POKER

Winning and losing millions playing poker with Elton Tsang (part 2)

TAGs: Elton Tsang

Lee Davy concludes his two-part discussion with the high stakes poker player Elton Tsang, concentrating on this biggest bad beat to date, and how it’s impacted his love for the game. 

What follows is the concluding part of a two-part story.

Begin by reading Part 1.

Winning and losing millions playing poker with Elton Tsang (Part 2)With the food out of the way, and all the green tea in China poured down our throats, it was time for Elton Tsang to share the greatest bad beat story of his life.

It isn’t your typical bad beat story.

After listening I didn’t feel like hanging myself, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth, something that is happening with increasing regularity in the poker world these days.

“It was in August at EPT Barcelona. I wasn’t planning to go; then I realised that my friends Richard Yong, Winfred Yu, and John Juanda were going, so I decided to go over, maybe play a tournament, it’s a beautiful place. I had no intention of playing a cash game. 

“The next thing I know, Leon {Tsoukernik} was hosting a cash game. Richard introduced me to him. I had never met him before. I didn’t know him. He was hosting the game and asked Richard if my credit was good, and Richard said that it was. 

“The first game was €1k/€2k with a mandatory straddle to €4k. I, along with the other players, bought in for €400,000. Richard Young, Winfred Yu, Peter Chan, Leon Tsoukenik, Tony Guoga, Fedor Holz, Daniel Cates, and I played in that first game. 

“I was down over one million rather quickly and took as much as two million in chips and was down over 1.4 million at one point. It turned around when we increased the blinds to 2000/4000/8000 and eventually 5000/10000. Players sat out one by one, leaving me to play with Tony G, Jungleman and Leon. Near the end of the session, I was up 2.8 million where I had all the chips on the table. Leon asked me to play him heads up at 10,000/20,000 where he would buy in for one more million. I said okay, and ended up losing 1.4m back to him. I ended the day up 1.32 million. 

“During the game, Leon would write down on a piece of paper all the player’s scores, specifically how much chips each player took and returned, and their net winning or lost. He also counted the chips while he distributed it out and collected it back. He would then announce to each player and get confirmation. These chips looked like regular casino chips with the said denomination on it. However, I suspect that these chips have no cash value and is borrowed to Leon by the casino, although I cannot be sure. Since me nor any of my friends that played bought any cash to the casino, I would have to assume that this is a credit game, where credits are given by Leon, and hence everybody settles their winnings or losses with Leon. 

“The next day,  I received messages from Peter that Leon has asked me to go play in the poker game. I got up and went down to the casino immediately.  When I arrived, Leon and Peter was playing along with Phillip Gruissem and Igor Kurganov.  They were playing 2000/4000 when I arrived. Shortly after I arrived, Peter left and the blinds of the game increased to 2000/4000/8000. Once again, I took a total of 2 million in chips and lost around 1.4 million at one point. I was lucky enough to win a flip against Igor and doubled up back to 1.3m. Leon stood up for a while, and I ended up playing Phillip and Igor three handed until 10 am. I was fortunate enough to only lose 130,000 euros that day. 

“On the same day, I had been awake since 4 am, Leon messaged me to start the game around 5 pm. I arrived at 6 pm, and we finally started the game playing four handed. This time, it was Daniel Cates, Leon Tsoukenik and Christoph Vogelsang. The blinds were 5,000/10,000, and we all bought in for one million euros.   

We played for about three hours, but Leon and I played the three biggest pots. In the first hand, I had 77 and raised to 25k preflop under the gun. It gets folded back to Leon in the big blind who made it 75k. I called, and the flop came 843 rainbow. Leon bet 200,000, and I called. The turn was a Jack, and he checked. I checked behind giving a free card of 9 on the river. Now Leon with a stack of over 600k behind decides to go all in. The hand didn’t make much sense to me, so I called with my 77, and he called out ‘Ace high’. I took down the first major all in pot and Leon reloaded for another million. 

“A few rounds later, Leon decided to move seats and sat on the left of Daniel and the right of Christoph. Another big hand: this time, Leon raises on the button to 50k, and I called with 99. The flop came 733, and I check called a 150k bet on the flop. The turn came an 8, and I checked again.  This time Leon goes all in for over 800k, a massive over bet. I called him again, and the nine came on the river. Leon looked like he was bluffing again as he was shy to show his cards at showdown, but I quickly showed him my 99 as I didn’t want to slow roll him in a big pot. I was awarded my second all in pot of the day. 

“Leon reloaded for another million and started getting some momentum back in the next few rounds. He won back 500k + and had over 1.5 million in front of him. I was still the chip leader as the other two players barely got involved in any big pot.  

“The last big hand encountered when Leon raised on the button to 50k and Christoph in the small blind called. I picked up AA in the big blind and made it 200k total. Both players called to see a flop for T93. I led out with a 400k bet and Leon called while Christoph folded. The turn came a very safe 2, and I went all in. Leon called his remaining stack of about 900k and showed A9 for middle pair. The river didn’t help him, and he lost a total of 3 million euros. He reloaded for another two million and didn’t play for long before his wife arrived. This was around 9.30 pm. The results of the game were: 

“Elton +3.375m (I counted it, while Daniel also counted it for me)

Daniel -200k (I eyed it while Daniel confirmed his scores with me the next day)

Christoph -65k (I eyed it while Christoph confirmed his scores with me the next day)

Leon -3.11m (I eyed it, and as a result of based on the other three players).” 

