It's been a wild ride for Full Tilt Poker, but now it's time to say goodbye to the online poker site where every day poker players could compete with the pros. But it wasn't a ride without plenty of controversy and should someday garner its own documentary film and New York Times best seller.
Ray Bitar met Jesus Ferguson when they shared a day trading space. As the myth goes, that's where the first kernel of an idea of Fill Tilt Poker began. Howard Lederer got involved and they expanded the initial ownership group to include Phil Gordon and Rafe Furst from the Tilt Boys fame. Erik Seidel, Jen Harman, and Phil Ivey were brought in along with Andy Bloch and Erick Lindgren. Some of the earlier pros included Clonie Gowan, Mike Matusow, David Grey, Steve Z, Allen Cunningham, John Juanda, and Gus Hansen. International pros included Max 'The Italian Pirate' Pescatori, Viktor Blom, and Patrik Antonius.
Full Tilt Poker had a slick marketing campaign because you could have a chance to play with a pro. And it wasn't a b.s. promo. The pros really played on the tables, even Phil Ivey. Okay, so Ivey never slummed it out at the low-limit tables with the hoi polloi, but many pros legit sat down and played low stakes with the masses. It gave online poker players a story to tell to their friends in their home game, how they check-raised Jesus, or titled Matusow, or won a pot against Jen Harmon.
Becoming a "red pro" was something that fledgling poker pros aspired to be. Full Tilt labeled their pros with red font to distinguish them from the masses.
PokerStars and Full Tilt completed in an arms race and that included kick-ass parties, high-end commercials, and sponsored pros. Full Tilt tried to stick with the pros' pro type of poker player, while PokerStars had a different angle and loved tried to sign brand ambassadors that appealed to the every day player. That included the WSOP Main Event champion. If you wanted a PokerStars sponsorship and wanted to wear merch branded with a red spade insignia, then winning the Main Event was usually the quickest route to a PokerStars sponsorship.
Full Tilt Poker had cool things to buy in their store with player points like electronics and flat screens. The hockey jerseys were the most popular item. I had enough points to get a bar stool and a soccer jersey. I also had my own personalized table! Yes, I had my own limit hold'em table and I always had a seat waiting for me so I never had to wait.
The peak of Full Tilt Poker had to be when they introduced Rush Poker in 2009. It was legit the crack-cocaine of online poker. If you first got a taste, you couldn't stop playing. It was fun and addictive and I couldn't stop playing it when they first introduced it. I think I described as crack cocaine dipped in cheese and chocolate and wrapped with bacon.
The low point of Full Tilt Poker happened shortly after the site was shut down by the federales after Black Friday in April 2011. Apparently, Full Tilt owners had funded their opulent lifestyle with player funds. They were short $300 million.
PokerStars took over for Full Tilt and guaranteed the assets as part of a deal they cut with the DOJ. Everyone got their money back and PokerStars owned the brand and software. In 2012, PokerStars relaunched Full Tilt Poker just as it looked when it shut down and the only difference was the obvious lack of American players. Of course, Full Tilt Poker failed to regain a footing in the online poker realm. Everyone assume that FTP's days were numbered when they were acquired by Flutter. And sadly that day has come.
February 25, 2021 will be the day that PokerStars pulls the plug. It's a cuthroat world these days and feeling nostalgic doesn't pay stockholders. Alas, it was time to send the old pooch out to the country to live with grandma.
Get your last kicks now before it's dunzo forever. RIP Full Tilt Poker.