The original 9 member of "Team Full Tilt" who founded the player-friendly poker site in 2004 have gone on an odyssey in eight short years. Because the cardroom had immediate name recognition, tv viewers who became online poker players in the wake of the Poker Boom of 2003 and 2004 naturally flocked to FullTilt.
The site became one of the biggest poker rooms in the world, attracting even more team members as time went on through friendship, success, and business savvy.
Given the many people who've worn the Team Full-Tilt patch over the years, it's become hard to tell who were the original founders. The confusion has spread, because any two articles online seem to get the numbers and personalities completely different.
In the wake of Black Friday, federal indictments, and the civil lawsuit filed by U.S. authorities, it's become more important to know who founded Full Tilt Poker if you're a poker fan wanting to follow the case. So I wanted to provide accurate information about how originally founded Full Tilt Poker and what those people are doing now.
Before we get into the history, a bit about the present. Full Tilt (no longer Full Tilt Poker - just Full Tilt) was acquired by PokerStars after Black Friday and is now owned by Amaya (after Amaya acquired PokerStars). That means none of the individuals we're discussing in this article are in any way involved with the modern Full Tilt, which you can check out by clicking below.
Back to the history lesson.
Ten people founded Full Tilt Poker, though only 9 were members of Team Full Tilt. These members were Chris Ferguson, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, John Juanda, Eric Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, and Andy Bloch. The tenth FullTilt founder, Ray Bitar, served as CEO of the company, at least until he turned himself in to US authorities after being indicted in 2011. Phil Gordon, as famous for his television commentary as his poker playing, was a key member of the team, because he and his programmers helped create the Tiltware software which powered FullTilt. Andy Bloch is thought to have been a key cog in recruiting others.
Non-founders like Mike Matusow and Gus Hansen came along fairly quickly, but it's unknown whether either of these men were co-owners in the site, which is an important distinction, given the current state of affairs. I'm assuming Gus Hansen is not, since he started his own poker site (since sold) in 2003. Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius, and Allen Cunningham all joined the team later.
That explains who the original members of the team were, so let's take a look at what they're each doing these days.
Phil Ivey is the most popular member of the group and has had the most successful career, totaling 8 WSOP bracelets, 28 final tables, and 51 money finishes. Despite never having won the World Series of Poker Main Event, he finished in the top 25 four times between 2002 and 2009, a feat which is more remarkable in its own way.
Phil Ivey sat out of the 2011 World Series of Poker, saying he wasn't going to play when others at FullTilt couldn't join in. Around the same time, he sued the cardroom for breach of contract, calling for $150,000,000 in damages. According to the HighStakesDB website, Phil Ivey collected $18.66 million from FullTilt Poker from 2007 to 2010. He continues to play a tournament schedule, winning the Aussie Millions A$250,000 High-roller tournament in January 2012. As of July 2012, Ivey has won over $16,000,000 all-time in poker events, which places him third behind Antonio Esfandiary and Erik Seidel.
The 52 year old Erik Seidel also has 8 WSOP bracelets, along with 33 final tables and 70 money finishes. Seidel finished 2nd to Johnny Chan in the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event, which is the last time someone won the tournament back-to-back. He's shown losing that tournament in the Matt Damon movie, Rounders, as a build-up for Johnny Chan's appearance in the film. He's won bracelets in five different games, proving he's a master of many forms of poker.
These days, Erik Seidel continues to grind out impressive finishes on the tournament circuit. In 2011 alone, he finished 4th in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure High Roller Event ($295,960), won the Super High Roller Event at the Aussie Million ($2,472,555), finished 2nd at the High Roller Event at the LA Poker Classic ($144,570), won the National Heads-Up Poker Championship ($750,000), finished second at the Hollywood Open ($155,000), won the WTP World Championship $100K Super High Roller event ($1,009,000), and finished second in the Epic Poker League's $20,000 buy-in 6-Max No Limit Hold'em event ($604,000). In total, Erik Seidel has won $16,900,000 at the poker tables in organized events and continues going strong in his fifties.
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Andy Bloch holds a two electrical engineering degrees from MIT and a doctorate from Harvard Law School. In fact, Andy Bloch was a member of the legendary MIT blackjack team. He continually delayed his law career to pursue poker and has won 1 WSOP bracelet and a had 29 money finishes. Andy Bloch had 2 final tables and 8 money finishes on the World Poker Tour. As of 2012, Bloch has won over $4,200,000 in tournament winnings over his career, while providing for several charities. 100% of Andy Bloch's winnings on Full Tilt Poker were donated to charities around the world, while he contributed a $100,000 purse to Darfur charities. While an original member of the Team FullTilt, he has not been indicted for wrongdoing in the case brought by the US Justice Department.
