Guy Laliberte is known to the poker world for his appearances on the GSN's High Stakes Poker season 4 and WPT season 5, along with his contributions to Big One $1,000,000 Buy-In at the 2012 World Series of Poker. What many poker players might not know is the French Canadian is the founder of Cirque du Soleil, a performance company which helped make the former busker a billionaire and one of the richest Canadians ever.
Being a rich Canadian known for enjoying live and online games of high stakes no limit Texas hold 'em, the rich and famous entertainment impresario is famous enough that legends have sprung up about his online poker habits. Big stakes players search for the man when he supposedly shows up for Internet poker playing, because he's seen as both a whale and a fish (in poker terms). Players will go broke chasing his money.
We're getting a little ahead of ourselves at the moment. To get to the truth of who Zypherin is, let's first explore who Guy Laliberte is. In a poker industry that is full of colorful personalities and visionary thinkers, Laliberte stands out in a sea of individuals.
A few facts are known about Zypherin. Before Black Friday, Zypherin's account was registered in Canada. Also, Zypherin plays at the high stakes no-limit Texas holdem and pot-limit Omaha tables, which would fit the profile of Guy Laliberte from his FullTilt Poker career. Also, Ahtata and Zypherin appear to play with similar styles and tendencies. Another telltale trend is that Zypherin is able to absorb huge losses, such as his lost $170,568 over 2557 in 8 sessions during early February, 2012 at PokerStars. Another week later in the year, he was down $450,000. In all, Zypherin is the top money loser at Pokerstars over the first few months of the year, with $1,180,835 as of April 19, 2012. The matches would seem to fit, though the truth has never been confirmed.
It says a lot about the founder of Cirque du Soleil that just the whiff of a person from Canada losing a lot of money at online poker is enough to spur rumors. Those rumors may well be true, or it could be another Canadian who is a glutton for punishment. Whatever the case, Zypherin has deep pockets and a long line of credit with PokerStars.
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Guy Laliberte was born in 1959 and grew up in Montreal, Quebec, where he early on learned a fascination for performance entertainment. As a child, he saw the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus, which led him to read the biography of legendary showman, P.T. Barnum. He learned how to play the accordion and the harmonica, which were his entry into the world of busking (street performance). Joining a performing troupe which traveled the breadth of Canada, the young man spent time in the company of fire-eaters, acrobats, and jugglers.
In 1984, Laliberte took a grant from the Canadian government's 450th anniversary celebrations budget and formed the Cirque du Soleil (or Sun Circus). Guy used performers he had met performing on the streets of Montreal, along with those he knew from his time performing at stops throughout Canada. With Gilles Ste-Croix as a pivotal assistant, the Circus of the Sun was expected to have a 1-year run, but eventually began touring at the instigation of the Canadian government.
From such humble beginnings, the Cirque du Soleil went on to become a worldwide institution with shows on five continents. When you go to Las Vegas, it seems as if half of the shows are produced by the Cirque du Soleil (besides the ones with the brand name on it). Through it all, Guy Laliberte has had some hand in designing every single production.
Currently, these are the 7 shows put on by the performance company in Las Vegas. Seven different Las Vegas resorts and casinos have shows produced by the Cirque du Soleil. Shows like Ka, O, Mystere, and Zumanity tend towards the traditional circus style performances with synchronized acrobatics and feats of skill, while Viva Elvis and The Beatles Love follow the fine Vegas tradition of homage performers. Criss Angel is in his own category.
People don't have to go to Las Vegas to see the Cirque put on their shows. PBS often broadcasts performances from the famous circus, while you can find concert videos on DVD and blu-ray disc. The company even performed at the 2012 Super Bowl alongside Madonna. These days, you'll find the Circus of the Sun seemingly everywhere, but the first place you should look is in Las Vegas. In fact, if you travel to Las Vegas on vacation, for business, or for poker tournaments, you have to see at least one of the 7 shows put on by this performance company.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The entertainment company now employs over 4,000 worldwide and has performed for over 100 million spectators throughout the world, performing in over 300 cities on five different continents. The Cirque du Soleil has performed in more than just Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The Sun Circus has visited European nations like Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Monaco, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Australians have seen the Ovo performances in cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Asians have been able to watch the Cirqueclub perform in countries like China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, India, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, and Israel. Cirqueclub has performed in African nations like South Africa and Morocco. Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico have been entertained by the Circus of the Sun. Caribbean nations like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have been visited by the company.
