Even when a poker player is considered to be great at what he does, it still doesn’t make him invulnerable to vices that can ruin a life and these 10 players are the best examples of this.
10. Gavin Smith
Gavin Smith has long been considered a great tournament pro and his results back up this claim with more than $6 million in tournament winnings and a WSOP bracelet. However, if you were to run into Smith any time before 2010, chances were he was drunk.
Smith’s moment of clarity came at the end of 2009 when he took a good hard look at how much he was actually drinking. By his calculations, it was at least 20 drinks a day almost every day of the year. This realization led him to quit drinking all together for a time. Even though he still is a social drinker, for now it seems he’s never fallen back into the pre-2010 pattern.
9. Ilari Sahamies
In 2007, a wild new player emerged at Full Tilt Poker’s high stakes tables with the screen name, “Ziigmund.” His playing style could only be defined as reckless, with swings in the millions of dollars.
It later came to light that this was a Finnish player named, “Ilari Sahamies.” At the time it was not known, but Ilarie later admitted that most of the time he played online he was drunk. He went on to say that he probably lost close to $3 million while playing drunk.
8. Mr. Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova
You might have a drinking problem if you get so drunk that you lose a bet and have to legally change your name to “Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova,” as one New Zealander found out.
The name was carefully crafted to contain 99 characters, one short of the legal limit in the country, and now appears on all of the man’s official documents, which is pretty stupid and awesome at the same time.
7. Bill Smith
Bill Smith was a renowned player in his day and reached three WSOP Main Event final tables, finally taking down the whole thing in 1985. Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic.
One of the pros who knew him well was T.J. Cloutier. Cloutier once said that Smith was at his best when playing half-drunk, while being awful playing sober or totally drunk. Unfortunately, he could not walk that “fine line.”
Speaking of T.J. Cloutier…
6. T.J. Cloutier
Substance abuse problems come in different shapes and sizes and sometimes, they come in the form of a craps table and dice.
T.J. Cloutier is an incredibly accomplished poker player as well as a member of the hall of fame since 2006 and the only person in the history of the WSOP to win bracelets in all three types of Omaha. Unfortunately, he could never plug one leak in his game that resulted in a lot of financial trouble for him. This included allegations of owing lots of money to different people and selling more than 100% of himself in tournaments and then busting on purpose.
Playing craps was always his weakness and the root of it surfaced in an interview with CardPlayer Magazine. When asked about craps, Cloutier stated that he believes the game is beatable, while admitting “it’s not a game you can beat every day.” T.J. seems to be real life proof that it’s actually not beatable.
5. Dan Bilzerian
A survivor of three heart attacks, Dan Bilzerian loves to promote himself as a poker player so there is no way he is staying off this list.
In a recent interview, Dan mentioned that his “wake-up call heart attack” came at the age of 25. To be fair, who could have known that doing ecstasy with cocaine and taking two Viagras can lead to a heart attack?
Dan states that he is pretty much done with hard drugs at this point, though that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from throwing porn stars off roofs.
4. Greg Merson
The WSOP Main Event champ had it pretty hard prior to winning the ME. He became addicted to cocaine and weed at the age of 18. However, it didn’t take long for him to realize his predicament, after which he checked into rehab at the age of 19.
Unfortunately for Greg, he is a great example of someone who needs to take staying clean very seriously. After being clean for more than three years and earning Supernova Elite status on PokerStars in the process, he relapsed after a bad live cash session. This time things were much worse, with cocaine being supplemented by Adderall and other prescription drugs.
Eventually, Greg got clean again in 2011 with the help of his friends and in 2012 he became the Main Event champion.
3. Mike Matusow
Mike Matusow started taking drugs at the start of the 2000 WSOP, when he took ecstasy to cheer up after a bad performance at a final table. Ecstasy led Mike to more serious drugs, including meth and later, cocaine.
All of it might not have ended very quickly for Mike if it wasn’t for him buying two ounces of cocaine for a friend who turned out to be an undercover DEA agent. Overall, after pleading guilty to one count of felony possession for sale, Mike got off pretty easy with a six-month sentence instead of what could have been a ten year sentence.
Eventually, Mike got clean in the summer of 2003 and it seems that he has stayed that way ever since.
2. Scotty Nguyen
Like many people on this list, the winner of the 1998 WSOP Main Event and another four bracelets to go along with that one has a problem with alcohol.
In fact, rumors of Scotty’s alcohol problems were circulating for a long time, but they were finally validated by the way he conducted himself at the 2008 WSOP $50K HORSE Final Table. Even though Scotty ended up winning the event, his behavior did not go over well in the poker community.
He did issue an apology later on, but the fact that he had a problem remained. Since then, Scotty has not been very keen to be in the spotlight and not much is known about the current state of his alcohol problem.
1. Stu Ungar
Considered by many to be the best player to ever sit a poker table, Stu Ungar’s legacy will forever be tarnished by the fact that his drug addiction got the better of him.
Ungar began using cocaine after his mother died in 1979 and unsurprisingly, this soon led to addiction. While he tried to battle his addiction, he never seemed to be able to stay clean and as time went on, the addiction’s grip just grew stronger.
On the third day of the 1990 WSOP Main Event, Ungar was found unconscious after a cocaine overdose in his hotel room. Despite not being able to continue the tournament, Unger had such a massive chip lead that he still ended up finishing 9th after being blinded out.
Winning the 1997 Main Event seemed like the perfect opportunity for Ungar to take the last stand in his battle against cocaine, but it was not meant to be as a year later he was found dead in a hotel room. The cause of death was a heart condition brought on by years of drug abuse.