Sweden’s Martin Jacobson comes from behind to win the WSOP Main Event in a tense Northern Europe finale. Steve ‘HillyTheFish’ Hill watched it unfold
Down to seven big blinds at one point, and all-in no less than 19 times in the early stages, London-based Swede Martin Jacobson was crowned World Champion in Las Vegas as the milkmen began their shift in his adopted home town. Kicking off at 1am UK time on ESPN, what initially resembled a mute truckers’ convention gradually became mesmerising viewing as the chips flew and the stories unfolded.
With life-changing leaps in prize money on offer, early play was understandably tight, this reticence exploited by Dutch behemoth and chip leader Jorryt Van Hoof. With his immaculate slicked-back hairstyle – described by commentator Norman Chad as ‘the synchronised swimming of hair’ – and fisherman’s beard, the 6ft 7in lowlander resembled a submarine commander from Das Boot as he fixed opponents in a terrifying death stare, his face only cracking into a puppy-drowning grin when he scooped their chips into his towering stack.
Much of the early chat surrounded American Mark Newhouse, who pulled off the seemingly impossible task of making back-to-back final tables, statistically more than a 500,000/1 shot. With the commentators alluding to his unspecified dark past, the Grateful Dead fan seemed to be a troubled individual, claiming to have played no poker in the four months since securing his final table place, and expressing a sole ambition to improve on last year’s ninth position.
Deep into a hand with fellow countryman Will Tonking, and with a board boasting two Jacks and two Fours, Newhouse boldly announced ‘all-in’ with his pocket Tens, and was snapped off by Tonking with pocket Queens to send the two-timer spinning to the rail in ninth once more. With everyone having already been paid ninth place money, he may as well have stayed at home.
Born in the USA
With the seal broken at around 4.30am UK time, further bustouts followed as the sun rose, with Brazilian Bruno Politano disappointing his 150 travelling fans while simultaneously making the rest of the table millionaires. Local farmhand Dan Sindelar then got unlucky, followed by Spanish youngster Andoni Larrabe to leave the spotlight shining on fan favourite, and only remaining amateur, Billy Pappas. No stranger to trophies, it was revealed that Pappas is a major player in the world of foosball, with hundreds of titles to his name – hugely impressive until it became apparent that foosball is basically table football. Facing yet another all-in from Jacobson with 5-5, Pappas made the call with A-J, a Five on the flop delivering a kick in the foosballs and leaving the hapless Pappas with a solitary chip, soon hoovered up by van Hoof.
That left four, with Springsteen fan Will Tonking representing the USA’s last chance on a table featuring a Dutchman, a Swede and a Norwegian, the inscrutable Felix Stephensen sporting the sartorial poker treble of sunglasses, baseball cap and hoodie. The only player not to live in London or have a beard, Tonking seemed to take this as a personal affront, appearing absolutely furious throughout his stay, folding his way to an inevitable showdown that saw his 2-2 crushed by Jacobson’s T-T. Play continued three-handed for a while until the tournament director eventually broke it up amidst some confusion, bringing to a close a solid 12-hour stint of televised poker, and allowing UK viewers to take a nice early afternoon nap.
Safe European home
With the battle of the beards commencing at 2am GMT, it was a strangely subdued van Hoof who resumed his position as chip leader. With his radar somehow off compared to the previous day, the Dutchman uncharacteristically opted for sunglasses, thus neutralising arguably his most potent weapon. As for the Sweden/Norway axis, Jacobson appeared as fresh as a daisy, perhaps due to his regular routine of yoga, organic vegetables, weightlifting and meditation. And Stephensen looked pretty much the same as ever, any expression buried under a scruffy beard and uniform of branded tat.
When van Hoof had over half the chips in play, one observer tweeted that if he were to lose it would be the biggest meltdown in WSOP history. But after a couple of wrong moves and a barren patch it soon became apparent that this was very much a three horse race. With Stephensen hanging in doggedly and Jacobson increasingly applying the pressure, the Dutchman suddenly looked fallible, his powers somehow decimated by the enforced break. As implausible as it once seemed, he found himself all-in with his tournament life hinging on A-5. His main tormentor Jacobson showed A-T, and while they both paired their kickers on the flop, there was to be no further help for the burly Dutchman. Seemingly dazed and confused, he told ESPN’s Kara Scott that it had been an, ‘insane, incredibly fun, bizarre experience,’ albeit one for which he trousered the better part of four million bucks.
Heads-up was inevitably a one-sided affair, with Jacobson rarely holding less than a 4/1 chip advantage. While Stephensen made the most of a poor run of cards, he was eventually forced to shove with A-9, with Jacobson insta-calling with T-T. A Ten on the flop made him bullet proof, securing ten million dollars and a glorified Argos bracelet. It also sparked a celebration in which his jubilant supporters, ‘crushed my throat.’ It seems a small price to pay after crushing the entire field to become Sweden’s first ever Main Event winner. Remember the name…