The Rise and Fall of Tom Dwan

Poker icons do not come any bigger than Tom Dwan, the 33-year old New Jersey legend spending a decade and a half at the forefront of the game and involved in some of the biggest stories to ever grace pokers front pages…

By: Andrew Burnett

What many may have forgotten, however, is that his career started with a single $50 deposit on Paradise Poker back in 2004, the 17-year old punting two-thirds of that on $6 SNG’s before turning what was left of his tiny bankroll into $millions within just a few years.

It’s been far from plain sailing for the idiosyncratic pro known throughout his career by the nickname durrrr, his first recorded year at the online nosebleeds a rollercoaster

The end of 2007 saw Dwan take down his first live 6-figure cash, a 4th spot worth $324,244 at the World Poker Finals, behind winner Michael Vela, Nick Schulman and Nenad Medic and he followed that up with several further big scores early in 2008.

Dwan destroys the online poker legends

That would be the year that launched Dwan into the online poker stratosphere, an annus mirabilis that saw him book a $5.31million profit at the highstakes cash tables on Full Tilt.

It was the height of the FTP big money boom, with stakes of $500/$1000 commonplace and the pots regularly exceeding $½million.

Dwan landed two bumper pots, one each of NLHE and PLO, as the year came to a close, with Di 'Urindanger' Dang, Ilkka 'LokoIsBack' Koskinen and Ilari 'Ziigmund' Saharies taking huge hits as the world’s best battled right up until New Year.

Entering 2009, Dwan had no idea what was about to hit him, although much of it was a disaster of his own making as he issued the legendary Durrrr Challenge.

The open challenge – with the exception of his close friend Phil 'OMGClayAiken' Galfond was a $million affair that has had repercussions to this very day.

The Durrrr Challenge: Take1

The challenge started incredibly well for Dwan, his first match-up against Patrik Antonius seeing a young, brash Dwan emerging $2million ahead over roughly 40,000 hands.

That year (2009) would prove to be one of the craziest of all, the graph below showing just how swingy Dwan’s nosebleed adventures were…

…with a horrendous winter during which he lost $millions within days, Phil Ivey, Ilari Sahamies and in particular the anonymous newcomer Isildur1 ripped Dwan’s bankroll to pieces.

Isildur would later be unmasked as Viktor Blom, and he took Dwan for around $5million in a series of 6-table, online highstakes sessions.

Dwan becomes FTP pro

That nightmare coincided with Dwan signing up as a Full Tilt Poker pro, a money-making machine that would allow Dwan and others to play through $multi-million downswings, but inevitably come crashing down just a few years later.

Dwan’s signing celebration saw him take on three players in the Full Tilt Poker Durrrr Million Dollar Challenge – a live event held in London.

Dwan would narrowly defeat Ilari 'Ziigmund' Sahamies in the 500-hand heads-up challenge where each player put $250k on the table, and although he’d go on to lose a little to Marcello 'luckexpress' Marigliano, he finished some $795,500 ahead after destroying Sammy 'Any Two' George.

Although Dwan wouldn’t trouble the tournament circuit in any major way for several more years – and event then not to the extent of his peers – live high stakes cash games were part and parcel of his poker routine.

High Stakes Poker, one of the most popular TV poker shows of all time, saw Dwan involved in some incredible pots over the years. A $919,600 pot against Barry Greenstein in 2008 saw Dwan turn trip queens to crack Greenstein’s aces.

…and Dwan would crack his own record a couple of years later, Phil Ivey the victim of the turn card this time, in a pot that topped out at $1,108,500

If that wasn’t a monstrous enough pot, then eight years later Dwan would be involved in a new, and to date biggest, cash game pot of $2.353million – but this time he came off second best to Triton Poker boss Paul Phua

The Durrrr Challenge: Take2

The turn of a new decade saw the start of the 2nd Durrrr Challenge, this time Daniel 'jungleman12' Cates the opponent…and it would take a drastically different path from the Antonius match-up…

Dwan was roundly thumped by Cates, a $1.2million loss before Black Friday intervened in the spring of 2011 with only 20k of the 50k hands played.

The fallout from this would rumble on for many years, the rumour-mill occasionally bursting into life with talk of the match resuming, or Dwan paying penalties for failing to play.

Last year Cates called Dwan out on his behaviour, tweeting…

…but it hasn’t had any effect on Dwan as far as anyone can tell.

So, what did 2010 look like overall for Dwan in the highstakes online world? Very pleasant indeed…

…but 2011 was to prove decidedly less palatable, a $2.4million hole in the first 3 months, some of it heading Jungleman Dan’s way of course…

The years 2012 and 2013 saw relatively little of the action the preceding years had delivered, but Dwan still managed to see-saw $millions in his own inimitable style, hardly surprising with his unorthodox/aggressive style.

With Dwan parting company with Full Tilt Poker in December of 2013, it brought to an end more than half-a-decade of the most interesting time online poker has ever seen at the highstakes level.

It was far from the end of Dwan’s interesting times in poker, of course, although much of it would be hidden from view and fuelled by speculation and rumour.

Macau’s Massive draw

Macau was the location of choice for Tom after the biggest online games disappeared, the explosion of poker in the far east offering opportunities aplenty for those who could afford them.

Years later Dwan would explain: “I’ve been playing a lot in Macau because the games are a lot bigger. Since a lot of the online sites got shut down, there were a lot of pros competing for less and less spots in big live games, and the games were less good, smaller and at the same time Macau was exploding.”

Little verifiable information ever leaks out from the Macau nosebleeds, but $10k/$20k blinds and $20million+ pots are among the whispers.

When Dwan disappeared from the mainstream Western poker radar after his 6th place for $447,844 at the Aussie Millions $250k Challenge, the rumour mill became a hotbed of conspiracy-theories. Dwan was in hock to the Triads, owing $millions and only being wheeled out for private games to repay his debts, and so on and so on.

When Dwan finally emerged in 2017, he seemed perfectly ok for a man who had been ‘living in a Triad dungeon’ for two years, although his results have been mixed at best, that $2.35million pot we saw against Paul Phua an especially painful one.

Three roughly $¼million cashes in three years – although at huge buy-ins – have helped, and his engagement, then marriage, seem to have helped him retain a good balance.

Will we ever see Dwan atop the poker Olympus again? That seems unlikely, but given Phil Ivey’s recent resurrection as a Short Deck crusher there is always hope!


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