World Series of Poker matched wits, spreadsheets
Las Vegas — It wasn't the year for the everyman poker hobbyist at the World Series of Poker's final main event table, but rather it was a matchup of skilled professionals with online poker pedigrees, backed by teams of strategists stockpiled with data.
Sweden's Martin Jacobson, 27, was the picture of calm confidence as he went from being second to last in poker chips out of the nine final players who resumed play on Monday to being the last man standing. Jacobson had both a pile of chips and cash in front of him Tuesday night after winning the $10 million top prize.
Jacobson's three 10s beat Felix Stephensen of Norway and his pair of nines on the final hand to win a coveted gold bracelet for topping a field of nearly 6,700 players who each paid $10,000 to enter the tournament that began play in July.
"Jacobson played perfectly for two days," said Lance Bradley, editor-in-chief of poker publication Bluff Magazine.
Jacobson's self-appraisal was a little less generous.
"My game plan was always: 'go for the win without doing anything stupid,'" he said.
It was the first time in the World Series of Poker's history that none of the final three players in the Texas Hold 'em main event was American.
Bradley said the all-European final three could be traced to the haves and the have-nots as far as legal online gambling goes. Europe has it, by and large. The United States only allows it in just three states — Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware — after the federal government cracked down on illegal online gambling websites in 2011 and seized any player accounts associated with them.
Dubbed "Black Friday" in online gambling circles, it may have resulted in more European players cutting their teeth online before making their way to tournaments like the 45th edition of the World Series of Poker main event, Bradley said.
"They all play online," he said of the final three.
Bradley said he expected the tournament would likely continue to see fewer Americans advance, "until we get online poker back."
Jacobson's mother, Eva, traced her son's poker start to a book he was given when he was a teenager by Dan Glimne, a Swedish board game designer and poker expert. But it was online poker that Jacobson played after nights worked in restaurants that launched him into his card-playing career, she said.
The final players brought more than online experience to the table at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino when play resumed this after a nearly a four-month break. The remaining players were dubbed the November Nine.
Third-place finisher Jorryt van Hoof's had a team of people poring through data, spreadsheets and the half-hour delayed live feed of the action on ESPN that showed each player's hands. The team analyzed player tendencies and a designated team captain reported to van Hoof during breaks.
"It's easy to get information overload, so we talked the process through," said van Hoof.
Several people decided what information they should share with him. Van Hoof said it certainly gave him an edge during the tournament that had him leading in chips in most moments until he fell to Jacobsen on Tuesday night.
"To me, it's a higher form of poker as long as everyone has equal access," said Ty Stewart, executive director of the World Series of Poker. "Guys had their offensive and defensive coordinators with them … That's great in the modern era."
As for the existence of the everyman, Bradley pointed to fan favorite, foosball champion and poker amateur Billy Pappacontantinou from Massachusetts who placed fifth overall.
"Billy Pappas was a breath of fresh air," Bradley said. "I hope we see more of Billy and more people like Billy," he said.