“Shortly after his wife arrived, Leon left the table and said he would be back shortly. The game paused after Leon left. Chris and I had aWinning and losing millions playing poker with Elton Tsang (Part 2) meal on the table while we waited for Leon to return. After the meal, we waited longer for Leon, but he still hasn’t come back. About half hour later at 10 pm, I counted my chips and eyeballed the other player’s chips before I went out for a walk outside the casino to talk to some friends. To be honest, I was worried at that point as to whether I would get paid, as the amount Leon has lost has become very substantial. I had a long chat, but haven’t stayed in the casino to wait for Leon. 

“At around 10:30 pm, according to Daniel Cates and Richard Yong who was at the poker room at that time, Leon finally came back and asked Richard, Daniel and Christoph why the game stopped. Richard said, ‘I don’t know’, while I’m not sure what the others told him. Leon then quickly picked up all the chips and left.   

“Then on August 27th, Leon messaged me and asked me for a short meeting. I went down to the hotel coffee shop to meet him. During the meeting, he proposed to settle my winnings for the first two games only. And wishes to cancel the last game. I asked him why and no reasons were given.  He only stated that “this is a proposal he’s giving me”. 

“On the same day, six hours later, I asked him to meet again, and we met at the same coffee shop. I explained to him that it’s not possible to just forget the last game we played and that it’s only right if he pays in full. I explained that I won the money fair and square, and there isn’t any reasons to cancel the results of the last game. He later gave a reason saying that he thinks the game was strange and not fair.   

“He explained further and said it was not possible for me to call him whenever he was bluffing and folded when he had the best hand. I simply didn’t have a good enough hand to call him with I explained.  

“He was acting like gentlemen throughout the meeting. He wasn’t angry or aggressive. He was speaking like it was a business deal. He kept saying, “Do you want your €1.2m or not?” 

“At the end of our second meeting. He said there are no disputes over the first two sessions and would settle the 1.19 million I won on Monday. I was lost. I was thinking about all the things I can do. I ask all my friends and the people in the game about what I should do? Most people said give him some time and let him think about it. Then for the next two weeks or so Leon ignores all of my messages, and he just didn’t want to talk to me. I was furious. It’s worse when the guy completely ignores you. He just said I am not going to pay you.  

“I know he took massive pieces of Jungleman and Christoph, over 90%, so it was me against those three. I also know he was doing similar things with Igor, Philipp, and some of the other western pros. 

“Eventually, after months and a lot of convincing he paid the €1.2m. In those first three games, I was sure he was a winner. If he didn’t pay me that €1.2m that means he collected all the money from the other players, and my winnings, and didn’t pay me. He always wanted to use the €1.2m for leverage. 

“It was like he was saying: “I am going to settle. I will give you some but not the full amount.” 

“He was negotiating with me. He is the owner of a casino. He knows the gambling laws very well. He knows gambling debts are not enforceable in Europe. After a few weeks, Eddy Scharf contacts me to negotiate on his behalf. He told me to take the €1.2m because gambling debts are not enforceable in Europe and I am lucky he is offering me the €1.2m. 

“I contacted some lawyers, and to be honest, they told me the same thing. Gambling debts aren’t enforceable. The game that he hosted is not even legal even though we were inside the casino. It was a credit game, so I can’t sue him for it. 

“Eventually, Tony G stepped in as the middle man – same result. Tony G sounded like he was on my side. I have played with him before. He said I know you didn’t cheat. Leon will eventually realise he made a mistake, but it’s probably in your best interest to take the €1.2m and then let the rest go. 

“Months have gone by. I can’t sleep. It’s bothering me day and night. I often think about it and would have tears in my eyes; the sadness of how this guy treated me like this. I gave him action. I was losing €2m, and I am sure had I lost I would have had to pay. Then I win, and he gives me no reason why he wouldn’t pay me. 

“Philipp Gruissem was the only person to tell him to pay. Leon was like who’s side are you on? Why are you trying to help these Chinese guys? Philipp took a big hit after that. A lot of these German players made their money through Leon, and they don’t want to piss him off. Leon banned Phillip from the games {Leon later refuted this allegation}. Winfred stuck up for me, and Leon told him it was none of his business. 

“For the next couple of moWinning and losing millions playing poker with Elton Tsang (Part 2)nths, my emotions and mind are focused on nothing but this issue. It was a shit time in my life, depressed, saddened; it was one of the worst times in my life. When my friends lost money to me and needed time to pay back, I would be ok with that. But this is different. He just isn’t paying me. 

“I had no options at that time. I spoke to Phil Ivey and asked him what he would do. He said to take the €1.2m and ask for the rest after. I took the €1.2m. After that, Leon would send me texts asking me if I wanted to play in the game. He would invite me to the casino, wanting me to shake hands, and have a photo. 

