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Gus and Luske

by Jesse May |  Published: Jul 06, 2005


It was somewhere during the third hour of a live heat at the British Poker Open last month that I just gave up. Gus Hansen was playing every single pot live on TV, we could see every one of his holecards, and after three hours of trying to quantify just how good a poker player this man is by speaking about Gus' three WPT titles, his reputation, and his lauded credentials from all of poker's top echelon of players, and after talking about how good at poker Gus Hansen just has to be, I plum gave up. I gave up and watched, and basically laughed myself silly, because I had to admit that I had no idea what was going on.

Poker is a very strange game, and tournament no-limit hold'em is a freakish outpost of the craziest oddities. But somewhere between the time when Gus went all in on the flop against the Devilfish with a 7-5 suited and when he called off all his chips before the flop with Q-9, I was thinking that had an amateur been sitting in the same seat as Gus and making those same moves, there would be nothing else to talk about except that this player has a lot to learn. And I'm left thinking not much about poker at all, except in the ways that it may relate to Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock was a painter. But maybe he wasn't. He was called a madman, nutcase, and a whole host of other names not nearly as complimentary. Pollock broke every rule known in the painting world while creating the kind of art that has since been imitated but not much repeated. Pollock didn't use a paintbrush, didn't subscribe to theories of composition, and toward the end of his life, stopped using color altogether and painted only in black and cigarette butts. And Jackson Pollock is now generally regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

Gus Hansen reminds me a little of what I imagine Pollock to have been. Gus has a light in his eyes and a deeply intense stare, and he's got that shaved head usually reserved for asylum inhabitants and crackpot scientists. Gus has a secret smile all of his own and absolute confidence when he makes a play. And he doesn't care a whit what the world around him thinks about his poker. The conventions of painting, composition and form, and the balance of color, these are the starting hands of hold'em that we all know so well, aces and kings and percentages before the flop. And Gus shucks them out like just so many oyster shells, he who is concerned only with the pearls that lie within.

That's one explanation. The other is that Gus really is mad, that he's crazy and lucky and his three WPT titles were acquired through a confluence of the moons, that world-class players are bigging the Gus Hansen game all over the place because they want more people to play like him. But I will tell you one thing for sure. Give me Gus Hansen, under the table cameras and live TV, and I'll wear out a bucket of popcorn watching. It's hugely entertaining poker, and if you don't learn loads, at least it'll make you think.

Speaking of artists, our cover story this month features a European player who has also painted a large swath of poker success, the bold and bright-stroked Marcel "The Flying Dutchman" Luske. The first time I ever met Marcel was in the studio of Late Night Poker in November 2001. Marcel had come out of nowhere to win five major European titles in 2001, along with over a dozen other final-table placings, and the question on everybody's lips was, "Flash in the pan or superstar?" He showed up in his trademark suit and tie, dark sunglasses upside down, every hair in place, and a gentleman from top to bottom, and the answer was that I just didn't care; clearly, Marcel was good for poker. Four years later, Marcel has only gone from peak to peak. His achievement in making the final two tables at the last two World Series of Poker main events is nearly unmatched, and along with the nearly $2 million Marcel has earned in tournament poker, he has shown himself to be a true ambassador for the game. The joy that Marcel brings to the poker world, what with his singing at the table and his accessibility for the fans, has made him a European number one.

It was late in the night on the sixth day of the 2004 WSOP and Marcel had just busted out an unlucky 10th, one shy of the final table and all the glories associated therein. I didn't know who was more gutted – Marcel, or myself and the camera crew who had been following him intently for a week in what we had begun to think was a slam dunk for the championship. But as Marcel walked out of that tournament area, head held high, his tie loosened but his suit jacket firmly in place, as the intensity of six days of adrenalin flowed out of his body and any man anywhere would have wanted to just go home and cry, Marcel took the time to stop for an interview and say, in his halting way, how it's the competition that's the great thing, that he tried his best and had no regrets at all. It's times like that when I think the term "A life in poker" has an honorable ring. And poker needs people like that.