Day 1 of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event was sailing along for Danielle Andersen when she went from one side of the emotional spectrum to the other in a moment that had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of fluctuation of her own chip stack.
A recreational “fun” player, who had spent the fourth level of the day actually trying to bust and go home, brought some levity to table. That player eventually did bust, but the open seat was filled quickly by former Full Tilt kingpin Howard Lederer.
“There was laughter, there was joking, there were drinks, there was camaraderie and when Howard sat down, it was like the storyboard nobody could ever have dreamed of. You went from one extreme to the other,” Andersen said at the time.
Having to sit at the same table with one of the more infamous names from Black Friday, the day which effectively wiped out online poker in the United States and eventually lead to the exposure of Full Tilt’s dire financial situation, was an emotional experience for Andersen. She’s not alone. His presence at the WSOP in 2016, when he first re-emerged from his self-imposed hiatus, and then in 2017, has been a source of anger for many players who feel he shouldn’t be showing his face at any poker event, let alone the WSOP, after the events of Black Friday.
That experience lasted just two hours. During that time, Andersen said a few things that night to Lederer and let it be known he wasn’t welcome. Still, she spent a good amount of time over the last year reflecting on the things she wished she’d said, questions she wished she’d asked Lederer when he was sitting just a few feet from her.
And then this past summer, while waiting to get into a cash game at the Bellagio, Andersen saw Lederer for the first time since the 2016 WSOP. Rather than stare daggers into him from across the room, she made her way over to Lederer.
“He was just standing in the high stakes area and I went to him and said, ‘Hi Howard, my name is Danielle Andersen. I don’t know if you remember me, but we played together at a Main Event table last year’.”
To Andersen’s surprise, Lederer answered in the affirmative.
“’Yes, I absolutely remember you’,” Andersen said Lederer told her. He said he’d meditated about the interaction and thought about it for “hours and hours” since it happened.
That was exactly the opening that Andersen needed to get her questions answered and say the things she needed to say. The ensuing conversation left her with a different perspective than the one she had that night Lederer sat down at her table. It also might have helped provide her with a little bit of closure.
During their initial interaction Andersen asked Lederer if it bothered him that his presence was making her and some of her fellow poker pros sick. He had nodded and said it did. Now standing face-to-face with him in the Bellagio poker room, Andersen had some follow up questions.
“I wanted to know how he reconciled the pain and the issues it’s caused for people to see him around,” said Andersen. “Why does he have to come back in the poker community? Why is it so important to him? Why can’t he just leave us alone?”
Over the course of the next few minutes, Andersen listened intently as Lederer explained that he certainly understood why people felt the way they did, but that the narrative that was out there about the end of Full Tilt was missing some key facts. Yet he also willingly took some personal responsibility for everything that went down in the days, weeks and months after April 15, 2011.
“He told me, ‘Do I have some role in what happened? Absolutely. Had I done a better job when I was there and when I was actively involved in Full Tilt Poker, had I done a better job of overseeing things and making sure everything was in line, it wouldn’t have happened’,” said Andersen.
Andersen couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between that statement and the video interview Lederer gave PokerNews in 2012 where he repeatedly absolved himself of any responsibility in the way the Full Tilt house of cards came crumbling down in 2011.
“In the video – I didn’t even watch all of it because I was just disgusted by it – I felt that he came across as a disingenuous asshole, who wasn’t really taking any responsibility for anything. It felt very inauthentic and it was insulting,” said Andersen. “In the conversation I had with him, I got a completely different vibe. I felt like he was more regretful of decisions he had made and that he was accepting more of the responsibility.”
While she was surprised to see Lederer tell a different story than the one he gave in his only public statement about his role in Black Friday, Andersen found some small comfort in knowing that he was uncomfortable and feeling a little bit of what the rest of the poker community has felt since April 15, 2011.
“I guess I was surprised that, if he was being authentic, that it was as seemingly as emotional for him as it was for me,” said Andersen. “I think that made me feel good, because that was what I wanted, to make him understand the pain that I and others felt after Black Friday.”
While the presence of Lederer and Chris Ferguson at WSOP tables has often been met with some angry confrontations or an awkward silence, Andersen made it a point to ask Lederer why he hasn’t spoken publicly since that PokerNews interview. She says Lederer claims to be open talking about it and expects him to do so soon.
“That was an aspect that I hadn’t really considered, because I looked at as him being at the tables as a giant ‘fuck you’ to everybody, which maybe it partially is,” said Andersen. “On the other hand, I think there’s a chance that there is also some good motivations for it, because I will say that it’s absolutely been very therapeutic for me to be able to have those two separate interactions.”
While Andersen has found some closure after speaking with Lederer, she recognizes that she’s but one person in a community full of people who have similar questions they need answered before they’re able to let go of any residual anger.
“It’s hard for the community as a whole to forgive him until he’s given more answers. He sat and had a conversation with me, but he hasn’t had that with the whole community and I don’t blame people for not wanting to forgive him at this point. I can only speak for myself.”