As one of poker’s preeminent players during the pre-Moneymaker era, Erick Lindgren established himself as a superstar well before the general public began flocking to the felt. Beginning with a win at the Bellagio Five Diamond Poker Classic in 2002, Lindgren kicked off a staggering run of six-figure scores, earning $500,000 for a first-place performance on the World Poker Tour the following year, and taking down a cool $1 million for another WPT victory in 2004.
By the time Lindgren ran off another impressive streak in 2005 – earning more than $850,000 between January and February alone following three final table appearances – the man known as “E-Dog” to friends and fans had the world of poker in the palm of his hand. A member of the original Team Full Tilt, he got in on the ground floor of the online poker industry’s incredible rise, supplementing his income with one of the most lucrative sponsorship agreements in the game. Unfortunately for Lindgren, fast money and fame proved to be fickle mistresses, and despite a decade of dominance on the felt, the debt-ridden pro was forced to declare bankruptcy twice in the last four years.
His path from poker prodigy to pariah has proven to be illustrative of the poker world’s darker elements, and today Lindgren’s name stands as a testament to the many temptations encountered by those who make bets to earn a buck. But it wasn’t always this way, and at one point, Lindgren appeared to be forging a path to the iconic status enjoyed today by former peers like Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Hellmuth.
Lindgren was born in the tiny town of Burney, California in 1976, and as a child, he devoted considerable energy to athletic pursuits. Spending much of his free time on a field or court, Lindgren’s competitive drive was forged early on, and in time would come to define his personal and professional lives.
After enrolling at Butte Junior College at the age of 18, Lindgren took a part-time job as a blackjack dealer in a local casino. Eventually, his analytical nature compelled Lindgren to study other card games in detail, with the goal being to find a beatable game in which skilled players could consistently earn a profit. This led him to Texas Hold’em of course, and in the pre-poker boom days, Lindgren’s natural talent for the game made him an immediate winner. He soon made the decision to drop out of school and pursue poker as a full-time professional, a decision which proved to pay immediate dividends.
In fact, Lindgren’s very first tournament cash resulted in a first-place performance back in 2000, after the then 24-year old parlayed a $120 buy-in into a $7,300 haul playing Limit Hold’em.
Playing alongside highly skilled pros like John Juanda, Erik Seidel, and Chris Ferguson – each of whom would go on to become founding members of Full Tilt Poker in 2004 – Lindgren absorbed poker knowledge like a sponge. By the time his first big win came in 2002 at the Bellagio, Lindgren’s reputation as one of the best players on the planet was undeniable.
The aforementioned launch of Full Tilt Poker in 2004 provided a defining moment in Lindgren’s life, with his status as a founding member of the online poker titan entitled him to a level of prestige enjoyed by only a select group of pros. Soon enough, Lindgren’s face could be seen on televised final tables, omnipresent advertisements for Full Tilt, and throughout the litany of made-for-TV poker shows which flooded the airwaves during that time.
Lindgren’s performance on the felt continued to put him in the upper echelon of poker’s elite, and after winning more than $800,000 in two months to kick off 2005, he refused to let up. In 2006 he made two more WPT final tables, including a win in the Five Star World Poker Classic for $261,555, and by the time World Series of Poker season arrived that summer, he was in top form. Lindgren nearly captured his first WSOP gold bracelet that year, registering a runner-up finish in the $5,000 Short-Handed No-Limit Hold’em event while adding another $357,435 to his bankroll.
By the time Lindgren won the 2007 Aussie Millions $100,000 buy-in high-roller championship event for $795,279, many poker fans and pros alike firmly considered “E-Dog” to be the world’s premier poker player.
Lindgren made headlines that year for another big win, this one resulting from a successful prop bet made with a group of fellow pros, the likes of which included Ivey and Gavin Smith. Wagering $350,000 that he could score under 100 in four consecutive rounds at a Las Vegas golf course, all within a period between sunrise and sunset, Lindgren successfully completed the endurance challenge to collect yet another six-figure score. While the poker media ate up the exploits of “E-Dog,” this episode provided an early glimpse into Lindgren’s affinity for betting on anything he could.
