Thor Hansen Reflects on Epic, Inspiring Poker Life (w Johnny Lodden)

Published on 4 December 2014 by Pokerlistings 1712
Thor Hansen was a teenager when he took over his brother's stack in a poker game and went on his first heater. Now, over 50 years later he's been around the world and seen more of what the poker world is all about than almost anyone. Hansen received the Spirit of Poker Living Legend Award at the 2014 Battle of Malta and spoke candidly about one of the most epic and inspirational poker journeys ever. Starting in Oslo in the 1960s Hansen played in poker clubs, at the racetrack and even in the woods. “Poker came naturally to me. I was playing a little bit of pool and I was always into gambling. I went to the racetrack when I was seven years old,” said Hansen. “I never thought about what I was going to become. Poker just meant so much to me so quickly I never thought about anything else. I just wanted to play poker. So that's what I did.” In his 20s Hansen began travelling. He set a course for Las Vegas and on his first trip won a WSOP bracelet and did well in the cash games. Hansen talks about how, years later, he became close friends with poker legend Stuey Ungar and went on to play for Larry Flynt in his famous seven-card stud game in LA. Hansen is joined by Johnny Lodden, one of Norway's most successful poker players ever. Lodden talks about how Hansen was and continues to be an inspiration to poker players in Norway and beyond. Check out the full interview and keep watching PokerListings for poker player interviews, short documentaries and poker strategy video.
Johnny: Yeah, people were, like, always looking up for Thor. I just heard his name, first time when I was like 16 or so. And then there was a documentary about him on the Norwegian TV. It actually made with [inaudible 00:00:18] and stuff like that, so then we really got respect for the old guy. And so it just carried on. And then, I met him in Vegas a couple of times and he's always really nice to all the players, not just Norwegians, but every kind of peoples. And he's a good example for how poker players should behave. He's a good guy.

Thor: I started playing poker like, fifty years ago, more than fifty years ago, and it started in Norway, in Oslo and I played at the race track. I played in the woods with people, you know, we were living close by it. So then we started having clubs in Oslo. I was very young when I started, so I didn't go out traveling till I was maybe mid-twenties or something. And then I found America, which poker was very very big, so I moved there. Poker came naturally to me. You know, I was playing a little bit pool. I was always into gambling, went into the horse track when I was 7 years old, you know, lived close by. And I started to shoot pool, which I became pretty good at to beat the world champion directly on television in Norway.

And then I started to play poker, so I gave all those things up. It was only poker that was fun. But I had a brother that was nine years older than me and he played a little bit of poker, so I was with him, watching. So how I discovered it was, he was sitting playing poker, went to the bathroom and told me to play a hand he was winning. So you know, I had been watching for a long time, so I played a hand and when he came back I had a lot of money in front of me. So, that's how it started, kind of.

I never thought of what I was gonna be when I was that young. It was just poker meant so much to me so fast, so I never thought of anything else. I just wanted to play poker. So that's what I did. I had no idea what I would have done without poker. I mean, I probably would have been sitting in an office somewhere working my ass off, but I don't know actually.

Johnny: Yeah, I've been talking to him about that because I also know all his friends from back in the days and they always talk about the old days, back in the fifties, when it was games. Sorry, back in the seventies when it was games they were playing like, all around Oslo. There was poker clubs backs then as well and roulette clubs and blackjack. Looks like they had a really fun time back in the days and everybody had money. I wish I played in that game.

Thor: It was a little easier to be in Las Vegas to find a poker game than it was in Oslo, that's for sure. And I had a good start first time I got there, at least. I won a world series bracelet. Then I won all the money in the cash games I played with the biggest guys in the world that was well-known back then. You know, Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and these guys. Stu Ungar became a good friend of mine. We played poker every day together. We were partying together, but when he was playing poker he was very good. But he could be bad too. But that was the guys I played with, so I learned a harsh school. They were good players. But I survived among them, yeah.

Stu Ungar, I think he was a little bit schizophrenic, because he could be a very bad boy, but he was so kind and nice outside the poker. I mean, he was kind to everybody. In poker, he was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I mean, he was terrible, but he was very nice and he was such a good player, he was impossible to beat. I think that Nolan Dalla, that wrote a book about him wrote good stuff about him, but he forgot that nobody ever told him to stop playing that in Las Vegas, because of Stu Ungar. Because he couldn't beat him. That game disappeared for many years when Stewey was around. Stewey would be too old today. He would have been 30 years in front of this crew too, like he was back then.

He was so far ahead of all the poker players. But he could also lose, be a bad player sometimes, when he had a lot of money because he didn't like money. He got snaked by the mafia a lot, you know, when he was broke. They gave him money to play and then he won. He always won and then he got snaked. I remember his last couple of months very well, because everybody in Vegas gave him up. I wasn't in Vegas. I was in California playing 7 card stud poker, because I owed so much money in Vegas from gambling. So I always went to play a few months and then I paid my debts. And then, the games was very good there. And Stewey called me one day and asked for money, of course, because he was in bad shape. And I said, "Come out here." I said, "There's good games and I give you ten thousand and we could build up something."