Phil Gordon has never won a World Series of Poker bracelet, but he finished 4th in the 2001 Main Event. He's played on the World Poker Tour a number of years, while he won the 2006 Full Tilt Poker Poker Championship at Red Rock over a table of notable players. His "Tiltboys" designed the software for FullTilt Poker, but he's most famous as the co-host of the first seven seasons of Celebrity Poker. Besides writing poker strategy books and filming poker tip videos, Phil Gordon joined the national board of the Libertarian Party, calling for less government and publicly criticizing the corrupt two-party system that's "created this mess". Gordon also plays the card game, bridge, and has had success on the professional bridge circuit in recent years.
John Juanda has 5 WSOP bracelets and was named Cardplayer Magazine's top tournament player in both 2001 and 2002. Juanda has 30 final tables and 60 money finishes at the WSOP, ranking him 8th all-time in money collected at poker's most famous event. Throughout his poker career, John Juanda has won $11,700,000.
These days, John Juanda maintains his own website, where he continues to display Full Tilt Poker logos. The site offers tips and news updates, though most of the latest news involves Erik Seidel accomplishments. John Juanda did make it into the 5th day of the World Series of Poker Main Event in July 2012, but busted out. Still, making five days in that monster event is still some feat.
Jennifer Harman has 2 World Series of Poker bracelets, 12 final tables, and 30 money finishes. Harman has won over $2,400,000 over her career on the live tournament circuit, but most of her reputation and riches have come in high stakes poker games outside the tourney circuit. Jennifer Harman hosts the Jennifer Harman Charity Poker Tournament every year, where she raises money for the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She's also worked for the Creating Organ Donation Awareness organization and National Kidney Foundation. She's had two kidney transplants herself. Harman is married to Marco Traniello, a stylist, and has twin sons.
Erick Lindgren has 1 WSOP bracelet and 25 money finishes. He has 2 titles on the World Poker Tour, along with 5 final tables and 16 money finishes. In live poker tournaments, Erick Lindgren has pocketed $8,450,000. Since 2011, he's also married to Erica Schoenburg, another famous poker player.
These days, though, Erick Lindgren is mired in a scandal quite apart from the FullTilt Poker troubles, though his own personal problems are no doubt heightened by the loss of the Full Tilt Poker revenues. Starting in 2011, a number of poker players and fantasy football players began to post on the Two+Two gambling forum that Erick Lindgren owed them money. Some of these people have since mentioned he paid them back or they were convinced he would. One poker news site noted that Lindgren used to be paid $250,000 a month by Full Tilt Poker, but since the site no longer accepts bets and is involved in a civil lawsuit by the U.S. government, these revenues have dried up. More amazing, most of the people posting about Erick Lindgren owing them money for gambling loans claim these debts occurred while he was still making a quarter-of-a-million a months. Rumors swirl that the IRS wants money from Erick Lindgren.
Howard Lederer is known as the "Poker Professor" or just "The Professor". His sister is Annie Duke, also a noted professional poker player. Howard Lederer has 2 World Series of Poker bracelets and 43 money finishes, along with a 5th place finish in the 1987 WSOP Main Event. On the World Poker Tour, Lederer has 2 titles, 2 final tables, and 7 money finishes. These days, Howard Lederer is retired from life as a poker player.
As one of the key founders of the Team Full Tilt, Howard Lederer is at the center of the FTP scandal. The U.S. Department of Justice seized the bank accounts owned by Lederer (and others), claiming he must pay back roughly $42 million taken from Full Tilt customers. Officials at the DOJ have suggested Lederer and his alleged accomplices were running a Ponzi scheme.
Chris "Jesus" Ferguson is one of the most recognizable poker players of the day, with his long brown hair, accompanying beard, and black cowboy hat. He's also known for his analytical game, which helped Ferguson win 5 WSOP bracelets and finish in the money 64 times. Chris Ferguson was also the winner of the 2000 World Series of Poker Main Event, which was meant to usher in an era of more mathematical play at the poker table. When Chris Ferguson helped found FullTilt Poker in 2004, he was one of the faces that helped make FTP so famous and drew in so many high-stakes gamblers. In 2011, the US Justice Department made Chris Ferguson one of the defendants (along with Lederer and Rafe Furst) in a case stating these men took funds from an account marked to pay customers, while laying about the safety and security of the funds. Lawyers for Ferguson have denied the claim, which could well end up in a civil court (if no settlement is reached). As the DoJ wants tens of millions in funds paid back, no settlement may be in order.