- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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The $5,000 mixed hold 'em Event No. 5 from the 2008 WSOP will be broadcast Tuesday night. The format is an amalgam of limit and no-limit that drew an elite field of 332, resulting in a star-studded finale that saw the last nine standing play for a cool $374,505. You'll see a remarkable collection of players going for more than the money -- they're going for the gold.
I won't discuss the results, but this table had a little of everything: online geniuses (Andrew Robl, Isaac Haxton), a European star (Roland de Wolfe), representatives of the old guard (Howard Lederer) and the new (David Williams, Justin Bonomo), and an introduction to one of the November Nine (Chino Rheem). On top of it all, though, one simple, ongoing story line lingered heading into the broadcast portion of the event: Erick Lindgren's search for his elusive first bracelet.
Lindgren was born in Burney, Calif., and seemed destined for this poker life. Once dreams of a professional basketball career were dashed by the realities of mere athletic mortality, Lindgren took to the tables. He first discovered blackjack, then discovered the follies of blackjack, then discovered the advantages of being the house in blackjack. That was enough to fuel his initial forays into poker at age 19.
Lindgren's real poker education began at California's Casino San Pablo when he was 21. There, he took a job as a prop player, being paid to play at whichever tables needed players to help them get going. That experience gave him two gifts that serve him well to this day -- an education in all games and the early stages of adulthood-long friendships with the likes of tournament regulars Matt Lefkowitz, Bill Edler and the Keikoan brothers, Matt and Todd.
As Lindgren became entwined in the game, the relationships blossomed. "I was actually a couple of years behind [Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Allen Cunningham, John Juanda]," Lindgren said. "They were playing every single tournament at the Commerce, and they were into the tournaments. I was playing more of the cash games. Then, guys like Gavin Smith started coming up at the same time, and I got more into tournaments because of that."
Those friendships furnished Lindgren with the opportunity to constantly talk shop with some of the sharpest young minds in the game. It wasn't a one-way street, but Lindgren was giving back something else in addition to the ongoing dialogue. He was providing the base for a dozen semicommunities and the fuel to keep them thriving.
In response to the question, "What draws people to Erick Lindgren?" Smith responded, "[Lindgren is] fun to hang with, generous, loyal and a terrible gambler."
Keeping his friends in action is part of what makes Lindgren such a central figure in the professional poker community. He's constantly on the lookout for new talent, constantly offering people who couldn't otherwise manage the support needed to make a run at playing for a living.
"I don't know if it's a good investment, but it gives everyone a good chance to make the same inroads that I was given a chance to make," Lindgren said. "It keeps my friends close and gives me a tremendous sweat whenever they have a lot of chips."
It's a communal approach to an often selfish game that has allowed Lindgren to have so many relationships while so many of his peers have so few. Those relationships have paid him back in spades. With his status as one of FullTiltPoker's original poster boys, his assumed invitations to poker's most prestigious invite-only events and a constant stream of friendships, his cheering section is one of the most motivated in the game.
As much as the mutual support of his friendships, his skill, his charisma and his gamble are factors in his making for good television, the bracelet question is a big part of what keeps us coming back. Lindgren, has won two World Poker Tour titles and countless other tournaments, and he's also won millions of dollars in cash games. But more than once, he has come tantalizingly close to earning his first bracelet, but has fallen just short.
Lindgren feels that what makes him a likable character is not his lack of a victory; rather, it's his constant will to get back up off the canvas.
"I think the people in the poker media see that I really put in the effort and that I've come really close," he said. "I think it's easy to cheer for a guy that tries hard and keeps coming close. That, and I'm not normally mean to people. I'm a relatively easy guy to root for because I get along with everybody."
His frends agree. Ask Edler or Smith or Chris Bell or any of his friends, and their answers come back with genuine affection.
"In a world of unique individuals [in tournament poker], Erick is truly special," Edler said. "His super-logical mind sets him apart on the felt, and his big heart and charisma attract all who meet him away from the tables."
Lindgren had a lot of incentive to win heading into the final table you'll see Tuesday night. Money, glory and especially getting off those "best players to have never won a bracelet" lists. He has the desire to honor Chip Reese's memory and a bracelet bet for a reported six-figure amount with Phil Ivey. You'll see Lindgren play eight very tough players, but understand that many more were trying to will him to victory. Tune in to see if they were successful.
Event 3 airs on Tuesday, Aug. 5, from 8-10 p.m. Complete TV information.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. You can read more of his poker observations in his blog here.
Erick Lindgren has a stable of friends among the poker community, and they supported him through his bracelet bid in Event 5.