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For the entirety of his poker career, he has a grand total of one cash at the 2009 World Series of Poker Championship Event. You probably won’t find him in any of the cash games in Las Vegas or California casinos and card rooms and he doesn’t play online; he isn’t a noted author of critical poker strategy books and he isn’t a businessman who has a wealth of success under his belt. But he has become a flashpoint in the poker world through his own self-promotion and through his Instagram feed; he has his own dedicated THREAD on the Two Plus Two message boards where every minutiae regarding him is dissected.
All of this leads one to ask: WHY all the attention on Dan Bilzerian?
Some background on Bilzerian would be a good place to start. His father, Paul Bilzerian, was a corporate “takeover” specialist that was arrested in 1988 on various securities and tax fraud charges (by none other than future New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani). He was found guilty of those charges the next year and sentenced to four years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. The civil suit that was filed against the senior Bilzerian while he was incarcerated is perhaps where the story gets interesting.
The U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit against the senior Bilzerian in 1989 and, four years later, earned a judgment against Bilzerian for $33.1 million of his profits from the charges he was convicted under, plus interest, to make for a grand total of $62 million. In 1991, Bilzerian paid $400,000 in a bankruptcy settlement of debts that totaled $300 million; ten years later, he would do it again while declaring his assets were $15,805 and he was $140 million in debt. So where did the money go that he made while a high-flying Wall Street executive? We’ll let the individual reader try to figure that one out.
Dan Bilzerian, meanwhile, went to college. In a recent interview (and in one of the many comments that seems to have angered many in the poker community) with CardPlayer, Bilzerian said his first semester he “banged 14 hot chicks (and) had a 4.0 GPA.” Then he discovered poker and, within a year after that, was broke. Things changed when he found some discipline, he stated in the interview. “I was one of the first guys to play loose-aggressive (sure there would be some argument there also) and that’s the kind of style that everyone has adopted now.”
Bilzerian then moved onto the military where he admirably nearly completed Navy SEAL training. According to the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom (which oddly called him a “poker champion”), that potential career ended when he cursed out a drill instructor and was discharged. They also pointed out that he is worth $100 million (where did it come from?), that he “cavorts” with actresses and models (the Instagram account verifies that) and, of course, everyone has heard about the alleged $10.8 million won in one night by Bilzerian against an unnamed opponent late last year (all he would state to CardPlayer were the stakes of the game, $5000/$10,000 No Limit Hold’em).
With the background now set, there are two basic camps when it comes to Bilzerian and there is absolutely no middle ground. Some view his lifestyle and excesses and aspire to be just like him or would love to be in his circle (another CardPlayer quote: “I try not to associate with people who don’t have money…unless I’ve been friends with someone for a long time, I’m not looking to make any new poor friends.”). The other camp, however, view him as misogynistic, an “asshole” (hey, he calls himself that on his Twitter account) and the “Kim Kardashian of poker” who is famous for just what, nobody knows.
The bottom line of the Dan Bilzerian phenomenon is that, while a great deal of attention is attributed to him, there are other stories that might be a bit more informative and “pleasant” for promoting the image of poker. Vaunted poker scribe Nolan Dalla penned a story about poker player Jan Fisher which painted a great picture of what we would all like to be. In the past, we’ve heard also about the philanthropic efforts of Victor Ramdin; Guy Laliberte and his “One Drop” foundation also comes to mind; finally, everyone remembers Barry Greenstein, who once gave all of his tournament profits to charity (and still contributes some, but not all).
Bilzerian gets the press because of his outlandishness, not because he is a good poker player or even a good businessman (he did have a piece of 2013 WSOP Championship Event runner-up Jay Farber, which netted him some additional cash for whatever). He gets the attention because of who he runs with (models and actresses) and the extravagance of his lifestyle. He is not, however, someone who is a good representative of the game (he has potentially had an epiphany on this subject, making small charitable donations to families in need).
It is far from anyone’s prerogative to tell Dan Bilzerian how to go about living his life. It can be the poker media’s prerogative, and the mainstream media in general, to decide whether to cover it or not. When he wins a big tournament or makes a run at a Player of the Year award, then it will be the time to cast the poker world’s gaze in his direction. Until then, let Dan Bilzerian do his thing and let’s concentrate on the world of poker, where there are already enough great stories rather than creating one.