High rollers aren’t as prevalent in online poker as they were several years ago. Certain legal events struck the internet poker world and scared off some of these whales.
But during the high-stakes scene’s heyday, certain whales were integral to keeping the nosebleeds going. Unfortunately, these same high rollers had to lose a lot of money to fuel the biggest games.
Who are the whales that propelled online poker’s highest stakes to even bigger heights? Below, you’ll find four players whose losses essentially kept the largest online games afloat for years.
1 – Guy Laliberté
Guy Laliberté, the former CEO of Cirque Du Soleil, was at one time, one of the biggest gaming whales in online poker. Worth well over $1 billion, he had the bankroll to comfortably play with the game’s best.
Unfortunately for Laliberté, he felt the sting of being overmatched on a regular basis. He’s believed to have lost over $30 million playing internet poker.
He lost so much that he resorted to using different screen names to help conceal his identity. After all, he didn’t want the sharks rushing to the tables all at once.
Laliberté didn’t take these losses lightly. He spoke out about Full Tilt Poker, which featured the most prominent nosebleeds for several years.
Guy later complained that Full Tilt loaned money to sponsored pros so that they had enough funds to compete against him. Going further, he claimed that Full Tilt was freerolling players like Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, and Phil Ivey.
His losses helped the winners push Full Tilt’s highest stakes even higher. It wasn’t uncommon to see elite pros competing at $3,000/$6,000 limits back in these days.
Despite his terrible experience with the online game, Laliberté wasn’t turned off from the poker world as a whole. In fact, he’s behind some of the biggest WSOP high rollers ever.
He’s used these high rollers to help donate money to his One Drop Foundation, which provides clean drinking water to third-world countries.
2 – Gus Hansen
Hansen was once known as one of the world’s most respected poker pros. He became the first grinder to win three World Poker Tour titles and was the face of many poker advertisements.
The “Great Dane” also made plenty of money through business dealings, including when he earned $5 million through the sale of PokerChamps.
Despite his poker skills and business acumen, Hansen failed to realize that he couldn’t hang with the top online pros. He’s learned a very expensive lesson over the course of several years, dropping around $22 million on the cyber tables.
Hansen just couldn’t stay away from the dream of beating the nosebleeds. He tried again and again, each time fueled by successful mini runs. But every one of these hot streaks was always preceded by a much longer downswing.
Outside of Laliberté, Hansen was the most responsible for fueling the high-stakes economy with his losses.
On one level, he deserves some respect for continually competing against the game’s top players. He also refused to drop down in stakes over the desire to play at the top.
Unfortunately, Hansen took far too long to realize that he was clearly overmatched. The only solace is that he quit playing online poker in time to save some of his fortune, which came through live cash games, tournaments, business dealings, and sponsorships.
3 – Chun Lei Zhou
Chun Lei Zhou has had a successful live poker career, especially in Macau’s big game. Much like Hansen, his bane has been the online poker world.
Chun started out playing at Full Tilt under the screen name “patpatpanda.” He didn’t have much success here, so he switched to “samrostan.”
Eventually, Black Friday scandal led to the demise of Full Tilt’s high-stakes scene. So, Zhou switched to PokerStars under the name “patpatman.”
The change of online scenery still failed to help. He’s lost around $15 million total through internet cash games. Chun isn’t the type of player who loses because he gets pushed around. He’s one of the more aggressive pros in the game.
Unfortunately for him, this aggression just doesn’t translate into winnings. Zhou continued trying to solve the nosebleeds for too long, which has led to him losing a big portion of his live winnings.
4 – Paul Phua
Like Laliberté, Paul Phua is a rich businessman who doesn’t have to worry as much about his high-stakes losses. Phua, who’s a VIP junket operator in Macau, has an estimated net worth of $400 million.
However, his skills haven’t shined through on the cyber tables. He’s lost around $4.5 million in the online game.
He’s played under the alias “MaIACEsia” for years. His sample size is relatively small at around 50,000 hands.
If you compare this to Hansen’s 1.6 million hands, Phua may not have enough action to show his true abilities. He’s rumored to be a winner in Macau’s big game.
Phua also has close to $16 million in live tournament winnings. Therefore, he’s one whale who’s likely better than his losses indicate.
Why Did These Whales Continue to Play and Lose Big?
It might seem like a no-brainer that some of these players should’ve quit after losing a few million dollars. However, multiple reasons exist for why these whales would keep playing in a losing effort.
Players like Gus Hansen and Chun Lei Zhou have experienced success in some types of poker. Therefore, they have the confidence to conquer the online game as well.
Hansen was actually considered one of the world’s top players during his prime in the 2000s. He won three WPT tournament titles and millions of dollars in live cash games.
But internet poker can be a different beast, especially when competing against the top grinders. Hansen found this out the hard way after losing massive amounts over the span of several years.
Zhou also won a lot in live poker, most notably in Macau’s big game. But he never quite translated his live skills to the cyber felt.
Laliberté grew up knowing he was an underdog when playing against the world’s best. Nevertheless, he loves the competition and had the money to keep firing bullets.
But Laliberté was so overwhelmed by the best players in the nosebleeds that he lost a record $30 million. He was bitter about the matter and blamed Full Tilt for freerolling the pros who beat him.
Phua has lost around $4.5 million in high-stakes online play. But he’s not exactly sweating the losses considering his $400 million fortune.
Also, Phua has proven that he can beat both live cash games and tournaments. Therefore, he may just enjoy testing his skills against the best that online poker has to offer as well.
The high-stakes online poker world will likely never return to its former glory days. Part of the reason why is because the internet poker industry has switched its focus to recreational players rather than worrying about catering to high rollers.
But another major reason is that some of the biggest whales have vacated the online scene. These players once fueled the largest games with their losses and have now moved on.
Laliberté is the clearest example of a whale who fueled the nosebleeds. He lost over $30 million in a relatively short time span.
Gus Hansen is the second-biggest loser in online poker history. His $22 million in losses helped build the bankrolls of many other grinders. Hansen’s unsuccessful online career is fairly surprising, given how well he’s done in other settings.
Chun Lei Zhou is another good live player who hasn’t fared well online. He’s dropped $15 million on the cyber felt.
Paul Phua is one more player who helped keep internet poker’s glory days going. He lost $4.5 million through the online game. But Phua has made plenty of money through gambling in other areas.
The days of online poker whales experiencing massive losses may be long gone. But this still marks one of the game’s most interesting chapters.