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    The Full Tilt Poker Chronicles Part 2

    Posted by Quad Jacks June 15, 2011


    A source claiming to be very close to Full Tilt Poker has confided that, after the passage of the UIGEA in September of 2006, Full Tilt Poker ceased to provide the buy-ins to the WSOP for its Red Pros, but continued to do so for its Team members, “including this one.” (2011) If true, then one of the implications is that Red Pros were entitled to WSOP buy-ins on the company’s dime until 2006. Whether the source refers to multiple WSOP events or just the Main is unclear.

    An excerpt from Des Wilson’s 2008 book “Ghosts at the Table” provides some context. In describing the impact of the UIGEA at the time, Wilson writes:

    “… Other privately owned sites, led by Poker Stars, Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt, have decided that the law is open to challenge and have kept in business, and at least initially profited as the number of players on these sites increased.
    One of the companies that backed away was Harrah’s, the World Series promoter. It announced that it would not accept players paid for by the online sites. The sites responded by saying they would pay the $10,000 buy in to the players’ bank accounts and that they could buy in themselves… Many feared, however, that the temptation to pocket the $10,000 rather than travel to Las Vegas would be too great for many.” (Emphasis mine.)

    It is not immediately clear whether “players” refers to the sites’ pros, the online qualifiers, or both. A WaybackMachine.org search indicates that, in the case of Full Tilt Poker, their sponsored pros in August of 2006 were approximately 40 (Team and Red Pros included), versus their +150 of today, making the possible backing of all the pros back then much less expensive than it would be today.


    A distinction in benefits as suggested above prompts an examination into the nature of “Team Full Tilt.” Prior to the events of Black Friday, it was largely believed by many that the Team Full Tilt members were essentially the owners of the company, or at least key decision makers. Since then, the matter has been debated, and the exact roles and responsibilities each member retains remain uncertain.

    As far as Team Full Tilt members are concerned, in a private conversation, a top Full Tilt pro recently put the order of the Top 5 equity holders as follows:

    1) Howard Lederer
    2) Chris Ferguson
    3) Phil Ivey
    4) Erik Seidel
    5) John Juanda

    The history of how Team Full Tilt first came together and their involvement in launching the site is not yet very well documented. This Card Player article from August of 2006 (one month before the passage of the UIGEA) states, “a group of players and investors formed a Los Angeles-based company called Tiltware LLC [in 2003]” and places Howard Lederer as president and Ray Bitar as CEO.

    In his autobiography “Checkraising the Devil,” Mike Matusow, who would go on to become a Team Full Tilt member later, recounts how he initially passed on the opportunity to invest.

    “Howard Lederer had contacted me right after the Aruba win [in 2004] and insisted that I take the rest of my Aruba money and invest in Full Tilt Poker. The site was in the middle of fund raising and I would have become an owner, which would be worth untold millions today. What I did instead was place the rest of the Aruba money, almost $200,000 with a buddy of mine in Vegas so that he could place sports bets for me while I was in jail.” (Emphasis again mine.)

    Another Team Full Tilt member and original investor with whom we met months before Black Friday confirmed that, at the time of initial investment, there was just the promise of ownership (as opposed to a fixed salary). Mike Matusow has affirmed on several occasions that while he is today a Team member, he has no ownership in the company. Some have suggested that, in many respects, “Team Full Tilt” is largely a promotional asset, and that not all members are necessarily owners or decision-makers.

    Speaking of promotional contributions, notable is the case of Clonie Gowen, which appears to differ from Matusow’s. She claims that, in 2004, she was promised 1% ownership by Howard Lederer and Ray Bitar in exchange for “promotional” efforts such as this one. I could not find any mention of or reference to an initial monetary investment on her part. She unsuccessfully filed suit against Full Tilt Poker in 2008 for breach of contract, a legal case which has recently been reviewed and reopened.


    In the days following Black Friday, we had numerous Super Nova Elites on the program who reported that PokerStars Steve was directly contacting them and volunteering PokerStars support if they chose to move to another country to keep playing on the site. This initiative does not seem to have been taken by Full Tilt Poker. One Red Pro we spoke to in private in late May claimed that the only email he had received from Full Tilt management was a request that all Full Tilt pros abstain from speaking to the media. When Melanie Weisner, another Red Pro, was on the program recently, she admitted that communication between Full Tilt management and the Red Pros, including herself and those she knew, had been very scant at best, and that she had to be the one to initiate talks of moving to another country to keep playing online.

    In a blog post from June 8, Red Pro Brandon Adams writes that, “Full Tilt sent out an email to US pros that leaves all US deals in an ambiguous standing.” And yet, on June 7, Kathy Liebert tweeted the following:

    @agentmarco just told by a red pro that received letter from Tilt “mgmt” asking why aren’t you wearing your patch

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