WSOP Main Event winner Espen Uhlen Jørstad shares details of claimed swap dispute

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: August 30, 2022 19:11 PDT

In an era when poker pros frequently swap pieces of action with each other in major events, it's a certainty that a few of these swaps go awry. Yesterday, 2022 WSOP Main Event winner Espen Uhlen Jørstad shared details about a supposed swap involving three percent of his life-changing win, though the likeliest explanation in this case is that the swapping agreement never actually occurred.

Jørstad took to Twitter on Monday to explain the situation and ask for help from veterans in the poker community about the swap claimed by Greek pro Alexandros Theologis, a/k/a "pwndidy", who is also an instructor for Phil Galfond's RunItOnce training site. Jørstad offered this as a conversation starter:

The Tweeted link led to a TwitLonger post by Jørstad wherein he explained further details of the alleged swap, one that he claims never occurred. Jørstad appears to have come under some pressure to make good on the supposed swap, not only from Theologis, but from at least one other player, an unidentified "clearly intoxicated Irish fellow" who approached Jørstad at a cash game in Cyprus and stated something like, "Pay the man his money, pay the man his money. You know what I’m talking about, pay him his 3%," in an aggressive and threatening manner.

Theologis, when contacted by another outlet, responded that he didn't know who the intoxicated player might have been and never asked nor intended anyone to act aggressively toward Jørstad about the disputed swap. Theologis also claimed he had walked away from the matter a month ago, meaning that it was likely Jørstad's encounter with the intoxicated player in Cyprus that prompted him to detail the story "before the rumour mill gets going."

Jørstad also posted four snippets of ongoing text messages between him and Theologis, which begin with Theologis inquiring about the 3% swap he thought was in place, Jørstad checking through his list of swaps (he had several) and noting no such deal with Theologis, and Theologis finally ending the text exchanges by stating, "I never expected to experience something like this as I only swap with people I think are trustworthy and especially from you. Lesson learnt I guess, not sure how you can sleep at night and be happy with yourself but yeah."

Jørstad also summarized several points about Theologis's claims, while also noting that Theologis may have experienced what Jørstad termed a "cognitive bias", willing an agreed-upon swap into place where no such deal ever occurred. According to Jørstad:

  • Before the main event we had only met twice, and we have never swapped in anything else.
  • I have no recollection of swapping with him.
  • I did not have it written down.
  • He did not have it written down.
  • We had nothing about it in our chat.
  • For every other swap during WSOP I immediately wrote it down in my own document + confirmed in chats. I have to assume this is routine on his part too.
  • Alex did not remember when or where we had this swap convo, or any other details about it.

Other pros agree with Jørstad's interpretation of stated facts

The details as provided by Jørstad, if accurate, paint a rather convincing picture that neither a deal nor a meeting of the minds was ever in place. Numerous pros responded to his Tweet with comments affirming that he shouldn't be pressured into sending Theologis the 3%, which would have been $300,000 of Jørstad's $10 million payday. Sample comments included these:

Of interest is that Theologis approached Jørstad about the claimed swap on Day 7 of the Main Event. Jørstad noted that Theologis had mentioned the supposed swap to noted pro Patrick Leonard, writing, "Alex also approached Patrick Leonard (Pads) around this time, saying that he had an awkward situation. He explained that he thought he had swapped with me, but could not find any evidence for the swap. Pads asked me about it, and I told him that I had no memory of ever swapping with Alex."

Jørstad's use of "around this time" is also generous to Theologis, who admitted that he'd talked to Leonard at least a couple of days earlier and that " might get awkward because we didn't confirm in chat." Jørstad responded that he always records his agreed-upon swaps in two different ways, and he had no such record of a swap deal in either place.

That at least two days elapsed between Theologis's claimed chat with Leonard and his subsequent Main Event Day 7 contact with Jørstad, which came after Jørstad entered that day's play as the chip leader, add weight to Jørstad's hunch regarding cognitive bias on Theologis's part. Leonard subsequently offered his own multi-Tweet thoughts on the situation:

Jørstad also asked for further input from pros such as Ike Haxton and Michael "timex" McDonald, though the preponderance of opinions to date favoring Jørstad make a need for mediation unlikely.

Prior Main Event swaps have created controversies

With the huge money at stake, it's no surprise that controversies occasionally appear regarding WSOP Main Event swaps, even if Jørstad's current situation might not really qualify. In 2021, for instance, then-21-year-old Nick Marchington was sued by a group of several stakers who had bought pieces of Marchington's Main Event action, only to see Marchington back out of the deal while claiming he wasn't going to play the ME. Marchington then received an even more generous offer from different backers, and made it all the way to the final table and a $1.5 million payday, triggering the breached-contract claims.

The granddaddy of all ME swap disputes, however, remains the saga of Jamie Gold's 2006 triumph in the Main Event for a still-record $12 million payout. Gold was tasked with putting together a celebrity team of players for Bodog Poker and received his own $10K seat as payment. Gold subsequently brought on Bruce Crispin Leyser to help secure some celebrity players, in exchange for Leyser getting half of anything Gold won.

When Gold won the $12 million first-place payout and was notably slow in paying Leyser his share, Leyser sued and successfully had Gold's WSOP payout frozen, until a settlement was reached early in 2007. Gold was threatened with a similar lawsuit in 2019 by another man, Francis Dellavecchia, who claimed Gold had promised him 1% of his winnings from that same event for providing similar celebrity-signing tasks. Dellavecchia was, in 2006, working for Riptown Media, a publicity firm then in Bodog's employ.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze