and $25,000 buy-ins. No longer content to play $3 and $6 blinds, Lindgren now spends upwards of $500,000 on buy-ins each year. It has proven to be a sound investment. Since December 2002, Lindgren has won three major tournaments, including’s Million III and the 2003 World Poker Tournament in Aruba. Additionally, Lindgren has become a spokesperson for Full Tilt Poker and Knob Creek Bourbon and co-authored his poker book, Making the Final Table.

As if that weren’t enough, Lindgren is finally ready for his close-up, playing himself in a bit role in the Curtis Hanson film, Lucky You. He describes the spot acting gig as “very cool” and is looking forward to trading glances with the film’s star, actress Drew Barrymore, at the movie premiere. But Lindgren isn’t relocating from his posh digs in Las Vegas to Hollywood anytime soon. “I don’t want to pursue acting full time,” says Lindgren. “I don’t take orders that well, so I don’t think that I could be an actor.”

With his remarkable success on the poker circuit, you aren’t going to hear too many stories about bad beats from Lindgren. But rest assured, he knows a thing or three about losing. After recently falling to local Las Vegas pro Chad Layne and finishing 140th and out of the money in the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship, Lindgren the competitor was crestfallen. But Lindgren the pro, a little older, a little wiser, knew that his loss and the countless other losses to follow are part of the game.

He still hates losing, but has learned to handle it better than most. “Nobody likes to lose. I never take losing lightly. Losing sucks,” Lindgren explains. “Obviously you don’t have to learn to be a loser. You can’t win all of the time and that’s actually hard for a lot of people to deal with. A lot of people who get into gambling are ultra-competitive and they are not used to losing.”

Maybe it’s his ability to brush off losing long enough to come back and win a big pot. Maybe it’s his 2004 World Poker Tour Player of the Year Award. Maybe it’s his golden boy looks and poised grin that keeps you guessing. Whatever it is, Erick Lindgren is now the face of a new generation of poker greats alongside good friends Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, and Daniel Negreanu. With another decade or two of seasoning, this cabal just might someday be mentioned in the same breath as the true poker luminaries; the Brunsons, the Chans, the Hellmuths.

Sure, Erick Lindgren is still the same intense competitor who used to collect MVP honors instead of poker chips, but it’s just a bit more fun knocking out Daniel Negreanu when he also happens to be one of your best buddies. “I won $1 million to beat out Danny Negreanu, who finished second (in’s Million III) and is also one of my best friends,” says Lindgren. “It was fun to go first and second because whether I won or lost, it was just going to be a pretty awesome time.”

Lindgren will have to collect a few more victories before the poker world considers him among the all-time greats. He only hopes that, if it does happen, it will be alongside his friends. “I definitely see myself 40 years down the line and looking across the table and seeing Phil Ivey and Daniel and everyone,” he says with the kind of glint you’ll only see in someone that knows they’re answering their true calling. “I can’t imagine not playing.”

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