Dan Bilzerian and the cult of the bluff
Americans didn't invent the bluff — Odysseus bluffed his way home from the Trojan War — but we perfected it.
Dan Bilzerian claims not to be a trust-fund baby, a poser, a roided-up fraud. Instead, he's a dominating poker player who beat one dude for $50 million, a couple others for $10 million, and who blows dough on a private jet, drugs, clubs and the kinds of parties where you eat sushi off a model's stomach, where orgies are available like they're on the freaking menu.
This pose feels like a bluff — but how exaggerated is it?
Bilzerian posts all this on instagram, and his account tops any teenager's wet dream: chicks wrapped around each other like spaghetti on a plate, yachts docked in photo-shoot-perfect spots like Lake Powel, Italy, Thailand and Indonesia, infinite girls' infinitely perfectly asses hanging off the edges of infinite infinity pools.
Nearly every interview with Dan Bilzerian, 39, is some combination of "really"? And, "how exactly?" Why are all these women hanging on you? How did you win $50 million in a single poker game? Bilzerian often ducks specifics and instead tells a hilarious story of coke-and-viagra-caused heart attacks.
Like no one else, Bilzerian's Instagram feed succeeds at two of the main — but opposite — purposes of Instagram:
Throat-constricting jealousy. You hate him cuz you ain't him. (And, remember, you can't spell the word jealousy without the word "lousy.")
Fire-under-the-ass inspiration. Men look at his Instagram and convince themselves they, too, can nail hot tail like Bilzerian does, if they just, uh, talk their way into multi-million-dollar poker games.
Envy and hero-worship combine to jack up Bilzerian's social presence as big as his biceps. T-Pain rapped about him. He has 29 million Instagram followers. His video post on Instagram today — all tits and ass and product placement — is clocking a million views per hour.
His parties look like an afterlife you'd die for — like each man gets 72 virgins — except the girls in Bilzerian's posts look wonderfully experienced.
This Internet fame leads to real world wealth, as men wanting Bilzerian's juice literally buy Bilzerian's juice. No, not his vital fluids — that's gross — but liquid THC and CBD in vape pens and liquid pheromones in cologne bottles. (Pheromones are hormones that, among other things, attract and repel the opposite sex.) Jonesing for a sip of Bilzerian's lifestyle, the stock for his marijuana company, Ignite, more than doubled in the past two years. And Alister — get it? A-Lister? — the male pheromones his sells, are new, but probably won't flop. Frat bros will likely dump them in their water supply.
He's having so much fun that most people don't even ask: How much of Bilzerian's life is real? How much is bluff?
Take pheromones. Reporters have used pheromones and pulled chicks. But pheromones, scientifically, are probably faker than Bilzerian's girls' knockers. "Nobody has been able to find the exact chemicals that cue people about … mating," wrote Smithsonian magazine.
So if you buy Alister pheromones, and what you're buying from Bilzerian is a promise without much behind it. But maybe that matters less than you think. Maybe pheromones work due to the placebo effect. If you think you're more attractive, you actually are.
Similarly, THC and CBD work, but if weed is the cure-all now being promised, why aren't old hippies America's healthiest specimens?
In the same way Bilzerian's pheromones and CBD are kinds of bluffs, reporters who looked deep into Bilzerian's story find holes as big as a Guatemalan cenotes.
Bilzerian claims to be mostly self-made, yet his dad, Paul, is a corporate raider, and Dan admits to having trust funds. Paul was convicted of stock and tax fraud and ordered to pay $62 million, but has paid only $3.7 million of that, the Wall Street Journal reports, raising questions about whether Paul's money is stashed were Dan has access to it — but not the IRS.
In the same way, is Bilzerian a good enough poker player to pay for his Gulfstream IV? To be fair to him, he doesn't claim to be the world's greatest poker player, only that he gets himself into the biggest games and does well. YouTube clips of him playing show he's competent poker player, but not extraordinary. Daniel Negreanu would clean his clock. Also, how's he have time to hone his game when he's got a full-time job slaying it?
But poker is part of Bilzerian's image of effortless cool, of winning despite not really trying to.
A post shared by Dan Bilzerian (@danbilzerian) on
Is Bilzerian super-strong through hard work? Partly, but he's admitted to steroids, a kind of physical bluff.
My guess? Bilzerian's whole life is a semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is a poker move where you have a decent hand, but you bet like you have the nuts, the best hand.
Dan Bilzerian's empire may come crashing down around him. In life, as in poker, you can't always bluff — sometimes, you'll get called, and you need a real hand.
But we live in the age of the semi-bluff, and the Internet is a bluff machine. Instagram is a self-perpetuating success platform. Gain a few million followers, and girls who want followers, too, join your photo shoots. (Bilzerian's "sister wives" become big Instastars themselves.) Become bigger, and advertisers sponsor your posts. And suddenly a lifestyle that started off as a semi-fake projection of success becomes the real thing.
Bilzerian is the promise of our age turned into a person. The "King of Instagram," makes more money more stylishly without actually doing much than almost anyone who isn't a Kardashian. He's serenaded his Instagram followers into dancing with him, into buying him dinner and going to bed with him. We all take our phones to bed now, and scroll through Bilzerian's crazy, never-ending party. It's a semi-bluff that's paying off.