“He was contacting me as if nothing had happened. Then the Matt Kirk thing happened. I thought about speaking up to the media before, but I was too busy with my life. When the Matt Kirk thing happened, I knew it was the time to speak up because it wasn’t the first time he had done it. 

“To be honest, I’m not expecting him to pay me back. I think he is stubborn and strong in that sense. He has told me that he doesn’t care if I tell the public. I believe he does. I think he wants the fame, to be cool, to be in the media. I have heard from others that he has done this to other people. I am afraid of what he will do back to me as well, right?”

Wow.

That’s what I call a bad beat. Leon Tsoukernik is a European Poker Award (EPA) winner for services to the poker community. King’s Casino recently partnered with the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) in a multi-year deal.

These were serious allegations.

I told Elton that I would have to reach out to Leon for comment, and Elton nodded his head before continuing. 

“Leon sent a lot of people to talk to me during this time, and they hinted to me that Leon is not a boy scout and stuff like that. Hinting that he has a background, etc, etc. I’m like whatever, if he is going to kill me, he is going to kill me. 

“I wish I could pursue it legally, but it would be a waste of money. I could do it to add more pressure, but my lawyer’s advice is there is nothing legal I can do about it. At this point, it’s not about the money anymore. Many people have tried to talk sense to him. He has had a year to talk to individuals who know me.  

“I have come across a lot of people who have lost, didn’t want to pay, bad mouthed me, and people who have tried to angle me, and you get a lot of these types of people in these games. There are always sore losers. They are nice, and when they lose an amount that’s important Winning and losing millions playing poker with Elton Tsang (Part 2)to them, they turn into a different person.  

“This time, it’s the biggest amount that I have not been paid. And he has just said I’m not paying you. He did pay the €1.2m, instalments of €300k per month. I want to get this out into the system, so nobody falls for his trap. He was the EPA winner, and he doesn’t deserve that. Everyone in High Stakes knows what he has done to me.” 

On the one hand, it’s a shock, especially considering the personnel involved, and the amounts disputed, on the other hand, it’s not a surprise, it’s another story in a game where betrayal plays such a consistent and regular role.

I asked Tsang what he has learned from the whole experience? 

“I have learned that credit games are not legal in Europe, and it’s better not to play, especially if you don’t know the person. Be a lot more careful next time and don’t get into these situations. I could have easily lost €3m in that lineup. I got lucky. I know he took massive pieces of Jungleman and Christoph, over 90%, so it was me against those three. I also know he was doing similar things with Igor, Philipp, and some of the other western pros. Given the fact that I found out that he was ganging up on me – not cheating – but when you have all the action on the table, it’s me versus him heads-up, but there are three of them.” 

After the interview with Elton Tsang, I thanked him for his time and left London with much to ponder.

I knew, because of the severity of the allegations, that I had to reach out to Leon Tsoukernik.

Below is a statement from him.

Leon Tsoukernik Statement 

I am both a casino owner and poker player. Both fields require skill and integrity. Also in both, I have been fortunate to yield significant results. King’s Casino is the biggest poker room in Europe and this year we have the honour of hosting the WSOP Europe. I am not a professional poker player, but I love to play mainly high stakes cash game poker. That said, in tournaments, I placed 4th in this year’s Super High Roller Bowl in Vegas and won the final EPT Super High Roller in Prague. 

As much as I would like to specifically address the completely erroneous statements made by Elton I cannot due to the fact that I am involved in pending litigation. I will say this, Elton’s account of the events is fiction and it fails to address the specific facts which lead to an extremely revealing and embarrassing situation for him. I will be more than happy to give a full and accurate account of his actions when it is appropriate. 

I am not ashamed of what decades of hard work has earned me – it has afforded me the time and resources to play poker. As a poker player and individual, I believe in personal responsibility and accountability. Unfortunately, I have come to learn that some people take advantage of knowing me and target me when I play poker cash games. I have thus experienced a variety of practices in the game which corrupt the sport of the game. For example, poker collusion, marked cards, and hired professionals. I have many stories to tell, but I prefer to fight it my own way with the support of the courts of justice and other poker entrepreneurs instead of fighting rumours and lies over the internet. 

I believe in justice. People carrying out these actions know that the only way they can affect me is spreading their lies and stirring negative PR. I am not afraid of this. I have already won a court case concerning the ownership of the domain tsoukernik.com, which was purposely purchased by an Asian individual to share lies and blackmail me. The court, after getting all the evidence, confirmed without doubt my rights and the domain had to be transferred to my ownership. 

For all the casino or poker entrepreneurs, what has happened to me in the past is very harmful behaviour that damages the industry and poker as a game. I will fight all the groups or individuals who use these practices to take unfair advantage of honest poker players. I have been approached by other successful businessmen who have faced similar situations and perhaps been targeted.  Maybe all of them cannot, or do not want to fight. The fact that I have now been involved in two public scandals is solely because of my willingness to fight back. I can’t promise that there won’t by another issue in the future because If I am wronged I refuse to accept injustice and quietly go away. For me, I hate to get cheated personally but also see it as a duty to stick up for other players that have and may in the future find themselves in a similar situation.

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