European domination of WSOP likely to continue

12 November 2014

LAS VEGAS — For the first time in the 45-year history of the World Series of Poker, none of the final three players in the Main Event were Americans.

Sweden's Martin Jacobson, who won the event and the $10 million first-place prize on Tuesday night, Norway's Felix Stephensen (who was second for $5.1 million) and the Netherlands' Jorryt van Hoof (third, $3.8 million) survived more than nine and a half hours of play to advance to the final day of play. Americans Mark Newhouse (ninth), Dan Sindelar (seventh), William Pappaconstantinou (fifth) and William Tonking (fourth) were eliminated one by one, clearing the way for European domination of the Main Event.

van Hoof believes his ability to play online poker on sites that allow worldwide competition gives him an edge.

van Hoof believes his ability to play online poker on sites that allow worldwide competition gives him an edge. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Jacobson is no stranger to high stakes tournament play. He had more than $5 million in tournament earnings prior to winning the Main Event. He made the final table at both the $25,000 and $100,000 Aussie Millions High Rollers earlier this year, and with his $10 million win, he overtakes Chris Bjorin as Sweden's leading money winner with more than $15 million in lifetime earnings.

Stephensen had just $30,963 in live tournament earnings prior to his second-place showing, while van Hoof had $480,931 in lifetime earnings prior to his Main Event score.

But the three 20-something Europeans all have one key advantage over their American counterparts: Easy access to online poker.

After Chris Moneymaker turned a $39 online satellite win into $2.5 million at the 2003 World Series of Poker, players across the globe took to the online game. Many improved, including Americans who played on sites that weren't regulated by the United States. When the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006, many Americans abandoned the online game. Even more quit in the wake of the "Black Friday" indictments of 2011, when PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and UB were charged with bank fraud and money laundering, and those sites stopped offering games to American players.

While Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware now regulate intrastate online poker, the relatively small populations of those states don't provide enough liquidity on the online poker sites to give players the ability to play tournaments with massive fields or gain experience playing against the best online cash game players.

"Maybe Europeans have a small advantage because online poker is still widely available," said van Hoof. "I guess that makes us able to practice more, so I hope America gets (online) poker back soon, so they'll get to practice more as well."

"I don't want to be mean to all the Americans," said Stephensen. "But I definitely feel like Europeans are stronger right now."

Stephensen is a pot-limit Omaha specialist who averages 500,000 hands online a year.

"You get in a lot of volume, and when you play online, it's usually against tougher opponents than you play against (in live games). I think that has a big impact on why it's evolving this way."

In the last four years, 33.3 percent of the final table players have been European, 55.5 percent have been American and 8.3 percent have come from outside of America and Europe. In the previous eight years, 73.6 percent of the final table players have been American, 16.7 percent were European and 9.7 percent were from other areas.

Until the online poker landscape in the United States changes, it seems likely that the European invasion the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas will continue.

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