If you’ve watched any high-stakes cash game poker stream in the last year, it’s all but a lock that you’ve seen Eric Persson in the game. He’s been everywhere, playing at the highest stakes, jawing with the biggest personalities in poker, and making headlines for a variety of reasons. Persson played the biggest cash game pot ever streamed, flipped off Phil Hellmuth, and generally stole the spotlight at almost every table he sat at.
With how comfortably he’s slid into the mix at Hustler Casino Live, a variety of PokerGO programs and anywhere else he’s shown up, it’s easy to forget that one of his breakout moments – his heads-up match with Hellmuth – happened just a year ago this week.
Even now, as his face pops up regularly on Twitter and YouTube, many don’t know much about Persson’s history beyond the felt.
“I moved to Vegas in 1992, from Washington,” said Persson, “I went to UNLV, and I put myself through undergrad and Georgetown Law as a professional poker player,” said Persson. “Back then, there wasn’t No Limit [Hold’em], I was playing mostly Seven-card stud and Limit Hold’em. And then I went off to law school, started my career in the gaming industry, and eventually built my own gaming company.”
Persson has worked in the gaming industry since 2001, eventually rising the ranks to become the Corporate Senior Vice President of Slot Operations and Slot Marketing at Las Vegas Sands Corp. from 2007 through 2017. It was at that point Persson struck out on his own and founded Maverick Gaming, a company he’s run for six years that now operates 26 casinos and card rooms across three states – Nevada, Colorado, and Washington.
“I sort of set out a plan over about a year during COVID of how to really just take over high stakes poker…”
Until 2020, however, Persson had largely stepped away from serious poker, save for a pair of small tournament cashes in Vegas in May 2007. Like a lot of people, being stuck in one place for long stretches during the earliest days of the pandemic realigned some of Persson’s priorities. It also gave him a lot of time to think.
“During COVID I started playing poker again, really just because I wasn’t able to travel, stuck in Vegas” said Persson, “I sort of set out a plan over about a year during COVID of how to really just take over high stakes poker, and streaming. And I think I’ve done that.”
That plan really kicked into action on April 22, 2022, when Persson was paired with Hellmuth in the first round of the $25,000 PokerGO Tour Heads-Up Showdown. Persson was a known entity in Vegas, at the Bellagio and several other card rooms, as well as some big private games, but largely wasn’t on the radar of most poker fans. He was invited to play in a livestreamed WPT cash game in late 2021, but the moment that truly put Persson on the map in poker was this match.
While Hellmuth is well-known for berating his opponents and getting heated at the table, Persson was not going to back down an inch. Once Persson took a lead in the match, and Hellmuth started into his antics, Persson responded with some PG-13 language and even flipped Hellmuth the double bird.
“Going into that match, I felt like he had no idea who I was, but I had a pretty good idea of exactly how he played,” said Persson. “And I had a strategy, which was really just to push him and push him and push him. And I did. And he responded. But that didn’t really start with me verbally. He attacked me first, denigrating me honestly, talking down to me. From that moment on I was just like, ‘Game on.’”
Persson wore Hellmuth’s patience and stack down at the same time, until he was able to snap a Hellmuth all-in off with pocket aces to win the match. A highlight reel of their battle on PokerGO’s YouTube channel has 4.9 million views, and instantly raised Persson’s profile. The timing couldn’t have been much better, as episodes of High Stakes Poker with Persson playing $500/$1,000 with Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, and Garrett Adelstein dropped in the weeks that followed, and from there Persson was off to the races.
Amidst the rising notoriety and massive pots, Persson’s ultimate goal from the start has been to bring attention to Maverick Gaming.
“I’m building Maverick Gaming as a gambler’s brand, and so I believe that the fastest way to build authenticity is for my customers to see that I’m a gambler, too. I thought the fastest way to build it was through streaming and playing high stakes games and becoming high profile in this business.”
In that, Persson has seemingly succeeded beyond even his lofty initial goals. He consistently finds himself in the middle of the action, for better and for worse. He dropped a live-streaming record $1.98 million pot to Patrik Antonius where Persson was drawing dead on the turn. There are also plenty of instances of Persson getting the best of a hand, using his words and immense pressure to claim big pots.
He has at least two more big opportunities to come in the next few weeks as well. He’ll be playing on a live PokerGO stream of High Stakes Poker in a game against Matt Berkey, Nik ‘Airball’ Arcot, Doug Polk, Jennifer Tilly, and Rob Yong. Then, in late May, Persson will appear as one of the players who will take part in Hustler Casino Live’s three-day, $1 million buy-in cash game. But even with blinds and stakes as big as they’ll be in those games, there’s more on the line for Persson than just big piles of cash – and that’s why he’ll keep coming back for more.
“I’m waiting for Ryan [Feldman] to come through and get a lineup that Alan Keating will play, and I’m sure I’m going to end up participating in that. And the stakes are big. But the truth is, I’m playing much higher in a lot of private games. For me, it’s more about competition, brand exposure and really going out there trying to live my best life and chase my dream. I’ve been able not only to participate, but also have a say in the shaping of the direction of his lineups.
“I don’t stream with people who don’t do a 35% VPIP (voluntary putting money in pre-flop), for example. And I think that just makes for better viewing experience. If all seven people are playing a third of the hands, no one’s disadvantaged, the game’s just better and the viewers are more engaged. It’s not enough for me that the games have a $1 million dollar buy in, it’s also good to have people out there to gamble, who are willing to put their money in action and see what happens.”