What’s the world record for someone holding their breath?

How much money is kept in the Bellagio safe?

How many manholes are there in San Fransisco, California?

Do you know the answer to any of these questions? It doesn’t matter. Do you have a good guess? Even better - do you have a good guess about what your friend might guess? If so, then you can play Lodden Thinks.

Lodden Thinks is a proposition betting game that was invented at the World Series of Poker Europe by poker pros Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari in the mid-2000s. According to Laak, the game was the product of boredom. As the two played together at a feature televised table, they found themselves repeating the same old tired cliched banter to one another. Esfandiari told Laak “we need to come up with new material.” Laak thought about it for a bit, and he came up with an idea. He’d come up with a question for Johnny Lodden, another popular poker professional who was at the table with them, and then Laak and Esfandiari would bet on what Lodden would think the answer was. The actual answer to the question was irrelevant. Nobody needed to look it up or check it. In fact, the harder an answer was to check, the better, because it lessened the possibility that Lodden would know the actual answer and would have to draw upon some other knowledge or information to come up with a guess. Before long the two were having more fun playing “Lodden Thinks” than playing poker, and the game caught on at tournaments and poker tables around the world.

The rules are simple. First you come up with a question with a numerical answer. The more obscure and difficult to know, the better. Then the two people involved in the bet then hold an over/under auction. One person suggests a number they think the “Lodden”, in this case a third person who is not involved in the bet, will answer. The other person then can either accept the “under”, meaning they will bet that the “Lodden” will say something below that number, or they can bid a new number that is higher. After they bid a higher number, the first person can accept the “under” or bid an even higher number. The players keep bidding until one of them accepts the “under,” ceding the “over” to the person who bid the number. Then they ask their “Lodden” the question, hear their answer, and settle up the bet.

What makes “Lodden Thinks” fun is that in order to make a good bet, you need to utilize as much psychology and prior knowledge of your “Lodden” as you can. If your “Lodden” is a stranger, then you need to consider how that person might think based on what little information you have about them - their clothes, their age, their gender, etc.

In this way, “Lodden Thinks” involves a lot of the skills that makes poker such a dynamic and fun game. It’s important to get a good read on someone, but even a solid read won’t guarantee victory. There’s still a little bit of luck involved.

“Lodden Thinks” also employs an auction-style of over/under line setting, so another skill important to winning is setting a good line for yourself. It can be stressful sometimes trying to feel out where your opponent would like the line to be and not going over it and giving them the over they want. The best spots are when you and your opponent are far out of whack with each other’s estimates, and you can grab a good side of the line for yourself and your opinion. But again, even then, Lodden can screw it all up for you.

Laak and Esfandiari usually play “Lodden Thinks” for one hundred dollars a question, but some high rollers have played for much more. On Season 6 of Poker After Dark, the players get involved in some high stakes “Lodden Thinks” at $1,000 a question. At one point Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson bet $10,000 on how old Daniel Negreanu thinks Clint Eastwood is. Phil Hellmuth remarks that it’s the biggest “Lodden Thinks” bet he’s ever seen. (Ivey wins by taking under 74. Negreanu went for 73.)

The other thing that’s fun about “Lodden Thinks” is coming up with amusing questions. Again, the more obscure and unknowable, the better in my opinion. Someone could easily know how old Clint Eastwood is. If you want to figure out how someone might guess at how many cars there are at the bottom of Lake Michigan, you’d need to really get inside your “Lodden’s” head to figure out how they will try to figure out the answer. One of my favorite questions I’ve heard came from a table with Shaun Deeb at the Seminole Hard Rock: “What’s the total number of people that have been murdered by the current population of this casino right now?” You can imagine how the discussion around the bidding for that one went.

“If you play a lot you start noticing human patterns,” Laak told Epic Poker. “You start picking up edge before the game even starts.” Laak says that the more you play, the better idea you’ll have about how people will guess on questions that revolve around certain themes. So like most gambling games, experience and practice helps.

So the question that remains is, what does Johnny Lodden think about Lodden Thinks? In interviews he has said that he had a lot of fun playing the game at first, but that Antonio Esfandiari has taken the game to a whole new level, playing it wherever he goes as often as he can. “I’ve played with Antonio a bunch and I’ve never seen him lose,” Lodden said. “That’s why it’s still running. He’s hustling everyone.”


1. Designate someone to be "Johnny Lodden"
2. Ask that person any question with a numerical answer and have them write down their guess. 
3. Propose a number you think they wrote down. 
4. Your opponent can either propose a higher number or "call" your bet. 
5. Once someone "calls," reveal "Johnny's" guess. 
6. Whoever was called has to be under "Johnny's" guess to win. If they are over, they lose and the person who called wins.


David Hill is a writer and author from New York. His work has focused on the world of gambling, from chess hustlers to poker pros and everything in between.

He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Vapors: A Casino in Southern Gothic" from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. His work can be found here