The Long Road Erick Lindgren Took to the WPT Choctaw Final Table

It’s been 11 years since Erick Lindgren last appeared at a World Poker Tour final table. His life has taken plenty of twists and turns since then. On Thursday he’ll battle for the WPT Choctaw Championship.

Lance Bradley
May 26, 2024
Erick Lindgren has had quite the journey to get back to a WPT final table.

Right now, somewhere between Charlotte, North Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada – possibly just outside of Memphis, Tennessee or Amarillo, Texas – Erick Lindgren is bombing along I-40. On his way to Sin City for a shot at redemption.

His dog Lucky is riding shotgun.

It’s a straight shot with a 70 miles per hour speed limit meaning it’s going to take Lindgren close to 32 hours of driving before he sees the bright lights of the Strip.

Once he arrives, he’ll be thrust into the poker spotlight for the first time in a very long time, taking his seat at the final table of the WPT Choctaw Championship Event being filmed at the HyperX Arena at Luxor. It is Lindgren’s first WPT final table appearance in more than 11 years. That night, he finished runner-up to Chino Rheem in the 2013 $25,000 WPT World Championship. In the time between then and now he’s mostly been focused on things away from the felt.

“I took a lot of time. I had my two boys, they’re 12 and nine now. So we spent a lot of time playing every sport possible and hanging out as much as possible,” Lindgren said. “But now I need to show them that Dad does something else except hang out. So I’m going to try to bring home some trophies.”

Lindgren’s trophy case is far from empty but it’s a collection of triumphs from a different period of his life. He has a pair of WPT titles to his name, from 2003 and 2004, and two World Series of Poker bracelets, from 2008 and 2013. He’s also one of only two players to earn WPT and WSOP Player of the Year honors having done so in 2004 and 2008 respectively. That last WSOP victory came in 2013 – just three short weeks after losing to Rheem – and just six months after a stint in a rehab facility dealing with a gambling addiction.

Erick Lindgren is no stranger to the bright lights of a WPT TV table – but it’s been more than a hot minute since he’s felt the heat of those lights.

With his focus on his family, Lindgren has kept a relatively low profile in the poker world since that summer. When he has popped up deep in an event, like his final table runs in the WSOP Millionaire Maker in 2015 or the $2,500 Big Bet Mixed Games event at the 2023 WSOP, the chatter turns to Lindgren’s past transgressions; his time in rehab, previously unpaid gambling debts, his two bankruptcy stints, and his divorce from his wife Erica. 

“I think everybody deserves a fresh start. Most of my attention has been on parenting my kids and being a better parent than I ever was a poker player, so I don’t really have time to concern myself with what anybody thinks,” Lindgren said. 

Lindgren thinks back to that time of his life and can’t fully reconcile it with the life he lives now. He was a highly visible and heavily marketed Full Tilt Poker Red Pro reportedly taking home $250,000 each month, betting big on sports, and was admittedly reckless with his finances. He remembers the time around Black Friday as a chaotic whirlwind. Along with the collapse of Full Tilt, Lindgren got married and became a father for the first time. 

“It is two different lives for me for sure. Just being so careless, but also and just being wild and just going for the ride, not really worried what came next,” Lindgren said. 

That results-be-damned approach was what led him to seek help in the first place. He also understood that he needed to find a way to be more committed to his wife and kids. Because of that, poker wasn’t a huge part of his life over the last 11 years. He focused on personal development and becoming more present in his kid’s lives and there was one thing he knew he had to work on to make that happen. 

“I think just becoming more patient with myself and patient with my kids and building relationships with Erica that’s strong. So just getting myself to a really good place, a lot of balance in my life, not feeling like I need to be in action,” Lindgren said. “I just always felt like I need to work and for me, that turned into gambling, and that wasn’t healthy.”

The WPT Choctaw final table is only the beginning of what awaits Lindgren in Las Vegas. Lindgren plans on playing a busy summer schedule for the first time in a long time and he’s going to have his support system to cheer him on and help provide balance. Erica, who he has since reconciled with, and his two sons, 12 and nine years old, will spend the summer in Las Vegas cheering on and spending time with Lindgren.