Given the time spent with his entertainment empire, the poker credentials for Guy Laliberte are substantial. He's appeared in televised events of live tournaments around the globe, while he's also known to play high stakes games online at Full Tilt Poker under the name "Ahtata". Many online poker players are convinced he plays no-limit hold'em and pot-limit Omaha at PokerStars under the name "Zepherin".
Guy Laliberte reached the final table of the World Poker Tour Championship for Season 5 (2006-2007), where he placed 4th at a table of six players. This event took place from April 21 to April 27, 2007, at the Bellagio. The buy-in was $25,000, while the Guy Laliberte took home $696,220. The winner of the event, Carlos Mortensen, won $3,970,415. Others at the table were Kirk Morisson, Paul Lee, Tim Phan, and Mike Wattel, while the total payout was over $15 million. The French Canadian billionaire has since placed in the money once more on the WPT.
Later in 2007, Guy appeared on the 4th season of High Stakes Poker, a popular show on the Gameshow Network. Season four featured high stakes pro players like Phil Hellmuth Jr, Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Jamie Gold, Sam Farha, and Doyle Brunson. The minimum buy-in for these episodes was $500,000 (for later episodes), with more than $5,000,000 in play on the table at one time. Ratings were high for this season, due to the big money format players like the CirqueduSoleil owner brought to the table.
The next year, Guy Laliberte appears in Week 1 of NBC's Poker After Dark. These shows were taped at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas in April 2008 and involved a $200/$400 no-limit game in a winner-take-all tournament. His opponents on Poker After Dark were Phil Hellmuth, Allen Cunningham, Mike Baxter, David Peat, and Tom Dwan.
After his spate of tv appearances playing real-money Texas holdem against the world's most famous players in 2007 and 2008, the former busker somewhat disappeared from the broadcast poker world. He continued to play online at Full Tilt Poker (and perhaps PokerStars), but otherwise devoted himself to the continued growth of the Cirque du Soleil performance empire. Then in 2011, he announced a return to the games and notoriety of the professional poker tour. This time, it would be for his favorite charity.
At the 2012 World Series of Poker, Guy Laliberte sponsored a buy-in tournament that required a stake of $1,000,000 apiece, though part of the proceeds were to go to the One Drop Foundation, the billionaire's philanthropic organization. One Drop Foundation not only donated a portion of the prizepool to lure players, but the charity also received $5,333,328 from the event. In the end, Antonio Esfandiari won over $18,300,000 when he won 1st place at the Big One Tournament.
One Drop Foundation was inspired by Laliberte's travels around the globe with his performing arts troupe. Everywhere he went, it seemed that local famine and conflict was spurred on by scarcity of the most elemental of resources: water. The drought and famine of Africa comes from soil depletion brought on by lack of water. Continued tensions between India and Pakistan may have a historical and religious basis, but the strife is exacerbated by posturing and leveraging to gain control of Kashmir, the source of water for Pakistan and Northern India.
In fact, you name many of the conflicts in the world and they often come from the lack of water resources. As the Earth's average temperature continues to rise, more water is evaporated or runs into the salt water oceans, where it's useless for the sake of nourishment and cultivation. So in 2007, Guy Laliberte chose to found the One Drop Foundation. To that end, he pledged a contribution of $100,000,000 to be paid out over a 25-year period. Hoping this contributions would lead to notoreity and donations from around the world, the philanthropist saw the World Series of Poker Big One Event as just the latest way to gain money and attention for his much-needed cause.
Other efforts have been made. In 2009, the philanthropist became the first Canadian space tourist, as he went into space on a "poetic social mission" to raise awareness on the scarce water issue. This mission was highlighted by a 120-minute webcast from orbit, along with 14 different artistic performances on 5 continent, along with the International Space Station. Photos from this trip were published in a 2011 book, Gaia. The proceeds from Gaia also went to the One Drop Foundation. Guy Laliberte is not just an entertainment mogul and a poker playing hobbyist, but a world class benefactor.
With his time taken up with the entertainment business and inspiring charity donations, one might wonder whether one of Canada's favorite sons has any time for gaming hobbies. It's well-known that Guy has played at Full Tilt Poker under the name "Ahtata", but Internet legend has it that the Canadian mogul also plays at PokerStars under the name "Zypherin".
By one estimate, Guy Laliberte may have contributed as much as 55% or more of the total profits for top players in the high stakes poker rooms of FullTilt Poker in the late 2000's. According to multiple sources, Guy Laliberte is either really bad or really on tilt. Perhaps his game has regressed since his appearances in live tournements on GSN and NBC in 2007 and 2008. Or maybe he just views his online gambling as another form of charity. If so, the pro poker players aren't complaining at PokerStars or FullTilt Poker.