I didn't snake him when he came out there. He was staying in a motel across from the casino. And I think he won about two hundred thousand in a week, but he was in very bad shape. I remember he walked from the casino to the motel, he just fell down in the street and he was about 60 pounds. I lifted him up and took him to the room and called the doctor and they gave him some kind of shot with vitamins or something. The next day, he went back to Vegas. And I think it was two weeks later, I went by him at the motel because a friend of mine and me, we bought him a football ticket to watch American football. He loved that. So he had something to watch on Sunday. That was that week he died. That was the last time I saw him. It was very, very sad of course because we liked him a lot. He was a lovely guy when he wasn't bad.

Poker had kind of brought me into a lot of stuff. I got to know a lot of famous people, fun people. Like I played poker for Larry Flynt for like, ten years. I was his man in the poker game. It was his poker game. We played 7 card stud poker and I think we played about 10 years. We made good money but there was a lot of fun around it, of course. He did snake me in a game, Larry, somehow he heard that I was a good stud player and he wanted to hire a good poker player.

Interviewer: How much did you teach him?

Thor: No, to play for him in his game. He didn't want to learn anything. He liked to lose. He was the game. I mean, everybody won because he was such a bad player. But you know, we became good friends because I won a lot of money for him. And he liked that. When we count it at the end of the night, he didn't like it when I was losing, but we had a make up deal. So I had to catch up before I got into the money again. But there was some funny areas, I must say that. So many strange people in there.

And his wife died and he had a nurse for a few years. And she wanted to marry him and she was nursing him for all these years. And he said, "Yes." And we had his bachelor party in Beverly Hills and that was some party. That cost like two million dollars and that's what we got to spend, but after flying all the girls, there was no money for food, so we had to spend a little extra. That was crazy, crazy party.

Johnny: As I said, I met Thor a bunch of times in Vegas when he lived in the States. Now he lives in Norway, so I meet him a bunch. But he always told me about stories like, when he used to go out and party in the Playboy mansion and hang out with the celebs in Hollywood and like, just having a blast. And it looked like such a fun life, just to move to Vegas, live off gambling and just party around when you're 18, 19, 20, that's the dream. And a bunch of girls and of course everything, you had the whole package. So, of course that was an inspiration to make a living like that.

Thor: The one thing after this new poker came with all these kids, I got a lot of new friends, but they're like four times younger than me, so it's a problem. It wasn't a problem. I was out partying with them every time I met them out for dinner and some partying. I was the last one to bed. Now I don't do that any more. But I've got so many young friends, it's crazy. I mean, I meet them, they call me, they wanna take me out, they wanna do this, they wanna do that. And that's very nice, of course, when you're my age and I have all these young friends. I think I'm happy to have all these guys around me. I mean, I'm the happy one I think.

When I got the diagnosis of cancer that was terminal, I was very bad. I had surgery the day after they found it in America and the doctor said I had a few months because it was bad. It's still bad, but I went back home to Norway, started treatments and that's almost three years ago and I feel good. And I have the poker. I have the guys around me. I have my American wife that takes very good care of me. She makes me eat healthy and do stuff to stay alive. And I'm just very strong, that's what the doctors say. They can't believe it. They say that I'm not built of blood and flesh, they say I'm of steel. So it's kind of a little fun. I'm a special case for a hospital too, because they don't understand why I'm holding so good. So I'm telling them I've taken so many bad beats in poker, so I am used to these bad beats. It just flushes off me.

Johnny: I never met Thor before he got the cancer, when he'd ever been like, had the flu even. His health has always been like a fortress. It's like nothing ever happens to him, even though he's just sitting around playing poker and drinking. He still had like a body like a 20 years old.

Thor: You know I've been dealing with this now for almost three years and I don't even think of it. I've been going on chemo for three years. I mean, the highest doses and I have no problems with it. I don't even feel it and it's very strange, because people get sick off that too. I know I haven't had a sick day, because all that time I never got a cold or flu or anything, so I'm in good shape. I have a little bit pain once in a while, but it's nothing, it's okay.

Interviewer: That's incredible.

Thor: Yeah, it is. It is incredible. I appreciate small things so much more than what I did in the old days before in life. I mean every little thing I see that's nice, I can feel a tear. You know, it's more sentimental. There comes some good out of it too. I changed a little bit. I feel like I became a better person, because I want to help people, I wanna do this, I wanna do that. I read about it. And yeah, that's how it is. The important thing for a poker player is to be nice, I think. It's such a nice community. There's always somebody that's tried to destroy it, but so many nice people in there and as long as they stay nice and can handle the bad bits, they'll be okay. You know, it's not much to it. I think so.

Interviewer: Appreciate the small things.

Thor: Yeah, appreciate the small things. That's very important in life, I think.