“They love it. They want me to do well. They want me to go kick their asses, so that’s what I need to do,” Lindgren said.

Having dipped his toes back into the poker waters the last two years have come with a unique set of challenges that any parent who travels for work can easily relate to. Time away from his boys weighed on him and made it hard for him to tap into the competitive spirit that was a driving force for Lindgren a dozen years ago.

“I just wanted to spend all my time with them and I almost lost my competitiveness because I just wanted to be a great dad and just hang out. So for a long time, I didn’t really feel like competing,” Lindgren said, who felt a strong sense of guilt every time he had success that actually made it hard for him to enjoy playing.

“I think the guilt has been really hard because I’m the kind of player that I need to get my reps in,” Lindgren said. “So if I go start in (Seminole) and I play and I’m just starting to feel good, I’m like, well, now I need to go to the Borgata or now I need to go to Vegas or I need to keep playing if I want to keep getting better, otherwise that rust is going to creep back in.”

“The problem is you’re on the road for a long time and I just couldn’t handle it. I don’t know how some people do it.”

Lindgren may have moved away from the life of a professional poker player, but he certainly didn’t stop watching and learning. He admits he’s not the type of player who is going to lock himself in a room and run solver sims all day long in hopes of discovering some new exploit. Instead, he’s constantly watching cards-up livestreams and watching the strategies of the best players in the world and learning from them in real-time.

“They’re basically doing the work for me and they’re showing it to me through how they play at these final tables, how they play on Day 1 of a Triton event, how they play on a WPT final table. There’s just so much available online and you’d be crazy not to watch these guys,” Lindgren said. 

Watching those streams has given him a real appreciation for the current crop of poker superstars who are at the forefront of the highest levels of tournament poker strategies. It also puts him on the other end of a viewing experience he was once the star of. Now, the likes of Adrian Mateos, Isaac Haxton, and Stephen Chidwick are some of the players he singled out as being the crushers he’s learning from. 

“If somebody’s better than you, figure out what they’re doing and then find exploits to handle what they’re doing.”

Lindgren has no illusions of showing up to Las Vegas this summer and instantly being amongst the best in the world but knows that each tournament he plays is an opportunity. He’ll have a very early indicator of what’s possible once he sits down at the WPT Choctaw final table.

“I don’t think we know where I am in the current landscape of poker,” Lindgren said. “I think that’s what I’m trying to find out. So I think we’ll find a lot at this final table.”

Lindgren is one of three members of the WPT Champions Club at the final table but he’s also the shortest stack with just 16 big blinds. He’s not that far off from the next two shortest stacks though as Danny Marx (19 bb) and Eric Afriat (23 bb) are all going to be under similar early pressure.

“The dynamic is super interesting. Do I want to play super tight ICM style or do I want to get after these chip leaders when they raise? So that’ll be an interesting decision that will be determined by the hands I’m dealt,” Lindgren said. “You can only do with what you’re dealt. That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle, the best game plan we can have in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have any cards.”

While he may have the fewest chips to work with, it could be argued that he has the most experience playing poker under the bright lights of a televised final table and Lindgren looks back at his last time here – against Rheem in 2013 – and recognizes that too provided a lesson.

“I think I was a little too nervous, kind of thinking that ‘oh, people might think I’m an idiot, blah, blah, blah’. Being young and worried what people thought about me. So it’ll be interesting to be there and not care so much,” Lindgren said.

That insight is just a small piece of the knowledge Lindgren has gained from his poker career that serves him today on the felt but also in every single aspect of his life, including that 32-hour drive from Charlotte. He knows that the Choctaw final table isn’t a win-or-lose proposition but just another moment to savor. The advice he would give to the 25-year-old version of himself is something he’ll hear in the whispers of the HyperX Arena though.

“I would just say slow down, brother. It’s a long ride. It’s a long race. And some people told me at the time you already won. I see that now in a lot of people, you already won. Don’t fight so hard, you already won.”