The hits kept on coming for Lindgren, and he won his first WSOP bracelet in 2008, while his results on the felt remained consistent through 2011. But when federal legislation effectively shuttered the online poker industry on April 15th of that year, a date known to the poker world as “Black Friday,” the castle of cash Lindgren had seemingly built was revealed to be as fragile as a house of cards.
As one of the founding members of Full Tilt Poker, Lindgren had been receiving dividend payments from the company amounting to approximately $250,000 per month. When that cash flow was suddenly halted due to Black Friday, Lindgren found himself in a perilous position –and one of his own making.
In March of 2012, a player named Max Wienberg took to the popular 2+2 poker forum to publically out Lindgren for unpaid debts, accusing “E-Dog” of losing $11,000 in fantasy football and never settling up. Soon enough a wave of similar stories was posted to the thread, and the poker world discovered that Lindgren had buried himself beneath a pile of unpaid debts related to his sports betting habit. By the time respected sports bettor Haralabos Voulgaris went public with allegations that Lindgren had owed him in excess of six-figures for several years running, the writing was on the wall.
Another revelation in October further impugned Lindgren’s previously strong reputation, after a member of Team Full Tilt aired the company’s dirty laundry when it came to debts. According to Howard Lederer, Lindgren had taken out a $2 million loan from Full Tilter Chris Ferguson, but the latter accidentally sent that sum to Lindgren twice. Rather than return the additional $2 million, Lindgren simply kept the funds and used them to subsidize his quickly devolving addiction to sports betting.
When the holiday season rolled around in 2012, Lindgren checked himself into a rehabilitation facility to address his gambling addiction. During an interview with the recently defunct Bluff magazine in 2013, conducted shortly after completing his stint in rehab, Lindgren offered the following take on his financial status:
“I think that a lot of people don’t realize that since 2004, I’ve paid back, before I ever got a Full Tilt payment, I had paid back over $3 million in debt. I was probably $6 million in debt in ’04 and I paid about $3 million, and then at various times I lost a lot of money in golf or sports. I took some hits and I was probably at my worst about $10 million in debt. Going in to Black Friday I think I had it down under $2 million.”
According to Lindgren, the mess began as early as 2003 and 2004, when he began betting sums in excess of $50,000 and $100,000 on single sports wagers facilitated by Voulgaris. When the tide began to turn and Lindgren’s losses mounted, he made the classic mistake that has felled many former winners. As he related to Bluff in his post-rehab interview, Lindgren believed he could bet his way out of the mounting debts:
“I was betting very big, $50K to $100K per game, and then I started losing and flipped that down to where I was stuck, I think I paid $400,000 once and $500,000 once. So I was down $900,000 to them. And then I lost I think another $2.3 million. I was in a really bad spot and I tried to gamble my way out of it, which we all know is not the way to go. And I buried myself pretty hard.”
Eventually, with the $2 million loan overpayment still owed to Full Tilt having been purchased by PokerStars after the latter company acquired its former rival, Lindgren was forced to declare bankruptcy for the first time in June of 2012. Despite continued success on the felt, including $1.2 million in earnings between his second WSOP bracelet win and a runner-up finish in WPT play in 2013 alone, Lindgren was unable to balance the ledger of his life. A second bankruptcy filing made headlines in June of this year, revealing that Lindgren held just $50,000 in liquid assets, while still facing debts in excess of $11 million to an assortment of creditors – including $2.5 million in unpaid Full Tilt loans now due to PokerStars, and $3.8 million owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Currently, Lindgren has amassed one of the most decorated records in all of poker, earning more than $10 million in tournament play alone. He stands as the 34th winningest tournament player of all time, an honor made even more impressive by virtue of the fact that he lacks the massive, multimillion-dollar scores that define the modern game. With a pair of WPT titles to go along with his two WSOP bracelets, Lindgren holds the necessary hardware to be considered among the game’s greats. But due to a disastrous lack of self-control, a tendency toward addictive behavior, and a staggering run of poor decisions, Lindgren has nothing to show for that decade of utter dominance within the world of elite tournament poker.