Today we say goodbye to a true legend. RIP Thor Hansen. The Norwegian legend was busting donks before I was old enough to even step inside of a casino. Hansen had won two bracelets and played baller cash-games in Los Angeles with Larry Flynt, while many current pros were mere babies and still wetting themselves.
Thor Hansen had the most-Scandi name you could imagine. Thor is known as the hammer god in Old Norse mythology. Thor commanded respect wherever he went. Maybe it was always because he was one of the oldest players in the poker room, but he carried himself with the same gravitas as a an elderstateman or revered coach. During the glorious online poker boom in the mid-2000s, Hansen was looked upon as both a grandfather and Godfather-type to scores of Scandinavian players. Not just Norwegians, but to Swedes and Danes alike.
Hansen, was born in Olso, Norway in 1947 shortly after the end of World War II. As a kid he played a lot of pool and frequented the racetracks as early as seven years old. Hansen caught the poker bug in the late 60s and he regularly played at the local racetrack with his older brother.
As Hansen told the story, his brother had to go to the bathroom and Thor sat in for him. When his brother returned from the break, Thor had more money than he left him with. Thus, the legend was born.
"Poker came naturally to me," said Hansen.
In an interview with Matt Showell, Hansen said he also used to play poker "in the woods with people", which sounds both sketchy and scary if you're imagining a bleak Nordic winter that is punctuated with a cabin full of degen gamblers.
Like many people who fell into poker, Hansen did not know what he would do without poker. "Probably working in an office somewhere," Hansen shrugged.
Johnny Lodden, one of the top young players from Norway, had nothing but respect for Hansen from the first time he saw a documentary about him on Norwegian television.
"I met him in Vegas a couple of times," said Lodden. "He's always very nice to young players. Not just Norwegians, but to all players. He's the perfect example of what a poker player should be like."
Thor Hansen, Godfather of Norwegian Poker
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.
Hansen discovered America's affinity for poker and he headed to the USA. Hansen cut his teeth in the biggest games in Las Vegas against the legends such as Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and Bobby Baldwin. He took his lickings but he emerged as one of the best Stud players.
"I learned in a hard school but I survived."
Hansen had a unique relationship with Stu Ungar as both a peer and later as a backer.
"Stuey was impossible to beat," said Hansen. "He was so far ahead of all the poker players."
Hansen mentioned that Ungar's dark side was what inevitable ruined his career.
"He got staked by the mafia once, when he was broke. And he won."
Hansen said he once invited Ungar to come to Los Angeles to play cash games with him. Hansen staked him $10,000 and Ungar quickly ran it up to $200,000. That was approximately two weeks before Ungar died.
Larry Flynt staked Hansen in a big-time seven-card stud cash games in Hollywood, where Hansen was a regular for over a decade with celebrities, and high rollers in the entertainment and porn industry.
"So many strange people in there."
When Larry Flynt married his long-time nurse, Hansen attended Flynt's bachelor party that cost $2 million.
Hansen won his first bracelet at the 1988 WSOP at The Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. Hasen binked the $5,000 Seven-Card Stud event for $158K. Hansen's final table included actor Gabe Kaplan and Jack McClelland.
Hansen's biggest moment during the poker boom occurred at the 2007 WSOP. Hansen final tabled the $50,000 HORSE World Championship, Freddy Deeb would go on to win, but Hansen finished in eighth place for a $188K score.
For most of his professional life, Hansen split time between residences in Southern California and Las Vegas. He would marry Marcella Braswell, an American, in 1999.
In 2012, Hansen got diagnosed with cancer. American doctors told him he had a few months to live. He relocated to Norway and got chemo treatment for three years.
Norwegian doctors were amazed of his recovery. They told him he's made of steel.
"I told the doctors, I took so many bad beats in poker. It's no big deal."
Hansen was given three months but he extended that to six years. What an amazing and inspirational run. Hansen won one of the biggest gambles of his life. He faded a terminal disease for six years. That hard-fought battle tells you a little about Hansen's stoicism, mental toughness and willingness to fight to the very end.
"Thor Hansen was that rarest of things, an International Treasure," tweeted Barny Boatman from the infamous Hendon Mob.
Hansen ended his career with a shade under $3 million in tournament winnings and an estimated several million in cash games. Hansen is currently third on the all-time Norwegian money list behind Felix Vincent Stephensen and Annette Obrestad.